Media Analysis: Perception and the risk of entanglement in the current Karabakh crisis

Sorting out truth from amid a massive amount of fake news in the current Karabakh crisis is a challenge. Nonetheless the risk that the crisis can entangle the South Caucasus in other bloody conflicts in the wider middle east is real. Perceptions are bieng built which will have long term consequences for the region.

One story that has been persistent since the fighting started on 27 September is that Syrian militants, who have been fighting in Syria against the Assad regime with the support of Turkey, have been fighting on the Azerbaijani side.

President Recip Tayip Erdogan of Turkey and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan have in the last days both strenously denied that they had introduced jihadist fighters from Syriia to fight on the Azerbaijani side in ihe current conflict.

"They say we sent Syrians to Azerbaijan, the Syrians have something to do in their country, they don't go there (that is, Azerbaijan)," Erdogan said at a meeting of the Parliamentary Group of the ruling AK Party, according to Anadolu Agency.

The President iterated that Ankara is able to provide all kinds of support to Azerbaijan. He also said that no one spoke about the weapons Russian and France provided for Armenia.

President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan described the presence of foreign fighters as "Armenian propaganda spread over the Internet and various media."

Earlier this month, soldiers of the Free Syrian Army, loyal to Ankara, said a couple of their soldiers were killed while participating in the battles on the side of the Azerbaijani army against Armenia, reports Enab Baladi.

The Syrian ambassador to Armenia, Muhammad Haj Ibrahim, spoke of the killing of 81 Syrians in the ranks of the Azerbaijani forces in the battles since last September 27.

While Erdogan continues to deny the presence of foreign fighters, the Russians claims they have evidence to proof otherwise. Both Iran and Russia also warned about the infiltration of terrorist groups in the conflict.

Putin and Erdogan have discussed the issue of militant groups in a phone call earlier this week, reported Sputnik. It is not clear what they discussed on the matter, but Putin hopes that Turkey plays an active role in deescalating the conflict. 

The narrative about foreign fighters fits into the current Armenian stance which presents the current conflict not as one between Armenia and Azerbaijan but rather as Armenia fighting a coalition of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Islamist jihadist groups.

A lot of media outlets have focused on the role of the Turkish president in the current conflict, desribing Turkish support for Azerbaijan as a part of his vision to construct a new Ottoman empire. However, on closer scrutiny, Turkish support is much more deeply rooted, and is cross party. All political parties in the Turkish parliament, except for the pro-Kurdish HDP, have supported the Azerbaijani position.

On Thursday,Kemal Kilcaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has sent a letter to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to express his party's support  for Azerbaijan.

"We believe that Azerbaijan, right both in terms of international law and history, will outcompete [Armenia] both on the ground and on the diplomacy table and will include Nagorno-Karabakh back to Azerbaijani territories by defending its national cause to the end," Kılıçdaroğlu said in the letter.

Expressing his condolences for the Azerbaijani soldiers who have lost their lives while fighting to liberate the country's lands, Kılıçdaroğlu said he had been intensively following the Azerbaijani army's operations.

"The international community has failed to find a solution to the occupation of the Azerbaijani territories for years and displacement of more than one million [Azerbaijani] migrants from their homeland," he said.

Kılıçdaroğlu recalled that a temporary ceasefire between the Armenian and Azerbaijani armies would create an opportunity but stressed that the ultimate solution to the problem was the unconditional and immediate withdrawal of Armenia from the occupied territories.

"We are cursing Armenia's rocket attacks against the residential settlements like Ganja, Berde, Mingecevir in a bid to spread out the war in entire Azerbaijan and causing civilian casualties," read the letter.

"Our hearts are beating for Azerbaijan," the CHP said, citing modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's words, "The problems of Azerbaijan are our problems, and their rejoicing is our rejoicing."

On its part Azerbaijan is saying that hundreds of Lebanese of Armenian origin, and fighters from the Kurdish organisation, the PKK, are fighting on the Armenian side. Whilst the presence of Armenians from the Middle East diaspora in the current fighting has been confirmed - even though the numbers vary a lot depending on the source - no evidence of PKK fighters has emerged yet.


Armenia is keen for Iranian support, but Tehran does not appear to have taken the bait 

Armenia is also keen to get Iran's support in the conflict.

The advisor to the President of the self-declared Nagorno Karabakh Republic,  David Babayan, said that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces are trying to seize or damage a water reservoir on the Iranian border, reports Urdu Point.

"One of the important targets of the Azerbaijani-Turkish military machine, recently, is the reservoir located on the Araks River at the Khudafrin bridges," said Babayan, during a live press conference on Facebook. "It is a very large reservoir, built with Iranian financing, and is mainly used for the needs of Iran."

Babayan says that the Azerbaijan-Turkey alliance is taking active steps towards the future destabilization of the situation in Iran

"They cannot break through the front line, but we know that this is one of the main goals to subsequence Iran, its economy, and ecology. This, in turn, will lead to serious social upheavals in this country," added Babayan.

Iran however does not seem to have taken the bait. The authoritative Iranian news agency, FARS on Friday reported that the Iranian embassy in Baku "blasted certain Azeri media outlets for releasing biased reports, and warned of attempts by enemies and ill-wishers to distort good relations between Iran and Azerbaijan."

"In recent days, despite the clear positions announced by high-ranking officials of Iran, the enemies and ill-wishers of Azerbaijan Republic and Iran have always sought to achieve their sinister goals in order to disrupt cordial relations between the two countries", the embassy said in a statement.

"The mission hereby declares that the recent rumors about the positions of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the conflict between Azerbaijan Republic and Armenia are sheer lies and baseless, the embassy's press service said, noting that the ill-wishers of the two nations of Iran and Azerbaijan are trying to deceive the public opinion and hide the facts by launching evil media campaign."

The statement reiterated that Iran and Azerbaijan Republic are friendly and brotherly nations and that friendship and brotherhood will exist forever and no one can disrupt it.

Iranian Government Spokesman Ali Rabiyee had on Tuesday called on the neighboring states of Azerbaijan and Armenia to take part in serious talks to resolve their differences of the Karabakh issue based on respect for international laws and territorial integrity.

"We welcome the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh as a step towards peace and we call on our neighbors to participate in serious talks based on respect for international laws and territorial integrity and avoid any action that disrupts the ceasefire and the first steps towards diplomacy and peace," Rabiyee told reporters in a press conference in Tehran.

"I need to express the deep concern and regret of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran over the killing of civilians and emphasize the need to avoid a repetition of these incidents as the region and the people of our countries need peace and tranquility more than ever," he added.

Rabiyee said that the Islamic Republic of Iran has declared its readiness to mediate, help resolve the crisis and reduce tensions between the two countries, FARS news agency reported.

Whilst the South Caucasus geographically borders the Middle East, and countries like Turkey and Iran have long historical, ethnic, religious and cultural connections with the region and its people, this is the first time in the thirty years of tumultuous history of the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union that the region's problems are being entangled with wider Middle East processes, and many think that no good can come out of this. Whilst a lot of the stories appearing in the mainstream media and on line are probably fake news, perceptions are being built on their basis nonetheless, with long term impact and consequences for the region.

Source: This story was prepared by the research team based on monitoring of media outlets in the Middle East










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