15 Sep 2010
Stereotypes in national media – a closer look
Negative stereotypes about Armenians are present in the majority of mass media outlets in Azerbaijan. Those stereotypes are somewhat shared by the public, and they definitely do not come out of nowhere. Stereotypical opinions circulating in the mass media have their deep roots in the public consciousness.
The use of familiar, commonly used clichés is particularly frequent when already fragile relations deteriorate as a result of high tensions between nations, especially after a failed round of negotiations between the states, the Armenian Diaspora’s active involvement in the processes or clashes on the frontline. In a nutshell, the reflections of these cyclic deteriorations between countries are usually followed in the media by the actualization of conventional perceptions.
Stereotypes most often encountered in the media about Armenians either demonize them by accusing them of all troubles that occurred between the countries or downplay their importance, trying to illustrate how minuscule their position and role could be against a morally right party, (i.e., the Azerbaijanis). As an outcome of my observations, I would list stereotypes of Armenians in the national mass media under four general titles: “Armenians are untrustworthy,” “Armenians are liars,” “Armenians have no culture of their own” and Armenians are cowards.”
For those who still cling to the past, the dogma of “Armenians are untrustworthy” is still of paramount importance. This attitude panders to the general perception that Armenians were “traitors and stabbed Azerbaijan in the back” and is supported by going back to the history and dredging up old stories. This kind of evaluation aims to prove that Azerbaijanis are morally right, because they were deceived and forced out of their lands by Armenians who in their turn used every possible way to achieve their dream of “Greater Armenia.” Particularly, advocates of this hawkish line in the national policy towards Armenia cite this argument to propose the meaninglessness of negotiations in terms of the restoration of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
The stereotype about “Armenians lying” essentially refers to the perceived fallacy of the Armenian narrative of history. History is the most controversial and sensitive aspect of the current relations between the nations. That is the reason why folks are more receptive to this stereotype in Azerbaijan. The ongoing war of information also contributed to growing skepticism in whatever told or claimed by Armenians.
Another widespread and commonly accepted stereotypical argument is that “Armenians have no culture of their own.” Media is heavily involved in the “cultural dispute” with Armenians and reflects the prevailing view that Armenians imitated Azerbaijani culture and now unjustifiably claim it as their own. The sameness of music, dances, musical instruments and so forth breeds an endless, fiery debate around this topic. My assumption is that the newly materialized national independence (as is the case in both Azerbaijan and Armenia) demands exclusively specific heritage and products to consolidate and distinguish itself. At this stage of development of both nations and under the existing conditions of relations, any commonality in virtues peculiar to both of them is incompatible with newly realized national identities and therefore unacceptable to them.
When it comes to the current state of affairs, the media tries to strip Armenians of any positive characteristics they may have, among them claiming that “Armenians are cowards.” In other words, in the possible reemergence of war, they would not be able to resist the Azerbaijanis militarily. There is a traditional saga of previous heroism of Azerbaijani Turks throughout history and Armenians’ subjugation by Turks for centuries. This kind of evaluation of the nation’s qualities or capacities in a historical context targets at the audience comprised of folks who exclude the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict via negotiations and diplomacy in the current course of processes. It is not a coincidence that there is a deep popular conviction in Azerbaijan that the war was, in fact, fought against the Russians and Armenia’s temporary occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding districts is the consequence of direct Russian involvement.
There is an ongoing conflict between the two nations. Therefore, expectations regarding the immediate eradication of those stereotypes in the mass media of Azerbaijan (as well as Armenia) are at best an illusion. Besides, deep entrenched views can change by communicating, building a dialogue and sharing points of view — in brief, by letting the other party sense your existence and see the other side of the coin. What is obvious today is that neither the disturbing fact of failing negotiations nor the lack of communication (or more correctly, non-communication) contributes to the dwindling of the basis for growing misconceptions in public opinion.
My general observations of the national media should not be understood as utter generalization of thoughts circulating in it. Definitely, not all media groups are typically one-sided or overblown with their portrayal of certain facts.
But the bottom line is that an exaggerated negative image of the people on the other side of the frontline compounds the conflict even more. Sooner or later, both nations will come to terms with the reality of living together. I just hope we ultimately hold this truth dearer in our deeds….