It’s Long Past Time to Tell the Truth

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It has been one month. One month of sleepless nights. One month of reading death tolls. One month of fundraising. One month of wondering why Armenians are facing another genocide, as if 1.5 million taken from us wasn’t enough. 

In this one month, I made my way up and down the east coast six times to participate in protests led by compatriots in the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF). While my brothers and sisters are on the frontlines risking their lives for our existence, my diaspora is fighting our own fight here in the United States and around the world. We are protesting for peace. We are demanding justice. We are asking for recognition of Artsakh. Most of all, we are asking for honest reporting by mainstream media outlets.

In the same month that 1,200 Armenian soldiers died, Carlotta Gall, a journalist at the New York Times (NYT), published two articles – “Roots of War: When Armenia Talked Tough, Azerbaijan Took Action” and “In Azerbaijan, A String of Explosion, Screams, then Blood”— in which she applauded war crimes committed by Azerbaijani forces aided by Turkey, with no mention of historical context. Rather, she continued to justify the killing of innocent lives through terrorist actions of Erdogan and Aliyev.

With over five million annual subscribers, the NYT ranks third among the top 100 newspapers in the United States. That’s five million people who, thanks to Gall, only know one side of the Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) conflict. Armenians have been fighting since 1994 for the world to hear the truth about Artsakh…about how the indigenous Armenians of an autonomous region have built a school system, a political system, infrastructure and a place to live in peace. However, within just a few days, Gall gets away with painting a completely different picture.

For this reason, the Armenians of the New York City Metro area took to the streets to protest. On Sunday, November 1, under the pouring rain and roaring winds, New York’s Armenian Diaspora marched in strength and unity. Starting at the Armenian Prelacy on the east side of Manhattan, with voices louder than honking taxi cabs, we chanted “NY Times tell the truth,” “Carlotta Gall you dropped the ball.” While at the New York Times building on 41st Street and 8th Avenue, Talene Sagherian, secretary of the AYF Manhattan “Moush” chapter, gave a powerful speech which set the tone for the afternoon. A representative of AGBU also spoke.

In preparation for this protest, a letter was written to executive editor Dean Baquet, who allowed not one, but two stories to be published without proper evidence or research. The decision to run these stories is a failed attempt at objective journalism and endorses war crimes, propaganda and a genocide on the innocent Armenians living in Artsakh. The letter below was hand delivered to the security guard at the building of the New York Times. In the event that the letter never made it to Mr. Baquet, the Armenian Diaspora already flooded his inbox and voicemail box from the moment these stories broke. 

Protest after protest, our voices are getting louder, and we continue to grow in number. It’s unclear when this nightmare will be over, but Armenians will forever remain resilient. From France to Australia, Spain to Los Angeles, we will fight tirelessly for our country and our people, because Armenia united, will never be divided.

######

November 1, 2020 

Dean Baquet
Executive Editor
The New York Times Company
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
 

Re: New York Times’ Reporting Aids/Abets Regimes Wanting to Finish the Armenian Genocide

Dear Mr. Baquet: 

We demand an immediate investigation and retraction of articles by the New York Times’ Turkey  Bureau Chief, Carlotta Gall, regarding the conflict in Artsakh (a/k/a Nagorno Karabakh) (“Roots of War: When Armenia Talked Tough, Azerbaijan Took Action,” Oct. 27, 2020; “In Azerbaijan, a String of Explosions,  Screams, and then Blood,” Oct. 28, 2020). 

These articles are not only inappropriate; they are dangerous. They serve no purpose other than to  provide a mouthpiece for Azerbaijan’s autocratic totalitarian regime—which ranks 168/180 on the Freedom of  Press Index and 146/167 on the Democracy Index. Meanwhile, Genocide Watch recently issued  a Genocide Emergency Alert due to “Azerbaijan’s aggression against the Armenian Republic of Artsakh,” which  has continued unabated since September 27, 2020 despite three brokered ceasefires.  

