“Azerbaijan Is Advancing Along The Trails Opened By The Armenian Information Field”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Political analyst Vahram Atanesyan, speaking about Artsakh, often changes the levels of the conversation, moving from everyday signs to historical generalizations, from feelings that are born from the decorations of the environment to the awareness of identity. 

He is sure that Artsakh should try to be in the international trend in the media field. But not as a symbol of the suffering Armenians, but as a serious unit of civilization. The rights of whom have been suppressed. 

Vahram Atanesyan, who lives in Stepanakert, says that information stimuli should reach the world from Artsakh journalists, who feel all the problems on their skin. 

How important is it for the international media to talk about Artsakh? 

International media is a broad concept. For example, Turkish media are included in it. The important question is how the media imagines the problem, the history, and the ethno-civilizational roots. There is no ready-made matrix that can be used to characterize all international media and that will be acceptable for presenting conflicts in general. 

And in order for the world to know about us, we have to do it first. 

To put it bluntly, the world is not concerned with what is happening here or what may happen tomorrow. First, we have to decide how we perceive ourselves and what message we want to send to the world. If we can send understandable messages, we can expect an appropriate response. 

And what kind of messages are coming from Artsakh now? 

I can honestly say that today’s messages are wrong because they are built on stereotypes, that the people of Artsakh are a suffering people, they have passed the path of purification, and like the entire Armenian people, they escaped genocide and now they are asking you to come and save them from a new genocide. 

That is the main message, and also a political one. Nikol Pashinyan’s message from the podium of the UN General Assembly was no exception. 

A hundred years should have shown us that the image of the victim does not work. If it worked, it would have worked after 1915. 

Is it about an ethnic conflict? 

Ethnicity can be presented purely as a phenomenon. An Armenian phenomenon. 

But we did not choose the right orientation from the beginning, because we considered Artsakh as a separate unit, within the borders of Khamsa’s eminences as described by Raffi. Meanwhile, we had (still have and will have tomorrow) the problem of the Armenians of the entire Transcaucasia. 

There is no Azerbaijan in that global historical-civilizational landscape, there is Atropatene, which is in the north of modern-day Iran. 

Conventionally, we say the Eastern Transcaucasia (although of course, it is a term transferred from the Russian Empire), which includes the Absheron Peninsula to Berdzor and the Persian Atropatene to Derbent. 

This is the Eastern Transcaucasia, where our ethno-civilizational identity has been manifested for centuries. 

Today’s Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is the heir and rightful owner of the right of self-determination of the Armenians of Eastern Transcaucasia, which was repressed in September 1918 by the Turkish occupation. And that’s for certain. 

If the Turkish expeditionary corps had not captured Baku on September 15, 1918, we would have had a completely different political and civilizational landscape. 

And here we made a fatal mistake. In 1919, when the British occupation regime was actually ruling Baku, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation participated in the parliamentary elections and formed a faction. In other words, when you participate in the elections and receive ministerial portfolios (two), you accept the legitimacy of that state and renounce the question of identity. 

It was a fatal mistake that we tried to correct by not participating in the independence process of Azerbaijan in 1991. We had already started the process of our independence. 

And for 31 years we have been outside the legal and constitutional regulations and political landscape of Azerbaijan. 

Not being included in their political system is a very important factor. We did not do that, now they want to force us to enter. 

If we evaluate the meaning of the 44-day war of 2020 not from the point of view of territory or invasion, as we are always used to doing, saying that the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem used aggression against the Armenians of Artsakh, etc. (of course, at first glance, this is so), but from the essence, we will see that the repression of the right to self-determination has taken place. And already for the third time. 

The first was in 1918, and the second in 1920, with the destruction of Shushi. Shushi was the center of Nagorno-Karabakh, it is true that it was not a mono-ethnic city, but it was a center. And by organizing the slaughter and deportation of the Armenians of Shushi, Azerbaijan solved the problem of not having a poly-ethnic, multi-confessional and multicultural environment in Shushi. 

My point of view is that we are reducing the Nagorno-Karabakh issue to a territorial dispute (this may be a factor in the issue of Armenia’s internationally recognized borders), and in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, the issue is the repression of identity. 

They tell us: you are not who you say you are, you are not Armenian, you are a citizen of Azerbaijan, therefore you are an Azerbaijani. 

And we say, no, that is not true, because we did not participate in the formation of the independent state of Azerbaijan. 

Do the stimuli coming from Armenia, as well as state propaganda, take that approach? Or maybe, will Artsakh itself advance this positioning? 

We have to move the problem from the level of territorial expansion and controlling the territory to the level of identity preservation. 

