AND IN OTHER NEWS: Baku doubles down on violent rhetoric

Photo by Scout Tufankjian

It’s been a month since the International Court of Justice called upon Azerbaijan to ensure open traffic along the blockaded Lachin corridor which caused many to hope that the crisis would be coming to an end; instead Azerbaijan has seized more roads and lookout points with the intention of installing its own checkpoints in violation of the 2020 ceasefire. Meanwhile, even though nobody believed the sincerity of the “eco-protest” which sparked the standoff, today it’s evident for all that this has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with ethnic cleansing.

Kebab was the key word on Armenian social media this month, but unfortunately not for the delicious reasons you might imagine. Instead, it was because a video went viral of an Azerbaijani “eco-protester” at the Lachin corridor saying in what was apparently a failed attempt at humor that he would kill an Armenian and use their blood to season his kebab for the Novruz holiday. It was apparently in response to an Armenian woman who stated in a story posted to YouTube that during Novruz there would be violence against Armenians in Karabakh. The ‘Kebab Killer’ is not just anyone, but military correspondent Fardin Isazade who has also made statements calling for the conquest of Stepanakert. Azerbaijanis responded with anger that Armenians were blowing the video out of proportion. Isazade’s single “jokey” video recorded and uploaded in a matter of minutes not only went viral but inadvertently destroyed Adnan Huseyn’s months of work attempting to shape the protest’s narrative as one of environmentalism and peace. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the Press Council of Azerbaijan criticized Isazade’s video, which called it “unacceptable”, urging journalists “to seriously consider the ‘degree of sensitivity’ of their materials that touch on interethnic conflicts” and take that into account before sharing anything on social media.

The Press Council’s advice would be well taken by Azerbaijani officials as well, who seem to go out of their way to lack sensitivity (nice euphemism) in their tweets on Armenians. The latest in

a constantly recurring series we could entitle “Azerbaijani Diplomats Being Undiplomatic”, the Azerbaijani Ambassador to the US Khazar Ibrahim responded with rage to an article on the blockade shared by former US Ambassador to Armenia John Heffern. Ibrahim hurled accusations at the always friendly and affable Heffern like that he “spreads bias” and even of being Islamophobic for no apparent reason. Best we can tell, as the tweet is rather indecipherable, Ibrahim also seems to challenge Heffern to a debate at Georgetown University, where Heffern is on the faculty.

Like the girl in the photo peering out the window, the world has only idly watched as Azerbaijan traps a hundred thousand people in what has become an open-air prison, silenced by gas deals and geopolitics.

How exactly have these “eco-protesters” managed to keep this protest going for over a hundred days? Well for one thing, few if any of them have actually stayed there the whole time. Instead, various student groups (even one consisting of Pakistanis) sign up to get shipped over to the picket line for a couple of days to get their photo ops and catered meals. There’s only so many volunteers though, so the government has added inticements such as a concert at the blockade by the wildly popular Azerbaijani pop star Röya and, apparently, a “get out of class free” card.

In our last round-up, we brought you the story of Newsmax journalist Jake Turx’s propaganda trip to the protest site, during which he crassly reported that after hearing so much about an alleged blockade there, he was “disappointed” to discover there was no such thing because he saw a few Red Cross trucks go through. When asked how that invalidates the existence of a blockade, he deflected to the Russian peacekeepers, saying maybe they’re the ones not letting Armenians use the corridor, or that Armenians were purposefully not passing through to give the appearance of a blockade, and even went as far as to suggest that Armenians use the Red Cross humanitarian convoys as a personal taxi service to get around. One had to wonder how an allegedly unbiased journalist (who has said a lot of nice things about the Aliyevs in the past) could be so beholden to the Azerbaijani interpretation without doing any research on any other angles. Well the other shoe has dropped on Jake Turx when it was revealed his very good friend Ezra Friedlander is a registered lobbyist for the Azerbaijani government. Turx denies being paid by Azerbaijan for his advocacy and replied he was unaware of Friedlander’s “professional relationship” with Azerbaijan, though the revelation of Friedlander being on Azerbaijan’s payroll does give a new meaning to his March 1 reply to Turx’s tweet that the blockade doesn’t exist, exclaiming “he speaks for me!” Is that so, Ezra?

