We, a group of scholars, artists, journalists and activists, write to draw attention to the U.S. media’s inaccurate coverage of the current conflict in Nagorno Karabakh (known to Armenians as “Artsakh”). The absence of credible, fact-based reporting hinders the public from having a fundamental understanding of what is happening in the region. It also damages public confidence in journalism at a time when it is already at an all-time low. The conflict over Artsakh has already expanded into a regional conflict. We believe that news outlets should be tapping the expertise of scholars who have long studied this conflict simply because you can—and should—do better.
We have been monitoring news sources and have discovered that there is a broad range of reporting that misrepresents the facts and misleads the public. Perhaps the most egregious is the omission that the recent round of war was initiated by Azerbaijan. A recent example of this is yesterday’s headline in the LA Times, “Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of bombing the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral,” which suggests the destruction of Armenian heritage may have happened by a party other than Azerbaijan, the country currently attacking Stepanakert. Additionally, these reports do not fully contextualize historical facts or are simply devoid of factual reporting. There are also clear signs that U.S. journalism is particularly susceptible to Turkish and Azeri propaganda as journalists take the claims of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev—a petro-oligarch who inherited his position from his father—at face value though he has denied foreign journalists access to his country.
Examples of misinformation in the US press include the failure to acknowledge that indigenous Armenians comprised 89-percent of the Nagorno Karabakh/Artsakh territory in the 1920s, but Joseph Stalin and the Caucasian Bureau allotted Karabakh to Azerbaijan to placate Turkey as well as to stifle Armenian self-determination. In addition, the recent attack on Ganja was a direct military response to the aerial bombardment on Stepanakert (the capital of Artsakh). The drones that have been attacking Armenian civilians in the capital were flown from Ganja. Nagorno Karabakh/Artsakh declared its independence in a referendum in 1991 and has since practiced self-determination under its own flag, ruled by a democratically-elected president and parliament though there was no official peace treaty after fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan (1988-1994). These residual issues should be resolved diplomatically rather than through war.
Armenia is a country smaller than the population of Los Angeles – an approximate population of three million Armenians who are largely descendants of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Artsakh has a population of only 150,000. Today, the two nations of Turkey and Azerbaijan have a combined population of more than 90 million and have supplemented their fighters with mercenary forces from Syria and Libya hired by a Turkish contracting company. Both Turkey and Azerbaijan have a history of committing genocide and pogroms against Armenians in the twentieth century, while also being more significantly armed with the world’s most sophisticated weaponry.
Here is a list of recent news stories that fail to include facts and context:
October 4, “Destruction Mounts As Azerbaijan and Armenia Increase Hostilities” NPR
October 5, 2020, “Missiles, rockets and accusations fly as Nagorno Karabakh flare-up burns into second week” CNN
October 6, 2020, “Why Armenia and Azerbaijan are fighting and why it could get uglier,” CBS
October 5, “Fighting in Disputed Nagorno-Karabakh Region Escalates, Killing at Least One,” Democracy Now
October 8, “Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of bombing the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral,” LA Times
We suspect that some of the coverage may have been shaped by reliance on the Associated Press whose journalist Aida Sultanova has been writing Azeri-leaning articles such as “Azerbaijan says Armenian Targets Cities Outside Conflict Zone.” The article contravenes fact by positioning Armenia as an aggressor while finishing with a remark by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, “Armenia is the biggest barrier to peace and stability in the region.” That this could be published without qualification as the last lines of Sultanova’s article means that the Associated Press is wrongfully portraying Armenia as the aggressor when the war was initiated, during the COVID-19 pandemic, by Azerbaijan.
We write this letter because we believe that journalists are the fourth estate, an important check on tyrannical power. We are concerned that the weakened foreign journalistic coverage is unfortunately skewing representation of the conflict in Artsakh and diminishes confidence. We also offer a solution to this problem by signing our names as scholars, artists, and activists engaged in the history, politics and culture of the region.
Carina Karapetian Giorgi, Faculty and Department Chair of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Antelope Valley College
Elyse Semerdjian, President of the Syrian Studies Association & Professor of Middle East/Islamic World History, Whitman College
Houri Berberian, Professor of History, Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian Studies, and Director of the Center for Armenian Studies, University of California at Irvine
Arev Pivazyan, PhD Candidate, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Rutgers University
Rachel Goshgarian, Associate Professor of History, Lafayette College
Nancy Agabian, Author, Adjunct Faculty, Writing Program, Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University
Heghnar Watenpaugh, Professor of Art History, University of California Davis
Sebouh David Aslanian, Professor of History, Richard Hovannisian Endowed Chair in Modern Armenian History, UCLA
Nelli Sargsyan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Emerson College, Boston, MA
Sylvia Angelique Alajaji, Associate Professor of Music, Franklin & Marshall College
Talinn Grigor, Professor and Chair of Art History, University of California, Davis
Talar Chahinian, Lecturer, Armenian Studies Program and Visiting Faculty, Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine
Mashinka Firunts Hakopian, PhD, University of Pennsylvania
Bedross Der Matossian, Vice-Chair and Associate Professor, Hymen Rosenberg Professor of Judaic Studies, Department of History
Laure Astourian, Assistant Professor of French, Bentley University
Hourig Attarian, Associate Professor, College of Humanities & Social Sciences, American University of Armenia
Hrag Vartanian, co-founder, Hyperallergic
Dahlia Elsayed, Artist and Professor Humanities/Fine Arts, CUNY LaGuardia Community College, New York
Henry C. Theriault, Ph.D., Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Worcester State University, and President, International Association of Genocide Scholars
Khatchig Mouradian, Ph.D., Lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University
Tamar M. Boyadjian, Associate Professor of Medieval Studies, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies, Michigan State University
Nancy Kricorian, Writer, New York
Tamar Shirinian, Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Chris Bohjalian, Author
Olivia Katrandjian, Writer and Journalist, MSt candidate at Oxford University, the Founder of the International Armenian Literary Alliance (IALA)
Karena Avedissian, PhD
Arlene Avakian, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Anna Ohanyan, Richard B. Finnegan Distinguished Professor of International Relations, May School of Arts and Sciences, Stonehill College
Liz Ohanesian, journalist
Taleen Mardirossian, writer
Arlene Avakian, Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Sophia Armen, PhD Candidate, Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego
Marc Mamigonian, Director of Academic Affairs, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research
Judith Saryan, Member of the Board, National Association for Armenian Studies and Research
Hakem al-Rustom, Alex Manoogian Professor of Modern Armenian History, Assistant Professor of History and Anthropology
Judy Norsigian, co-founder and board chair, Our Bodies Ourselves
Seta Kabranian-Melkonian, Assistant Professor, University of Alaska, Anchorage
Markar Melkonian, Ph.D., Instructor, Department of Philosophy, California State University, Northridge