AND IN OTHER NEWS: Azerbaijani Media Look Towards A New War

This month, a lot has changed and a lot hasn’t. The International Court of Justice’s demand that Azerbaijan ensure freedom of transit through the Lachin Corridor had left us with the expectation that it would open soon enough, and yet weeks later there is little change. Instead, Azerbaijan has doubled down on its contention that the corridor isn’t closed, while simultaneously asserting the fact it has the right to do whatever it is doing, which of course is an effective blockade of the Armenian population.

Within days of the ICJ ruling, suspicions were heightened by the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Baku. As the tweet above notes, there has been a pattern of such visits being followed by violence against Karabakh Armenians, giving the impression Russia and Azerbaijan coordinate them. Unfortunately, the pattern held true – days later, three Karabakh police officers were killed in an ambush by Azerbaijani special forces.

EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar has already become rather notorious to Armenians for his ineffective statements, seemingly unable to criticize Azerbaijani President Aliyev, perhaps to protect the EU’s role in the meditation process. In recent months, Klaar has changed tactics to being mostly quiet on social media, only tweeting once or twice a month despite all that has been happening in Karabakh. He broke his silence with the tweet above to express his “concern” about the “recent deadly clash”, infuriating Armenians with yet another blunder of a wishy-washy statement.

Despite the violence, and likely in response to the ICJ ruling, Azerbaijan has reiterated its tactic of “offering peace” to Armenia and other buzzwords like “integration” to the Armenians of Karabakh. It’s clear however that these positive-sounding terms are solely intended for the international audience when in reality integration means subjugation. Others have speculated that the firing of Ruben Vardanyan as State Minister three weeks ago was supposed to fulfill a promise by Aliyev to conduct talks, when in fact only violence has followed.

As for the coming weeks, there is deep concern Azerbaijan is planning a new attack. It has been repeatedly making accusations that weapons are being smuggled into Karabakh from Armenia (even though in the case of the ambush, the car was traveling in the opposite direction – from Stepanakert towards Armenia), with analysts speculating that this was to invent justification for an attack. Now Prime Minister Pashinyan has warned of the same, and this tweet from an Azerbaijani independent media outlet described how the rhetoric on national television is also pointing to an imminent attack.

Around this same time, a report in Ha’aretz traced the constant cargo flights between Israel and Azerbaijan, believed to be of a military nature. Flights were found to be most active shortly before conflicts, especially the 2020 war. The array of weapons and drones Israel has provided Azerbaijan has often been criticized, and played an important role in the defeat of Armenians in Karabakh. Flights are still transporting cargo, another piece of evidence pointing to a possible new assault. Azerbaijan’s hurry to settle things militarily is believed to be linked to the upcoming presidential election in Turkey, as a new non-Erdogan-government would be less likely to support Aliyev as much as Erdogan has.

An interesting visit to the Armenian border was made on March 14 by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who served as Secretary General of NATO until 2014 when he was succeeded by the current officeholder Jens Stoltenberg. Turkey’s role in NATO has made it hardly supportive of Armenia overall, and it should be noted as Rasmussen is no longer in office he does not speak for it, but as analyst Tigran Grigoryan commented: “We need more statements like this from influential actors in the West.”

This trip to the border with the Lachin corridor has become popular with officials in light of the blockade. Just days prior to Rasmussen’s visit, the new US Ambassador to Armenia made the same visit to also demand its opening.

Speaking of the new ambassador, she shared her personal story and connections to Armenian culture. She grew up in Fresno, birthplace of William Saroyan, and home to one of the most important Armenian communities in the United States.