As outlined below, we believe that Ms. Gall’s articles assist Azerbaijan in disseminating and validating  its propaganda on three key claims, namely that (i) Armenia is the so-called aggressor in the Artsakh conflict, (ii) Azerbaijan’s citizens demand that Azerbaijan continues fighting and refuses ceasefire attempts; and  (iii) Armenian forces target Azerbaijani civilians—thus providing Azerbaijan’s cultural and military ally, Turkey,  with an apparent justification to invade Armenia and fulfill Turkish President Erdogan’s promises of a pan Turkish state stretching from the Mediterranean to Central Asia.  

We demand that the New York Times investigate the sources for Ms. Gall’s claims, whether  there was enough supporting authority to promulgate them, whether the conditions of the reporting allowed unbiased and accurate coverage of the Artsakh conflict, and (if not) why the New York Times failed to disclose such conditions to its readership.  

First, Ms. Gall’s October 27th article relies on several “analysts” (all unnamed except for Hikmet Hajiyev, a foreign policy adviser to Azerbaijan’s president) for the claim that Armenia’s prime minister (and leader of its peaceful 2018 democratic revolution) provoked Azerbaijan to attack Artsakh, in an undated and  unspecified but “populist” speech. This is akin to reporting in 1939 that Poland provoked Hitler’s invasion. 

Ms. Gall’s articles often conflate the leaders of Armenia and Artsakh and even the democratic countries themselves—the latter an autonomous republic of 150,000 mostly ethnic Armenian inhabitants. Despite her reporting that Armenia’s prime minister somehow provoked Azerbaijan to invade Artsakh and  rebuff the will of its people, whose right to self-determination is recognized and protected under customary  international law, most indicators would explain Azerbaijan’s recent aggression as: 

(i) fueled by Azerbaijan’s need for a scapegoat and to distract its citizens from its economic crisis due to decreased demand for oil and gas (45% of Azerbaijan’s economy) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic; and, relatedly,  

(ii) Azerbaijani President Aliyev’s need for a “win” to further cement his family’s 30-year rulership of  Azerbaijan, which is finally beginning to chip.  

Turkey—which has been supplying Azerbaijan in the Artsakh conflict with drone technology, Syrian  mercenaries, and logistical support—has been looking for a justification to invade Armenia. Turkish President  Erdogan—whose economy, like Azerbaijan’s, is also plummeting with the Turkish lira having lost 26% of its  value this year—declared in a public address last July that he will complete the “mission” that his grandfathers  started (alluding, we believe, to the 1915 Armenian Genocide and the Ottoman army’s advance on Artsakh at the end of WWI) and would come to Azerbaijan’s aid to defend Turkic communities in the Caucasus.1  

Ms. Gall’s October 27th article concludes by making several claims that Armenian forces target  Azerbaijani civilian settlements. As of the date of that article, no independent (non-Turkish) sources had  confirmed that Armenia targets Azerbaijanis or uses banned munitions in civilian areas. Instead, several  entities, such as Amnesty International, had confirmed that only Azerbaijan has used drones, cluster munitions,  and other banned weapons against civilians and civilian infrastructure. 

Second, Ms. Gall’s October 28th article depicts her team as “a scant 20 yards” away from a purported  Armenian rocket attack on the Azerbaijani settlement of Barda. She notes that Barda lies farther from the  Artsakh frontline and that Armenia’s purported attack thus appears “to be an escalation.” Ms. Gall then interviews a civilian who demands she tell President Aliyev that Azerbaijan take retaliatory action against  Armenia. (This fits the Azerbaijani regime’s narrative that Azerbaijani citizens want this war and do not want a  ceasefire.) 

We note that Azerbaijan denies free access to most foreign reporters (apart from Turkish media) to  cover the recent conflict in Artsakh. For the New York Times’ team to be “driving along the main street” of Barda, a “provincial” town of no military importance2 (and paradoxically in the opposite direction of the conflict  they were sent to report on) right when Armenian missiles struck is far too convenient. Unlike the New York  Times, France24 News found it necessary to explain to its viewership “the conditions we are working under” while reporting in Azerbaijan. Namely, that, “[W]e have a minder appointed by the Azeri government with us pretty much at all times […] We are as journalists quite often taken, at the last minute we’re told, you know ‘a bomb has gone off here,’ ‘we’re going take you there.’ We also have to follow the official movements […] our movements and our freedom to report are somewhat controlled.” Similarly, the War Gonzo Project (led by Semyon Pegov) has pointed out that Azerbaijan appears to photograph the same civilians when reporting on  so-called Armenian war crimes in various areas, noting Azerbaijan’s propaganda is telling a “different story” but  with the “same actors” and showing stills of a scene photographed by Ivor Prickett for the New York Times.  

