A Response to Robert Fisk

By Movses Ter-Oganesyan

The following is a response to Robert Fisk’s article, Echoes of Stalinism Abound in the Very Modern Azerbaijan-Armenia Conflict,” published in The Independent on Sat., April 9.

Through his decades of work, Robert Fisk has been a trumpeting voice for the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide or, as he puts it, the Armenian Holocaust.1 Fisk’s wording amply draws connections to the Jewish and Armenian experiences of the 21st century—both groups losing significant portions of their population to genocide. He has often said Hitler was among the first people to recognize the Armenian Genocide, when before invading Poland he proclaimed, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”2

Because of Fisk’s objective writing about the Armenian Genocide in the past—often earning him vicious attacks from Turkish groups and individuals3—I questioned how he could embolden those same genocide deniers with his recent one-sided article about the unprecedented flare up between the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (Artsakh/NKR) and Azerbaijan.4

Although titled, “Echoes of Stalinism Abound in the Very Modern Azerbaijan-Armenia Conflict,” Fisk does not explain how Stalin, acting as minister of nationalities in the 1920’s, in an attempt to appease Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk, transferred from Armenian to Azeri control the mountainous region of Karabagh (along with other significant portions of the First Republic of Armenia).5

During the “Four Day War” in early April 2016, news stations had indeed shown clips of Stalin completely irrelevant to this conflict. However, Fisk never explains Stalin’s relevance. He fails to clarify that isolating ethnic groups and redrawing state borders was a tactic mastered by Stalin to maintain authoritarian control by exploiting ethnic divide. As Sener Akturk wrote, “Ethnic engineering and discrimination were an important part of the Soviet state’s repertoire in controlling society, including the elites of the Union Republics.” Stalin artificially placed the Armenian majority population of Karabagh under Azeri control to create constant tension, making it easier to rule both groups. Indeed, the Karabagh conflict is abound by echoes of the notorious Soviet dictator. Fisk glosses over Stalin’s key role in the Karabagh conflict, and for reasons unexplained, focuses his energies on demonizing Armenian nationalism.

Fisk says he didn’t see Armenian government troops in Stepanakert—Karabagh’s capital. Instead, he claims he saw Armenian militia groups terrorizing Azeri villagers. He compares these militia groups to Turkish Ottoman forces who murdered and ethnically cleansed the Armenians during the genocide.

How can an esteemed writer like Fisk focus on barely-organized Armenian militias and not mention the state-sponsored terrorism by the special forces of the Soviet Union and Azerbaijan? With the wounds of the Armenian Genocide still festering, Armenians cannot simply forget the government-sanctioned deportation and slaughter of its people barely 25 years ago. Ignoring these facts may be convenient for Turkey and Azerbaijan, but it is shameful for western journalists.

The Republic of Armenia has consistently maintained that while it heavily supported the Armenians of Karabagh, the fighting was between the self-declared Nagorno-Karabagh Republic and the Azeri military. That explains why Fisk never saw Armenian government forces in the capital of Nagorno-Karabagh. Volunteers from Armenia did fight in the Karabagh War, but in mentioning that, one must also mention the volunteers from Turkey, the mercenaries from Chechnya, as well as the mujahedeen all fighting on the Azeri side. Was Armenia at war with Turkey, Chechnya, and Islamic extremists?

While drawing erroneous connections between the ethnic cleansing of Armenians during the genocide to the behavior of Armenian militia groups, Fisk never mentions that the regional Nagorno-Karabagh government held a referendum in February 1988 with an overwhelming vote in favor of joining Armenia. He also does not mention that the Azeri response to this decision was the real ethnic cleansing—in the form of brutal pogroms—against the Armenians in Sumgait, Kirovabad, and Baku, ultimately fueling the exodus of Armenians out of Azerbaijan and resulting in 400,000 Armenian refugees.6 At the start of the hostilities, the Azeris living in Armenia left unharmed, and were not butchered in the streets as were the Armenians.

As disturbing as these facts are, Fisk also leaves out one of the most insidious and overlooked triggers that instigated full-scale war: Operation Ring. Described by Thomas De Waal as the Soviet Union’s only civil war, the purpose of Operation Ring was the deportation of the civilian Armenian population in and around NKR. In an attempt to keep the oil-rich nation of Azerbaijan in the Soviet Union, under the guise of a “passport checking operation,” Soviet spetsnaz joined the Azeri Special Purpose Mobility Unit (OMON) forces in rounding up Armenian villagers and deporting them to Armenia proper.

