The main topic of anthropologist Hrak Papazian’s research is the modern Turkish-Armenian society with its various layers.
He has a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Oxford and is trying to observe the current Armenian-Azerbaijani war (in which Turkey is a direct participant) against the background of the existing cultural stereotypes and information wars intensifying on social media.
As anti-Armenian propaganda is at the highest level in Turkey, and the word “Armenian” is almost an insult (like the word “Turk” in Armenia), in the current war, hate speech and hostility have flooded social media.
How is the Armenian-Azerbaijani war reflected in Turkish society? Are there sober voices who perceive the situation with depth, with non-belligerent calls?
There are such voices, but they are a small minority.
First of all, we must understand that there is a clear state line, which is very nationalistic. For decades, the Turkish state policy has been strongly nationalistic in its essence and identity. And from the very first day of the war, those nationalist voices have been continuing their anti-Armenian propaganda in a very harsh and rough way.
It is not that they are sowing it now, but they have always done it incessantly, they have just increased the share of that discourse now.
Armenian-Turkish relations and the people involved in them are confused. At this moment, everything seems to have stopped; everyone is waiting for the war to end, and then it will show what those relations will turn into.
The most vocal anti-war voice in Turkey right now is the People’s Democratic Party of Turkey, of which Karo Paylan is a member. There are also smaller groups, parties, left-wing, Marxist, which made several statements in the first days of the war, urging Turkey not to support the war.
But those voices were lost in the media field, which is flooded with the idea that the Armenian is the enemy, a bad, inhuman, violent creature. That is what prevails in public speech.
Naturally, all this affects the Armenians of Turkey, who are constantly in that noise. And they say that this sermon is already suffocating them. Some, including Muslim Armenians, want to leave Turkey.
I have friends who wrote that this situation is no longer tolerable because their employers are putting pressure on them and targeting them for being Armenian.
Anti-Armenian discourse is growing rapidly in the media field, especially on social media.
That was to be expected, of course. Wars are very unpleasant on Twitter.
For example, the hashtags cursing and humiliating Karo Paylan simply became a trend on Twitter. The hashtag “Disgraceful Karo Paylyan” was the most popular on Turkish Twitter a few days ago.
Anti-Armenianism in Turkey is not a stereotype that some Armenians have, but a simple reality.
Turkey has long pursued an essentially anti-Armenian policy and propaganda. And it is not right to cover it with a veil at the cost of showing an optimistic and kind but dreamy world detached from reality.
Positive voices from there are very powerful, sometimes even exemplary, but should not be cut off from a broader context.
Against the background of hatred and aggressive attacks, objective analysis is lost. Does the information war play a role or is everything still decided on the battlefield, with weapons?
I think the information war has two effects: short-term and long-term.
Firstly, of course, it can affect the outcome of the war, the reflection of that war is clearly visible in the international media and social networks. It becomes important as to who spreads what information and that the information spreads, including fake news.
For example, realizing that the Turkish media could no longer hide the fact that the Turkish side had brought jihadist mercenaries to Karabakh and made them part of the attacks, the Turkish media even published actively contradictory materials before the war began.
It was an attempt to create a completely false media field (and still continues to do so) that Armenians have transferred “terrorist” groups of the Kurdish Workers’ Party to Karabakh and are using them in hostilities.
Materials about it are being actively prepared without any grounded, not even semi-grounded, facts. This, for example, has an impact on the information war in the short term.
In this regard, we must be careful not to feed those attempts at information warfare.
Recently, a video appeared on social networks, where an Armenian citizen, a Yezidi soldier, sings a song in Kurdish (in his native language) in Armenian military uniform at the Karabakh positions on the front. The distributor of the video did it as a fact of the Armenian-Yezidi brotherhood, but in my opinion, the video should not have been spread, because I am sure that the Turkish media and special services will use it to advance their false agenda, saying, “Look, this is a fact.” The forces of the Kurdish Workers’ Party are present in Karabakh.