Finally, we take no issue with documenting the suffering of the Azerbaijani people, who, like ethnic  Armenians, are oppressed by Azerbaijan’s brutal regime. Rather, we take issue with reporting false information  from a regime that has violated three humanitarian ceasefires and boasts that it will not stop until every  Armenian “dog” is chased out of Artsakh (the ancestral home of ethnic Armenians since 189 BC).  

The day after Ms. Gall’s second article, Amnesty International issued a statement that it had “verified the use of banned cluster bombs by Armenia for the first time in the current Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, following  an attack on the city of Barda in Azerbaijan.” In other words, Turkey has been supplied with its apparent  justification to invade Armenia to “defend” its ally Azerbaijan and to annihilate the Armenian people.  

Please advise immediately as to your plan to ameliorate the above and ensure accurate reporting in the  future. Otherwise, we understand this: 

The New York Times will have blood on its hands. 

Sincerely, 

The Armenian Diaspora residing in the United States of America 

  1. There are countless parallels between Azerbaijan’s invasion of Artsakh (with Turkish assistance) and Hitler’s invasion of  Poland, including that Hitler also referred to his invasion of Poland as “defensive,” to purportedly protect Germans in Poland who were persecuted. And, in fact, days before invading Poland, Hitler proclaimed on August 22, 1939, “Who, after all, speaks today of  the annihilation of the Armenians [by the Ottoman Turks]?”—calculating that he could get away with ethnic cleansing as the world  looked the other way. At the very least, the New York Times should be more mindful as to the broader consequences of its  reporting on the Caucasus, which is regarded as a powder keg capable of igniting World War III, due to military obligations and  interests held by NATO-member Turkey, Russia, and Iran.
  2. Barda, however, is important for Azerbaijani propaganda and nationalistic fervor. Azerbaijan likely chose the town of Barda as it considers Barda the ancient capital of “Caucasian Albania”—an ethnic group that Azerbaijani scholars in the 1950’s  began claiming are the true founders of Artsakh and the ancestors of the Azerbaijani people, despite that there was no historical  evidence for such claims and indeed they are undermined by 10th century historian Movses Dasxuranci’s History of the Albanians.

Editor’s Note (November 24, 2020): The following was a response sent to the AYF by NYT assistant managing editor Michael Slackman on November 1, 2020.

Thank you for your note. Perhaps you are unaware, but almost no one has been working in The New York Times building since the start of the pandemic.

At the same time, as I have told you and the others who have sent multiple versions of the same form letter to me and my colleagues at The Times, we respect the strong feelings and sense of urgency that you and your community feel about this conflict. That said, we have not found any errors of fact in Carlotta’s coverage. 

For example, we have carefully reviewed the language of the four Security Council resolutions in 1993 concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, one of the points that has been raised. They make clear that in the eyes of the United Nations the fighting erupted inside the Republic of Azerbaijan.

We’ve relayed these observations to our reporting and editing team. You’re welcome, of course, to express your views in letters to the editor as well.

At the same time, as I have told many others, I am proud of the way Carlotta Gall has covered this war, risking her own life, indeed nearly getting killed, to bear witness to the horrors of the conflict If you have not read her fine, brave coverage from a village 20 miles from the frontlines, you can click here. 

Just as Carlotta risked herself to witness events in Azerbaijan, so too did our correspondent, Anton Troinavoski, on the ground in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. You can find two of his story links here.  And if you would like to see a step-back explainer on the conflict, you can find that here.

Again, thank you for writing. If you or your peers have a specific fact that you think we have wrong, please do point it out. 

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
Sincerely,
Michael Slackman
The New York Times
Chantelle Nasri

Chantelle Nasri

Chantelle Nasri is a resident of Brooklyn, NY and a 2018 graduate of SUNY College at Brockport. She recently joined the AYF-YOARF Eastern Region in December 2018, and serves as the current chair of the AYF Manhattan “Moush” chapter.
Chantelle Nasri

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