As David Murphy writes, “[A] visit by a delegation of international human rights activists to NKAO [Nagorno-Karabagh Autonomous Oblast] recognized that both sides were guilty of violence, but the group’s report made clear that the Armenians were the principal victims of what can only be described as state-sponsored terrorism.”7 The report stressed the Azeri OMON unit’s abuse of the civilian population. Eight hundred and 16 people were killed and over 5,000 wounded during the 1991 operation. Conservative estimates of Armenians deported range from 5,000-7,000. Who knows how many more Armenians would have been killed without the protective presence of the Armenian militias? How can an esteemed writer like Fisk focus on barely-organized Armenian militias and not mention the state-sponsored terrorism by the special forces of the Soviet Union and Azerbaijan?

With the wounds of the Armenian Genocide still festering, Armenians cannot simply forget the government-sanctioned deportation and slaughter of its people barely 25 years ago. Ignoring these facts may be convenient for Turkey and Azerbaijan, but it is shameful for western journalists. Dismissing the Armenian position as nationalism does not give an accurate portrayal of the events that happened 25 years ago. It does nothing towards building “a parliament of man” in the Caucasus; to the contrary, it only encourages the beating of the war drum from the oil-rich dictatorship of Azerbaijan.


Movses Ter-Oganesyan is a fellow at the Eurasian Research and Analysis Institute.


1 See http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/armenian-genocide-to-continue-to-deny-the-truth-of-this-mass-human-cruelty-is-close-to-a-criminal-10188119.html
2 See http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-the-forgotten-holocaust-463306.html
3 See http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com/2005/07/230-robert-fisk-pathological-liar-is.html and http://angelsof1915.blogspot.com/2011/06/bahrain-independent-i-smell-fisk.html
4 See http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/echoes-of-stalinism-abound-in-the-very-modern-azerbaijan-armenia-conflict-a6976421.html
5 Cornell, Svante. Small Nations & Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus
6 See https://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/u/ussr/ussr915.pdf
7 Murphy, David E. “‘Operation Ring’: The Black Berets in Azerbaijan,” The Journal of Soviet Military Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, March 1992. p. 82.

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  1. Great letter. And about time too for the unbecoming April article by usually fair-minded and scrupulous Robert Fisk. Armenians are grateful to him for telling the truth about the Armenian Genocide and his sympathetic coverage of the dire condition of the Armenian communities in the Middle East. However, Mr. Fisk erred big time in his April report. We all make mistakes. I hope Mr. Fisk finds the above article instructive and illuminating.
    Armenians are at the end of their tether. Cilicia and Western Armenia are gone; Kars and Ardahan and Mt. Ararat are gone; Javakh and Nakhichevan are gone. And now we are threatened by the loss of Karabagh. Armenia now is about 10% of historic Armenia. I am sure Mr. Fisk wouldn’t like to see foreigners take over Wales, Scotland, N. Ireland, the Channel Islands.

  2. You know its not just that article that is lacking information and seem biased that would help make honest sense of these topics by new readers unfamiliar with armenia armenians and our history. If it wasnt written by an armenian all the articles this year about the genocide played the same game of saying armenians claim they were genocided then ending it with turks say those numbers are inflated just as many turks died armenian gangs attacked turks just a bunch of lies. This is how you get a child to choose something you want you make the last suggestion the most emphasized. Why wont they say it was a planned genocide considering Turks did what genociders do start with the nations brain and brawn then target the weak nor do they ever mention turks invaded armenia and oppressed armenians for centuries prior to genocide and they never show the list of armenian massacres by turkic animals they never point out Turkey was founded on textbook definition of racism and terrorism when one race attacks another race to improve their wealth resources and living space terrorism is the threat or use of violence for political gain well turks one race targeted armenains another race stole their national wealth through violence in order to create that pseudo nation racist terrorists bottom line. Please look at this article
    You telling me this is an honest warning yeah right this is an open call to commit nuclear terrorism on armenia why there is no anti terror task force going after this author Hadzhieva?

  3. Unfortunately,Fisk is well prepared on Genocide issues,but he understands much less
    of Middle Eastern Politics, and this is not my opinion only,he wrote many mistaken articles on other Middle eastern topics.
    No one knows everything !!!!

  4. I always thought Mr Fist is a fair and knowledgable journalist who introduces the truth of the history.
    Unfortunately his information about the situation and the conflict around the Karabakh is very limited, I would say very much wrong. He needed more search before anouncment. This is a very crucial point for the stuffered and the agonised small nation.

  5. Armenia did not even have a military in those days.
    They were mostly volunteers defending their homeland.
    Communist soldiers were helping OMON. High time Armenians
    stood up for their rights and defended their women and
    children, and if the enemy does not like it too bad.
    They do not want to get hurt, they should stay home.
    Unfortunately, they got used to killing Armenians and
    getting away with it for so long that, now it is very
    difficult for them to accept that Armenians can also
    hit back.

    To be honest with you, I could not even believe that article was written by Mr. Robert Fisk. Or, even additions were made to the
    main original article. I was glad to read so many others criticizing the article and defending the Armenian position.

