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Since the four-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in April 2016, the Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Ombudsman has been documenting the unprecedented rise in anti-Armenian rhetoric in Azerbaijan. The findings point to a steep increase in anti-Armenian hate speech and discrimination across Azerbaijan.
This presents issues for Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) as the region currently still resides within the internationally recognised borders of Azerbaijan. Whilst now firmly aligned with the Armenian government and governed mostly as a de facto republic the precarious geographical location of the territory cannot be ignored.
The research into Armenophobia has been collated and published under the title, Armenophobia in Azerbaijan; Organised Hate Speech & Animosity towards Armenians, and can be found here:
The report has found that Armenophobia has often come from the very top of Azerbaijani society. It evidences a number of quotes from Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, and other high-ranking officials who have directly and publicly encouraged Armenophobia. Many of these statements can still be found today on the official website of the Azerbaijani government, with some encouraging violence and military action.
Armenophobia is not however solely reserved for those in government. The report also found Armenophobic sentiments are being expressed often and publicly by leading figures in culture, art, academia and in the media. The quotes attributed to these leading public figures are often violent and abusive, encouraging Azerbaijan and its people to retake Nagorno Karabakh. Many of the quotes have their foundations in the ethnic and religious disputes between the Azerbaijani and Armenian people. The fact that leading cultural figures, alongside politicians, are expressing Armenophobia is worrying. It shows the pervasiveness and popularity of Armenophobia in Azerbaijani society and that expressing these views will be well-received. The effectiveness of persuasion through art should not be underestimated.
Moreover, the report found that children too are being exposed to and taught Armenophobia. The report evidences a deeply worrying re-writing of the history of the region in schools which is flagrantly anti-Armenian. In many instances’ historic Armenian claims to the region are dismissed and replaced by a mixture of pro-Azerbaijani history and folk tales taught as fact. Major events such as the Baku Pogrom of 1990, where ethnic Armenians were beaten, killed and exiled from Azerbaijan’s capital are whitewashed, either removed entirely or twisted into Azerbaijani history to be proud of.
Furthermore, it is not simply Armenophobic history which is taught to children in Azerbaijan. The report has found that schools, curriculums and textbooks are littered with content which encourages children to believe Armenians and Christians are the enemy of Azerbaijan. Examples have been found that directly question the faith and importance of the Armenian church and suggest that the ethnic Armenian people are inferior and intent to harm Islam and Azerbaijan.
Whilst much of the report shows that Armenophobia is common and pervasive in Azerbaijani society, the issue does not have global recognition. Outside of war time, the region has received little international media coverage. Knowledge of the region and its troubles is sparse and often side-lined by more well-known issues and areas of the world.
Moreover, most recent international coverage of the region has been due to Azerbaijan hosting major sporting events such as the 2019 Europe League Final in Baku and the now annual F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku was also set to host matches during the Europe-wide UEFA Euro 2020 tournament until it was rearranged due to COVID-19.
Events such as these have boosted the international profile of Azerbaijan, giving the country newfound legitimacy and fame across the world. Yet, little has been said of the conflict with Armenia and Armenophobia. This is in spite of then Arsenal player, Henrikh Mkhitaryan being excluded from the final purely because he was Armenian and unable to travel to Baku due to political and safety concerns. Reports from the BBC noted that Arsenal fans of any background wearing replica Mkhitaryan shirts were told to remove them or cover up by Azerbaijani police and officials. In this instance however, the ‘sportwashing’ of Armenophobia was successful as the issue was quickly forgotten in favour of the spectacle of the match.
Ultimately, Article 7 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads, “all are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination… and against any incitement to such discrimination.” The evidence collected by the Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Ombudsman suggests that the Armenophobia encouraged and expressed throughout Azerbaijani society, particularly the political classes, violates this.
The precarious political and international position of Nagorno Karabakh, the increasing public face of Azerbaijan and the continued Armenophobia expressed by the country is worrying. In a region which has been plagued by violence and ethnic disputes for centuries, the continuing rise of Armenophobia will bring nothing but damage to a region which can ill-afford further troubles.
To find out more about Nagorno Karabakh and our work in the region click here: https://www.hart-uk.org/locations/nagorno-karabakh/
By Max Elgot