We say that we are subjected to genocide, and the world’s response is that we will insure you. And we are talking about physical insurance. But the problem of physical existence, in the end, can also be solved by Azerbaijan. 

I can even say that we will get greater security guarantees than there are today. 

By cherishing it as an example to show the world? 

Of course, they can preserve us as museum specimens. As, for example, they represent the Russian village of Ivanovka in the Ismailli District. They say: look, there is a Russian school, there is a church, everything is fine because we are a tolerant country. 

I repeat again: our problem is the protection of cultural identity, from which the problem of political self-determination should be born and derived. 

If you have a civilized identity, then you must also have a political status. 

And if you are only an ethnic Armenian living in this area, then the rights and freedoms defined by the constitution of Azerbaijan are sufficient. 

We have been living in myths for a long time, starting with the fact that we have a strong army, and that the status quo in Artsakh is in our favor. What was particularly damaging? 

There was no political perception. The problem was presented as a constituent part of the Armenian National Committee. At least, that was the ruling propaganda. That the problem of Artsakh does not exist separately, but it is within the logic of the Armenian National Committee, and after Artsakh, we should go to, say, Javakhk, Kars, etc. 

Basically, we have identified ourselves with the conquerors who want to separate territories from Azerbaijan, tomorrow we will want another territory from Georgia, then from Turkey and we will form the Great Hayk, following the footsteps of Tigran the Great’s horse. 

And this led to the opposite perception. That we are the conquerors. 

Still, I want to ask why these viewpoints have not been heard from Artsakh for so many years. 

Let me answer with a simple example. In Artsakh, especially in Stepanakert, November 7 has been a holiday for many years. In other words, Stepanakert was celebrating the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. And it is still celebrated today because there are people who consider that day a holiday. 

Isn’t that scary? 

It is not only scary but also terrible. The day of honoring the dead in Nagorno-Karabakh is May 2. It is more suitable for the weather coming from Russia, and many people think that if the first days of May are a holiday in Russia, then it should be the same here. 

Many holidays and important days, which Armenians celebrate in other places, are just a part of the mandatory protocol in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

I want to say clearly: the real civilizational union of Armenia and Artsakh did not take place. And if you don’t realize your place in civilization, everything becomes meaningless. 

Artsakh National Assembly Speaker Oleg Yesayan told me that when he and Hrant Matevosyan were traveling to Los Angeles in 1996 to participate in another “charity” of the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund, Hrant Matevosyan asked him on the plane, “Have you read me?” Yesayan honestly answered no. Matevosyan responded, how do you work as NA president if you haven’t read Hrant Matevosyan? 

After that conversation, Oleg Yesayan, returning to Karabakh, had to ask the same question at least to his 33 deputies, one by one. And if they told him that they haven’t read Hrant Matevosyan, he would answer, “What kind of Armenian are you, then?” 

Of course, I mention the name of Hrant Matevosyan conditionally now. Any other modern Armenian writer can be in his place. 

Or it could be a question, what kind of music do you listen to as a Karabakhian? 

They are very important questions because they are standards. 

It is a painful question, which is relevant in Armenia as well. 

I do not reserve the right to speak about Armenia. 

And has the voice of Artsakh been heard in the information wars? 

We are not in that information war and never have been. We are a surrendered side in the information war. 

For example, when you read that the special unit of the Nagorno-Karabakh NSS also participated in the battles of Jermuk, I understand that this is open information aimed at the enemy. 

It is unequivocally betrayal, even treason. 

Moreover, the question is not whether the news is true or not. The issue is that the Armenian mass media writes about it and mentions the name of the commander of that unit. It is absolute treason. 

And during the 44-day war, and during the past two years, such cases happened often. 

In the last two years, the entire Armenian discourse has been built around the word “capitulation.” And Azerbaijan also uses it, saying, if it is capitulation, then you have to sign what I want. 

The problem is that in the statement of November 9, we are not trying to see something in our favor, but we are saying that it is over, we have handed over the lands and surrendered. And Aliyev also says, ‘if you say that, then you have surrendered.’ 

Let’s look at this rationally: Azerbaijan is advancing along the paths opened by the Armenian information field. Where he sees that path, he enters. 

I can give many examples. Let’s say, on the morning of March 24 of this year, a member of the National Assembly of Armenia writes on Facebook that the Azerbaijanis entered Parukh, heading towards Karaglukh. Roughly speaking, it prepares us for what will be. And the question is, where did he get that information from? 

