Speculation, misinformation and irresponsible journalism rife ahead of possible Karabakh deal

Talk of a possible framework peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan should be cause for good news in most countries facing an uncertain future, but nothing is ever simple or even logical in the South Caucasus. Ethno-nationalism and distorted, usually subjective, versions of history are common and politically expedient forces will exploit any issue in order to come to power. 

Friend and author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War, Tom de Waal, put it simply when he said the region resembled a "geopolitical suicide-pact." Of course, such a reality shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but there are times when the irresponsible behaviour exhibited by the media and political forces is quite simply astonishing.

Last night was a case in point when one alarmed young Armenian sent me a message via ICQ. "The Turks have taken Kelbajar and the [Armenian] government is covering it up," she wrote. "When did this happen?" I asked. "Last night," was the reply. "Firstly," I continued, "they are Azeris. Secondly, I thought you had a bit more intelligence than that." I mean, how difficult is it to search the international news wires for reliable information? 

RFE’s Azeri service did, however, reported on the panic and how it spread. A friend from Baku provides a rough summary in English.

The title reads "What was the panic in Yerevan on 21 July about?" Then it says that it all started from the TV not working that morning. After several hours people began to worry and some took the rumor seriously, especially the opposition newspapers. It mentions tert.am.

Of course, Kelbajar wasn’t taken in the start of fresh fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh, but it is indicative of how prone people are in the region to take misinformation, propaganda and speculation as fact. Unfortunately, this extends to an irresonsible or politicized media and civil society that has started to resort to nationalist terminology in the hope that they can enact regime change.

Sad, and not least because the framwework peace agreement reportedly under discussion is pretty much the same that extra-parliamentary opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian was ready to accept when he was the country’s first president. Back then, he was forced to resign by nationalist elements within his own government and one suspects that his supporters hope "revenge" will be sweet. 

For such people, however, what is at stake here is not the long-term security of Armenia or Karabakh, but rather coming to power at any cost and by any means. As one Ter-Petrossian supporter told me recently, "We will never let Serge [the Armenian president] "sell-out" Karabakh. However, there would be no problem if it was Levon [extra-parliamentary leader]. who was president."

Meanwhile, if those seeking to scupper what might be the one last chance for peace are successful, future generations of Armenians and Azerbaijanis will only suffer because of it.