The tote bag gifted to the EU Ambassador by an NGO in Meghri became the subject of speculation on social networks and media․ Pictured on the tote was the image of the EU flag and the map of Armenia, several users and the press that republished their comments saw a pro-Azerbaijani message.
On June 15, the European Union Delegation to Armenia published a post on Facebook regarding the visit of EU Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin to Meghri. During the visit, the ambassador met with representatives of civil society in Meghri. The post was accompanied by a photo of Nvard Khachatryan, the founder of the Meghri Women’s Resource Center NGO, and Ambassador Wiktorin, in which the ambassador was holding a bag with an image of the map of Armenia and the EU flag.
The photo became a cause for manipulation in various social networks (example 1, example 2, example 3). The page @301arm, which has 32,000 followers, wrote on Twitter that the ambassador showed off a bag in Meghri, where Armenia is pictured without Artsakh, and Azerbaijan, represented by the EU flag, is connected to Nakhichevan via Meghri.
Ambassador Wiktorin herself responded to the page’s claim, “It is very sad that you insult this warm-hearted, brave, active Meghri woman [Nvard Khachatryan], who does a lot for the local people and gave me the bag as a gift. It’s a heart, not a map.”
In a conversation with Media.am, Nvard Khachatryan confirmed Wiktorin’s words, “We have a habit of giving symbolic gifts to our guests. In this case, the gift was an exclusive item on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Armenia-EU diplomatic relations. The designer simply combined the EU flag and the map of Armenia.”
The photo provided to Media.am by the NGO really shows that the designer tried to combine the map of Armenia and the EU flag in the shape of a heart.
Ambassador Wiktorin also visited the Meghri Women’s Resource Center in 2021. On June 17, French Ambassador Anne Louyot visited this center of Meghri and was gifted another bag made by the beneficiaries of the center, with the image of Charles Aznavour.
As for the map of Armenia depicted without Artsakh, not only the EU but also other official international platforms, as well as official Yerevan, usually depict the map of Armenia without Artsakh.
The press spread the assumptions of social networks
The assumption about the shape of the EU flag in the form of the map of Azerbaijan quickly appeared on social media sites. Moreover, many media outlets did not collect and process information, but simply reprinted the posts of various social network users.
For example, Panorama.am reprinted the Facebook post of former Chief of Staff of the Constitutional Court Edgar Ghazaryan, where he claimed that the map of the South Caucasus was on the bag. The Kentron.am and Artsakh.news websites reprinted (link 1, link 2) the post of user Mher Ghazaryan, where the latter advised to “give way to fantasies” and say what you see on the EU ambassador’s bag.
168․am and Mamul.am reprinted (link 1, link 2) the post of Anna Kostanyan, a former member of the “Bright Armenia” party, in which she claimed that the image of the EU flag “visually connects Azerbaijan with Nakhichevan through Meghri.”
Speculations surrounding the EU delegation are not new
This is not the first time that the EU delegation in Armenia has become a subject of information speculation. For example, in April the Telegram channel Армянская вендетта wrote that the EU and US ambassadors were “the very representatives of the international community who demand the extradition of Artsakh to Azerbaijan” (despite the fact that aside from the US and EU countries, other major powers, including Russia, do not recognize Artsakh as independent or part of Armenia). Andrea Wiktorin has stated several times that “the European Union attaches importance to the preservation of Armenia’s territorial integrity.”
After the Velvet Revolution, many far-right groups manipulated stories of a “globalist” West, according to which the EU and the US were destroying Armenia’s “national values.” Thus, in 2019, the group “Kamk” demonstrated in front of the EU Office in Armenia and sent a letter of protest to former Ambassador Piotr Switalski, claiming that the EU carries out “sponsorship of […] phenomena directed against the national, spiritual and traditional family values of the Armenian people.”
The EU’s human rights agenda, including the rights of sexual minorities, has been repeatedly manipulated in the press. For example, during the 44-day war, the website Yerevan.today recalled former ambassador Piotr Switalski: The media outlet claimed that the ambassadors of the EU and other Western powers criticized the violence against LGBT people in Shurnukh, but were silent about what was happening to the peaceful population of Artsakh.
In February, the opposition accused Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin and other EU diplomats of concealing the situation in Armenia from EU capitals. In May, opposition users and the press accused the EU ambassador of not condemning the use of force by the police during opposition rallies. Facebook user Kristina Nazaryan asked a rhetorical question, whose post was reprinted in the press and on mushroom websites, “Mrs. Andrea Wiktorin, do you have nothing to say, or do you enjoy seeing a 77-year-old woman’s arm being broken?” (example 1, example 2, example 3).