On August 26, 2023, Facebook suspended Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan’s official Facebook account. Generally, Facebook suspends user accounts for a variety of reasons, such as violations of the site’s rules and regulations, suspicious login activity that signals unauthorized access, the use of false personal information, or other inappropriate or illegal actions that go against Facebook’s Community Standards or Terms of Service. President Harutyunyan, however, had not engaged in any activity that would violate the company’s policy. The reason behind the suspension of Harutyunyan’s page was rather strange, highly questionable and problematic, to say the least. The suspension was the result of a continuous campaign of complaints filed by Azerbaijani users. According to Armenpress, “The president’s office said Harutyunyan’s account was actively targeted with complaints for many months, which had gradually led to many restrictions, including the artificial drop in visibility of posts and ban on certain functions. And as a result of the recent complaints the page became fully inaccessible on August 26.”
President Harutyunyan only made one “mistake” for which his account could have been suspended: he was the president of the Republic of Artsakh. To best understand the absurdity of the situation, one should simply imagine a similar title: “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Official Facebook Account Suspended Due to Complaints Filed by the Russian Side.” Such a nonsensical title would be unimaginable for most, yet why does it become not only imaginable, but also real when it comes to the case of Artsakh’s president? Why has the game of double standards and hypocrisy become so mainstream that we no longer talk about it nor make an effort to fight it?
This parallel reminded me of how I felt while studying in international academic settings. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, a significant majority of the international student body voiced their grievance and discontent toward Russia and stood up for Ukraine in all possible ways, from fundraisers to spreading awareness across social media platforms. I admired the sense of solidarity and shared the immense pain of my fellow Ukrainian peers, hoping for an immediate, peaceful resolution of the conflict. Yet deep down in my heart, I also ached. I ached to hear all the voices that spoke so boldly and blatantly against Russian aggression, the voices that were silent as the grave when the same was happening to the Armenian people. I ached, not because they stood up for Ukraine (in fact, I was more than happy to see the unanimous support), but because they never did for Artsakh. I ached, because the double standards and the “made-normal” hypocrisy have killed my people in the past and continue doing so in the present. I ached, because some crimes against humanity scream so loudly, and some others are silenced to death.
The suspension of President Harutyunyan’s official account was a deliberate attempt at silencing to death. The page, with over 459,000 followers, was one of the few sources for the communication and exchange of timely information between Artsakh’s government and its population which, by the way, at the time had been deprived of basic human necessities such as food, electricity, hygiene products and medical supplies for months due to Azerbaijan’s illegal blockade of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor, the only humanitarian corridor connecting Artsakh to Armenia and the outside world. The suspension of the president’s Facebook account was not a silly game by Azeri users but a deliberate attempt to completely isolate Artsakh’s population, not only in the real but also in the virtual world—something completely unjust and unjustifiable, something which Facebook, whether inadvertently or intentionally, played a role in.
Nevertheless, the suspension of Harutyunyan’s account is just one instance of Facebook’s problematic attitudes and decisions within the context of Armenian narratives. On October 12, 2020, Facebook announced an update in its “hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.” This is a praiseworthy decision, targeted at the prevention of denial or distortion of the factual historical event of the Holocaust. However, the decision becomes less admirable as one realizes that the update in hate speech policy applies to the case of Holocaust only and excludes other genocides such as the Rwandan or Armenian genocides. In fact, pages still exist that publicly and blatantly deny the Armenian Genocide.
The Facebook page “Armenian Genocide Lie,” for example, not only has permission from Facebook to exist but is given the right to make posts and comments about the “mythness” of the Armenian Genocide on a regular basis, sharing books, articles and highly biased opinions that distort history and present the Armenian Genocide as a fictional narrative invented by the Armenian people. The page has over 9,300 followers and therefore plays a crucial role in spreading disinformation and repeating the generational cycle of history falsification among Turkish and Azerbaijani audiences. Ironically enough, the background image of the “Armenian Genocide Lie” Facebook page features the following statement: “Document + Mind + Conscience (Morality) = Justice.” It’s ridiculous to see the grandchildren of genocide perpetrators speak about “document,” “morality” and “justice.”