Azerbaijan’s response to these high profile visits has been to import foreign “journalists” and influencers to the Lachin corridor to promote its story. A notorious case of this was in November 2022 when a junket of Canadians including writer Adam Zivo (who purchased a Twitter blue check for credibility just prior) embarked upon an expenses-paid trip to Azerbaijan. One of those from that trip, Dave Gordon, submitted a special to the Toronto Sun newspaper in January portraying the Lachin blockade as an organic ecological protest movement, a posture which even Azerbaijan has mainly abandoned as it was so clearly unbelievable. Gordon, of course, did not disclose his conflict of interest in the piece. Now into the fray enters Jake Turx (not his real name), who was proudly described in the Azerbaijani press as the “White House senior correspondent”. They got it half right, he did hold that position, but for Newsmax, a far right digital media company which is known for its promotion of extremist false conspiracy theories. That makes him a fitting choice, as his visit to the Lachin blockade to declare it “open” because he saw an emergency Red Cross vehicle allowed to pass through is exactly that, a false conspiracy theory.

It wasn’t just Armenians criticizing Turx for his blatant manipulation. A journalist for CBN Billy Hallowell, who has double the Twitter following of Turx, pointed out the obvious to him, as so many had already when Azerbaijani officials make the same claim. It should come as no surprise that Turx’s ties to former Azerbaijani Ambassador to the US Elin Suleymanov were quickly uncovered. In a 2017 puff piece for Ami Magazine on the ambassador, Turx went as far as to describe President Aliyev’s father as Azerbaijan’s “democratically elected president”, while repeating the common tropes about the nation being a land of tolerance and freedom – something its officials are so fond of repeating. Suleymanov, of course, was the mastermind of the infamous influence-peddling scheme of “caviar diplomacy” in the United States, so it is hardly a coincidence he was trotted back out when they needed a western-based voice to claim the corridor is open. Turx ridiculously claimed he visited the blockade site “unannounced”, even though government permission is required to visit Karabakh. Turx hedged by claiming he had government permission to visit the region, but did not announce the exact times he visited the blockade site, as if he’d have free reign to go wherever he wanted unseen in a land of checkpoints and armed guards while part of a government-arranged junket.

That wasn’t the only one of Turx’s stories to morph in the face of criticism. After being roundly lambasted for being so incorrect about the nature of the blockade, Turx changed his story from “there is no blockade” to “if there’s a blockade the Russians are doing it”, which is yet another Azerbaijani spin. Turx’s absurd request to his detractors to “ask the Russians” exposed the very fact that a real journalist in the field would have done just that. His “purposeful ignorance” when it comes to what’s actually going on illustrates the difference between a journalist and a propagandist. While we don’t relish bringing attention to such individuals, it caused an uproar on social media and it is important to make sure those who follow are aware of these hallmarks of Azerbaijan’s disinformation campaign, of which Turx was not the first and certainly won’t be the last.

The very same day, coincidentally or not, the Halo Trust entered the fray with this statement bringing attention to the difficulties the interruption of traffic has had on the Armenians of Karabakh, becoming the latest organization to refute the claims of Azerbaijan and its hired propagandists like Turx. Halo would know, as it has operated for decades in Nagorno-Karabakh on a demining mission. Halo is a neutral organization and is not cavalier in making such statements.

A controversy which also gained attention on social media surrounded the new Getty Museum publication “Cultural Heritage and Mass Atrocities” which had excluded the erasure of Armenian cultural heritage despite being one of the most egregious examples of the topic in recent times. This exclusion becomes less surprising in light of the fact the Getty invited Irina Bokova to work on the project, a former Director-General for UNESCO who was implicated in the Azerbaijani “caviar diplomacy” campaign. Bokova was very friendly with Azerbaijani First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, who served for years as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador until her recent abrupt resignation.

At least one contributor to the Getty book called out the exclusion of Armenian stories.

In a similar vein, just a week later Professor Ryan Gingeras separately related how the BBC had attempted to censor use of the term “Armenian Genocide” just last year, though the term did get used in the final publication.

On the flip side though, the popular Empire podcast has been covering the Armenian Genocide over two recent episodes entitled The Armenian Genocide: The Road to the Deportations and Death Marches.

Quite a few heavy issues this round-up, but we’ll leave you with this glimpse into what might be the fanciest ride share car in all of Armenia, posted by a Fintech global authority and Armenia resident.

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