What Has Media Coverage Missed in the Conflict Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?

Western media coverage of the Nagorno-Karabakh War has often portrayed Azerbaijan in a negative light, relying on Western fears of Islamic terrorism and distrust of Turkey to paint a black-and-white image of the conflict, with Azerbaijan in the wrong and Armenia in the right. As an Azerbaijani myself, I find much of this coverage to be biased if not outright false, and so I wish to share my own perspective.

The conflict has its origins in the early 1980s when the ethnic Armenian majority of the region voted to join Armenia, a move protested by Azerbaijanis within the region and Azerbaijan as a nation. The vote was rejected, leading to a downward spiral of ethnic provocations. These provocations eventually culminated in a bloody war between the two small nations, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people, and only ending with a Russian-sponsored ceasefire that left the governance of the Nagorno-Karabakh region within Azerbaijan to autonomous Armenian separatists. Until recently, Karabakh and its surrounding regions — over 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory  —  have been occupied by Armenia, with Russian support, resulting in almost one million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Azerbaijan. 

Only now might those IDPs have the chance to return to their homes. That is because on Nov. 10, after another outbreak of fighting, the Russians sponsored a new ceasefire, which will return the majority of the lost territory to Azerbaijan by December of this year.

This peace comes after four United Nations Security Council Resolutions, which demanded the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.  These U.N. resolutions also required the introduction of the Madrid Principles by the OSCE Minsk Group (an international coalition built to mediate the conflict) to return Azerbaijani IDPs back to their homes in the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh. But both of these demands went unheeded by Armenia until their recent military defeat. 

With a basic history of this conflict now laid out, let’s turn to some gaps in the Western media’s coverage.

First, we need to address the claims that this war constitutes a second Armenian genocide. The Armenians refer to the Azerbaijanis as “Turks” in part to bolster this narrative and spark misleading claims of a pan-Turkic nationalist cause of war. This is manifestly false. Azerbaijan’s stake in this fight is not to remove or harm Armenians but to restore its own people to their homes, abandoned after Armenia’s conquests in the initial conflict, homes which the defeated Armenians are now burning as an additional insult to the decades-displaced Azeris who once lived in them. 

Feeding on this line of argumentation, Armenia has sought to draw attention to Azerbaijan’s international backer, Turkey. Armenian propagandists try to focus the conversation on Turkish involvement led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in order to gain international attention and sympathy. However, what this narrative ignores is the role that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia has played in propping up Armenia’s side. If both countries are supported by arguably anti-democratic and anti-Western actors, looking at the conflict through the lens of international backers isn’t a particularly useful way for Western audiences to understand its complexities.

The battles of this war are happening in the internationally-recognized territories of Azerbaijan. I myself have had trouble even attending class as Armenia bombed my city, though it is far away from the conflict zone. It is important to understand that Azerbaijan is essentially fighting a defensive war, trying to restore its old territories rather than conquer new ones. Karabakh has been populated and ruled by Azerbaijanis since the rise of the Karabakh Khanate in the mid-1700s. It seems hypocritical that Westerners universally decried the Russian annexation of Crimea but have refused to make a similar condemnation of a Russian-backed conquest of Azerbaijan. 

Azerbaijan never wanted war; we wanted to live together again, to be neighbors, to leave our past behind and focus on building a better future. Since the initial conflict, everyone here has been united under one desire: taking back our homes. Though Armenia still has access to Karabakh’s most populated areas via a corridor with Russian protection, we have taken back our homes and hope that we can finally live in peace.