A few days ago, the speaker of the National-Democratic Pole literally terrorized millions of Armenians by saying that the population of Noyemberyan is being evacuated. And he was in Lisbon at that time. 

This is our reality. 

We seem to have created a false aura of self-defense that we are victims of fraud by various global conspiratorial groups. But the problem is that we are weak within ourselves. Because we do not have a civilized identity. 

We did not raise national values among us. Starting with words used in everyday life, and ending with statues placed in cities. 

I want to ask: what is the purpose of the statue of Hovhannes Baghramyan in Yerevan? After all, he was not an Armenian marshal, but a Soviet one. Where are the statues related to our identity? Conventionally speaking, where is our Arch of Triumph, examples of which exist in European cities? 

When we install even the statues of William Saroyan or Aram Khachatryan, we admit that we have nothing inside us and we have to find it from outside. 

In that case, why is there a statue of Shahumyan in the center of Stepanakert? 

I don’t know. I have often written that keeping it in our square is very wrong. Moreover, the sculptor of the statue is a Turk, his name has been erased as if there is no author. Shahumyan’s statue looks towards the Caspian Sea. And what does that tell us? Especially since Freedom Fighters Avenue begins with Shahumyan’s statue. 

At the civilized level, Shahumyan and the freedom fighters do not connect with each other. This is a dissonance, even an antagonistic contrast. 

Karabakh men never wear shoes that have laces, even if they haven’t lived in Karabakh for a long time. They only wear those shoes that don’t have laces. 

To be easy to take off and put on again? 

I can’t say for sure, but it is hence an Azerbaijani custom. Look at Aliyev’s shoes. 

Now it has become quite difficult for journalists to enter Artsakh. Will it lead to an information vacuum? 

I want to say (please don’t be offended) that the more Armenian journalists are blocked from entering Artsakh, the greater our benefit will be. 

We ourselves should create an informational environment from here and try to enter the international trend. 

I have worked for two years at the “Azatutyun” radio station as a reporter from Stepanakert. Now “Azatutyun” does not have a reporter, and when it reports, it uses the expression “as our sources in Stepanakert report.” 

And what is getting in the way of keeping a reporter in Stepanakert? The same applies to different media. Let them be kind enough to give a salary of 150-200 thousand to a journalist who will work right here. 

Not to come and go, but to work there and feel what is happening there first-hand. Let’s say they take their child to kindergarten in the morning and then go to their journalistic work. 

The feeling of such a person should be conveyed from Stepanakert, not the gaze of the speakers in the Yerevan pavilion. 

But sometimes the gaze of those journalists is full of stereotypical words and pathos. 

My grandson, going to school in September, said that four children were missing from their class. Where are they, and why did they move? The indicator is what their parents do. There are government members who have sent their children to schools in Yerevan. But they say that everything is fine. 

They have said that for 20 years: we will not cede an inch of land, there will be no return to the past in terms of either territory or status. 

And it really happened that way: there was no return to the territory or the past. In the past, we had an autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh with an area of 4,400 square meters, but now we don’t have it. 

Don’t you think that at least now the media stimuli coming from Artsakh can change drastically, and become more active and confident? After all, the narratives of the past no longer work. 

The entire international conjuncture is not interested in closing the Artsakh issue. 

And if the issue is not closed, it is always an opportunity. The problem is how we use that opportunity. Are we organizing or not? 

And that is very complicated… 

For example, I think that if a person has not read Iosif Brodsky’s essay on Istanbul, they cannot have an accurate idea about Turkey. Stepanakert does not have the intellectual potential to present its perceptions in the way that Brodsky perceived Istanbul as a civilizational value. For him, Istanbul is not Turkey, but one of the cradles of world civilization. 

I agree. You make references to art and literature, which are signs of identity. But the same can be said about the documentary, and above all the media. 

Documentation is the same literature. 

In the last few days, the Chamberlain-Churchill contrast has been actively circulating in the Armenian media field. In other words, Pashinyan is Chamberlain, but Churchill must come, who will bring victory to the Armenian people. 

What I want to ask is, who will Churchill be? 

Maybe they mean Robert Kocharyan. 

It cannot be Kocharyan, because Churchill was a Nobel Prize winner in the field of literature for his four-volume memoirs written after the First World War. 

When the President of Armenia allowed himself a lapse of judgment during the death of the Queen of Great Britain, it became another episode of our civilizational defeat. If you don’t know something, stand aside. It is better to stand aside to be ushered, rather than to appear like a broken spoon in the center of attention of the media domain. 

We have to get into the global rhythm very quickly. Now we are out of that rhythm. And our eastern neighbors have been in that rhythm for a long time. 

Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan

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