As for journalists who are not best friends with Azerbaijan’s paid lobbyists, this one called out President Aliyev for making “genocidal threats” against Armenia while being welcomed by German leaders. It was in response to Aliyev’s assertion that if Armenia doesn’t capitulate to Azerbaijan’s demands, no Armenian will be able to “live comfortably” anywhere within the Republic of Armenia. Such a statement is reminiscent of mafia threats, with what it means to not “live comfortably” open to interpretations, none of them good.

Just days before that awful threat, MEP Clare Daly went viral for her speech at the European Parliament which succinctly summed up everything that’s wrong with overtures to Aliyev as a reliable partner and how disingenuous it is to stop importing fossil fuels from Russia in the name of human rights and yet replace it with Azerbaijan instead.

Even politicians who were once very friendly to Azerbaijan have been taking another look and reassessing that affinity, and if it’s really worth it. Caucasus Heritage Watch released this interesting thread about how churches in Nakhichevan which were claimed to have been Albanian ones, part of the notorious Albanization of Armenian churches, have been confirmed as destroyed anyway. This means either Azerbaijan doesn’t believe their own propaganda that these churches were Albanian (as they were actually Armenian), or their alleged respect and tolerance for Albanian churches is a fiction as being known as Albanian didn’t save these precious structures from being destroyed anyway.

While it wasn’t exactly Football Diplomacy like seen in 2009, the first match between the Armenian and Turkish football teams since then comes at a time when the long-closed border is finally planned to open soon for third-party citizens. However there was no visit of a high ranking Turkish official to go with it, and most likely the government is distracted by the aftermath of the recent earthquake and the presidential election less than two months away. This widely-seen article from The Athletic how the rivalry behind the match “…isn’t really about football. It’s about a geopolitical and historical schism that stretches back over a century, and the refusal of Turkey to acknowledge the perpetration of a genocide against the Armenian people that predates the formation of either country.”

The President of Armenia’s respectful post-match tweet belies the rancor that preceded and followed the match. A banner in the stands spelled out the word “Nemesis”- an allusion to the operation which assassinated the masterminds of the Armenian Genocide. In addition, the crowd booed as the Turkish anthem played. Typical fare for a football match- not exactly known for having a polite hardcore fan base- and probably explains why UEFA did not sell tickets to Turkish fans. However even uglier scenes played out on social media after Turkey’s 2-1 win, with feeds flooded with celebratory photos of Talaat, Enver, and Jemal.

Compare the Armenian president’s tweet with this one from Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to Iran Ali Alizada, who quite pathetically conflated Turkey’s win with Azerbaijani troop movements in violation of the ceasefire. In fact, Azerbaijanis seemed to be celebrating the match as much if not even more than Turks, who were outright ectatic at the victory.

What was most bizarre about the Azerbaijani social media glee, as if Armenia’s loss to the much bigger Turkish team was somehow a repudiation of the entire nation, is that its own team is actually doing much worse. As this tweet pointed out, Armenia defied expectations in keeping the match close. If the result of a single game says something definitive about a nation, the Azerbaijanis were ignoring how their own team had lost the previous day to Austria 4-1, and a couple days later lost again even worse to Sweden 5-0… not that we’re counting…

The background to everything discussed here so far is the constant drumbeat towards war. While nobody knows for sure when or if it will happen, the feeling that war is in the air has been inescapable to most in Armenia. On top of Aliyev’s threat that nobody in Armenia will be able to “live comfortably”, a statement by the head of the EU observer mission on the Armenian border that “Many Armenians believe there’ll be a spring offensive by Azerbaijan. If this doesn’t happen, our mission is already a success” was met with fury from Baku. Despite Azerbaijan’s claims that it supports peace, its rejection of the EU mission towards this end raises serious questions about its actual motives.

Just your periodic reminder that much of what you see on Twitter is not real. Be suspicious of any account which isn’t easily tied back to a real person, especially those created around times of conflict like October 2020 or September 2022. Just days ago, an account purporting to be an Armenian was exposed as an Azerbaijani pretending to be one, while fake accounts are being created daily to add to the subscriber count (hence, making them look more important) of certain figures like ADA Vice-Rector Fariz Ismailzade.

Finally, to end on a high note, this viral tweet of travel writer Caroline Eden’s reflection on her visit to Armenia. We couldn’t have said it better.

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