Which document exactly are they referring to – the testimonies of Armenian Genocide survivors and their descendants (second and third generation), or the accounts of numerous international scholars, Arab and Greek eyewitnesses, rescuers and aid providers, foreign witnesses and Yezidi survivors, who all confirm the factuality of the Armenian Genocide? What do they really mean when speaking about morality? The “morality” of killing over 1.5 million ethnic Armenians by exposing them to all sorts of inexplicable violence that the average human mind would be incapable of imagining or seeing, let alone implementing? The “morality” of torturing and murdering children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities? Or the (im)”morality” of still denying the Armenian Genocide at the state level and openly supporting another genocide toward the Armenians of Artsakh over 100 years later? Perhaps to best understand how comical and ironic the words “document,” “morality” and “justice” sound in this context, both the admins of the “Armenian Genocide Lie” Facebook page as well as the policymakers at Facebook should watch the films The Lark Farm, Aurora’s Sunrise or The Promise. Perhaps after watching those films, the admins of the Facebook page who were raised and educated with biased and one-sided Turkish ideologies and narratives would be exposed to the historical truth and decide to take down the page by themselves.
When the suffering of one group is validated and condemned, while the other’s is subjected to ignorance and indifference, important questions of impartiality, fairness and equity arise. Banning any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust while allowing the public denial of the Armenian Genocide on Facebook is another portrayal of double standards and hypocrisy to which the modern world, both physical and virtual, has become so accustomed. Acknowledging historical atrocities, such as the Holocaust or the Armenian Genocide, and banning any attempts at denial is a moral imperative, because it acknowledges the suffering of the victims and helps prevent such events from happening in the future. Denial and indifference, on the other hand, cause a perpetuation of injustice and suffering, facilitating the repetition of genocide.
As the crimes of the past are not punished, they are likely to happen in the future, and it is mind-blowing to witness that, in the 21st century, in this “civilized world” of transparent communication and timely updates, some social media platforms not only do not strive to prevent the repetition of a new genocide but even facilitate its success, whether by inaction and indifference or the one-sided suppression of voices and narratives.
This phenomenon and the direct cause-effect relationship between denial and repetition can clearly be observed in the context of recent developments in the region: the devastating attacks by Azerbaijan on Artsakh in 2020 and in September 2023, the over nine-month-long blockade of the Berdzor Corridor and the resulting humanitarian catastrophe, the forced exodus of Artsakh’s Armenian population, and many other events that caused significant territorial and humanitarian damages and losses for the Armenian people, while leaving them under a new imminent threat. In fact, according to an article published on POLITICO on October 13, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that his department is tracking the possibility that Azerbaijan could soon invade Armenia. This is not at all surprising, as Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had previously spoken about his intentions to use force in order to solve the “problem” of opening a corridor along Armenia’s southern border in an attempt to link mainland Azerbaijan to an exclave bordering Turkey and Iran. As the crimes of the past are not punished, they are likely to happen in the future, and it is mind-blowing to witness that, in the 21st century, in this “civilized world” of transparent communication and timely updates, some social media platforms not only do not strive to prevent the repetition of a new genocide but even facilitate its success, whether by inaction and indifference or the one-sided suppression of voices and narratives.
As I recently moved to the College of Europe in Natolin to pursue my advanced master’s degree in European interdisciplinary studies, I had the chance to meet over 100 young people from various nationalities and backgrounds. As we were exchanging our contact information with one another, one of the students asked, jokingly: “Guys, is there anyone who still uses Facebook?” Everyone started laughing as if talking about something old-fashioned and outdated. This was a huge surprise for me, as in Armenia, Facebook is still one of the most commonly used social media platforms, where people discuss important socio-political matters and where the government exchanges important information with the population (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, when communication between the prime minister and the population would mainly take place in the form of Facebook lives). There were as many as 2,163,300 Facebook users in Armenia in January 2022, which accounted for 74.3-percent of its entire population, whereas the registered voter turnout to the 2021 Armenian parliamentary election was only 49.37-percent. With such a large user base in Armenia and the “loyalty” of the Armenian population to the platform, Facebook should put some effort into making the platform more fair and just for its Armenian users and understand how big a role any of its actions and policies can have in the protection of historical truth and in the prevention of new crimes against humanity.