  6. Inspit of the fact that Mr Fisk seems to be unusually ill informed in this particular case, better remember him, globally as one of very few investigative reporters who has not yielded to Turkis/Azeri and pro Turkish lobbys. Learned friends, rather than criticize, introduce him to historic facts about Artsakh, and the causes of unjust hostilities against peace loving Armenians.

  7. My take on this is that Mr. Fisk probably felt obligated or was pressured to be more “balanced”, by finding something to latch on to, such as unavoidable deaths of Azerbaijani civilians during a war that their government started.

    But aside from that, we collectively and individually have to look within ourselves and decide which do we want to be: a perennial victim or people who want to survive and are mentally prepared to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that?

    Because we have been victimized for so long, we have become too sensitive to being wrongly and maliciously labelled victimizers. I say the heck with it: we will never become like them, but we need to stop worrying what others think about us.

    Turks invaded our lands and murdered close to 2 million of our ancestors between 1894 and 1923 alone. God knows how many during their illegal occupation of our homeland centuries prior. Today Turks fully enjoy the fruits of their crimes, having build industries based on stolen wealth of those they murdered, selling agricultural products from stolen Armenian farms……while we are trying to convince “civilized” states to merely acknowledge the AG. Meanwhile EU is promising to give $billions in blackmail payment to criminal Turk government so Erdogan won’t flood more refugees – that he created – into Europe.

    Azerbaijan invades Artsakh, murders Armenian civilians, beheads our young soldiers, deliberately shells civilian targets, murders our children,…..then war criminal Aliyev publicly awards the psychopath who beheaded Karam Sloyan, and the same parties who rag on Armenians are too busy to say anything.


    Our only salvation is to become more populous in both RoA and NKR, make both economically and militarily more powerful, then do what is necessary for our survival.

    Let all the yapping dogs yap.

  8. I am glad that an article got published correctly addressing Fisk’s despicable April article. I was once grateful that Fisk had an honest and honorable position on the Armenian Genocide, however I will admit that there was always something suspicious about Fisk which I could not put my finger on, but his April article corroborated what I previously suspected.

    And what always gets on my radar whenever I come across these western writers writing about Armenia is when they employ the word “nationalism”, especially within the futile context of trying to be supposedly “reasonable” and/or “neutral”. Of course when it comes to their own nation and/or ethnicity the word “nationalist” is never used. That is a word best used against those you would like to subjugate in order to place them and their movement or ideas “in their place”.

    And in the back of my mind, I cannot help but think: perhaps the recognition of the Armenian Genocide would have little effect on the “interests of the British Empire” because these British NATIONALISTS and IMPERIALISTS know that nothing will come of it. However, in the case of their Darling-Oil-Pumper (Azerbaijan), a threat of disrupting British Petroleum’s oil flow would negatively affect “her majesty”.

    It was also interesting with the haste that Fisk displayed writing his article so early on in the April war, blaming “Armenian aggression”, a blatant disregard for enough time to pass for the truth to present itself. Regardless, Fisk has now lost all credibility. As far as I’m concerned, he can keep his Genocide “recognition”.

  9. It is regrettable that a well respected investigative journalist, Robert Fisk, has written such a biased (un-researched) article on Artsakh. Could it be his British Citizenship has clouded his pen? After all BP is the major multi billion dollar oil-gas-pipeline investor in Azerbaijan.

  10. Very informative article. As per one comment, I know what it is like to become old and temperamental. With 4th stage liver disease it is my reality. I also think that the EU’s rush to include Turkey, what I see as a war crime in essence, puts far too much pressure on people to sweep historical fact “under the carpet”! A horrific reality!

  11. I remember reading this Fisk article. Almost a different person who got his facts wrong and seemed obtuse in his narrative.. My dear Armenians, the mere fact that THE TREATY OF KARS, sign Oct 13, 1921, between Stalin and Kemal’s Turkey WAS ILLEGAL make it suspect as to why, like the Armenian Genocide, western media doesn’t allow that verbiage to be disseminated amongst the reader. Both truths have legal consequences and therefore need to be buried. Or so it seems. It is therefore OUR, yours and my, responsibility to correct all and everyone and EDUCATE all when ever possible that TREATY OF KARS = ILLEGAL and doesn’t make those lands part of any Azerbaijan. Trust and support the Armenian army..

  12. Great article. As a veteran of the Armenian forces I could say that I really appreciate this article Movses jan, spread the word. Keep up the good work.

  13. On behalf on TV journalists who used archive of Stalin, perhaps Mr. Fisk should consider Stalin archives are not readily accessible. If Mr. Fisk could’ve offered TV news footage of the moment Stalin signed NKR over to Azerbaijan, then he’d have a right to be a TV critic. Whether we used the right Stalin footage or not is secondary to telling the backstory, something Mr. Fisk failed to do while making fun of broadcast journalists working with limited pictures.

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