In this way, they will try to balance the well-founded arguments made by the Armenian side.
I would like to talk more about the deep and long-term impact during the post-war period.
The propaganda of hatred that is being sown today in all parts, including the Armenian social media, will have a real impact. Of course, the hate speech in Armenia is not comparable to the Turkish and Azeri ones, the scale and level of the state organization of which are completely different (let’s not fall into the trap of false objectivity), but it exists.
It is natural that the effect of the propaganda of hostility will not end after the end of the war.
For example, the Turkish anti-Armenian propaganda affects not only the Armenians living in Turkey today, but also several generations to come.
Stereotypes and prejudices are now being actively recharged, and re-emptying them is a very difficult and long-term task.
If in the last 10-20 years there has been some attempt by the Istanbul-Armenian circles (Hrant Dink, AKOS), democrats, pro-diversity Turkish or Kurdish intellectuals to break the “bad Armenian” model, to speak more about the historical reality, then during this month those attempts are being broken in the light of another big anti-Armenian wave.
All parties must be aware of using the media, social networks and especially public speech not as a tool of the moment, but with caution in this sensitive field.
It is inconceivable that even if this war stops tomorrow, the propaganda of hatred, especially its impact, will end.
No, it will continue, it will affect people’s perceptions and lives.
Yes, even if we understand the dangers, considering the word a weapon helps during the war itself. The false objectivity you say seems to inflame the passions even more. Is it possible to be neutral in this flood of information?
The error begins when the media and social media try to be neutral towards the parties and not the reality.
Objectivity does not mean not saying what can make one party more guilty than the other. And not necessarily try, even at the cost of deviating from reality, to equalize the sides and say something pleasant to both sides.
One should try to approach reality through neutral glasses, not the sides.
Let me talk about a topic on social media that is part of my research. It is a clash of anti-anti-Turkish and anti-Turkish discourses.
Especially in this war, where Turkey is an obvious party and responsible, it is natural that anti-Turkish sentiments are growing in the Armenian society. There are, unfortunately, expressions of fanaticism or fascism. All Turkish citizens are described as “bad Turks” and the emphasis is on one broad classification: nationality.
And the anti-anti-Turkish discourse on social media is a reaction to this, which is possible if it does not deviate from the real objectivity.
It is possible as a discourse resisting racism when people say that it is not necessary to give general qualifications to Turks (and of any people), it is not necessary to build the image of Turks and Armenians as lifelong, incompatible identities.
But this discourse goes to another extreme when it comes to false equations, ignoring or forgetting Turkey’s anti-Armenian actions, policies and propaganda.
It seems that in order to achieve peace and brotherhood, one should simply ignore these phenomena, instead of fighting for their elimination …
For example, when it is said that Turks and Armenians can live together in peace and the attempt to live together in Turkey after 1915 is mentioned as a fact, it does not do a good deed, but simply distorts the reality.
It is a false and manipulative method. Yes, Armenians have continued to live in Turkey since 1915 and still do, but how did they live, how do they live?
If you do not open the brackets about that “how,” your argument of coexistence becomes useless. A dream is created about a pink world, which is cut off from context, politics and reality.
Armenians have continued to live in Turkey… And here a comma should be placed and the following added: they lived in a situation of systemic violence, constant pressure, discrimination and anti-Armenian official policy.
And first of all, these things must be eliminated, only then it will be possible to eliminate the mistrust and hostility born of them.
It can be called infantile peace-loving when you are not familiar with history, but want to be a peace-loving child. And it makes me even more nervous. Especially when they say that Armenians can live peacefully in Artsakh, but within Azerbaijan.
When the suffering of the Armenians living in those countries is completely ignored, an attempt is made to cover it with fraternal slogans, the denial policy of the aggressor states is duplicated.
The Armenians of Turkey are still under nationalist pressure, violence and forced to leave the country, which speaks of the objective impossibility of coexistence.
And dreaming about the desired coexistence, to keep silent about the historical, modern suffering of people, is not only far from science, but also a mere insult.
Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan