Media's representation of Russia-Azerbaijan affairs misses the mark - opinion

In Israeli media, commentators and other influencers are crafting a narrative that is antithetical to Israel’s core interests.

 RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING troops patrol near the border with Armenia, following a deal to end the military conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, in 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCESCO BREMBATI)
RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING troops patrol near the border with Armenia, following a deal to end the military conflict between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, in 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/FRANCESCO BREMBATI)

Amid Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine, it is easy to miss Moscow’s intervention in other conflict zones. Yet, in Eurasia’s South Caucasus region, the latest Russian interference should not be viewed as isolated from the events in Ukraine.

Last weekend, Israeli media took note when the Russian defense ministry released a statement accusing Azerbaijan of “violating the provisions of the tripartite statement of the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia of November 9, 2020” by entering “the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent on the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and setting up an observation post.”

Nagorno-Karabakh refers to the territory occupied by Armenia for three decades before Azerbaijan reclaimed it in the countries’ 2020 war, which ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire in which Armenia agreed to withdraw from the area. In 1993, well before Azerbaijan took back control of the border region, four UN Security Council resolutions affirmed Nagorno-Karabakh as internationally recognized Azerbaijani territory.

In its response to the Russian statement, Azerbaijan’s defense ministry pointed out that members of illegal Armenian armed detachments had attempted to sabotage the Azerbaijan Army Units. As a result of immediate measures, members of illegal Armenian armed detachments were forced to retreat. Azerbaijan called on Armenia to completely withdraw the remnants of the Armenian army and illegal Armenian armed detachments from the territory of Azerbaijan recognized by the international community, in accordance with the 2020 agreement.

The Azerbaijani statement also noted that Nagorno-Karabakh is now an outdated term, as the territory is part of Azerbaijan, and there is no administrative and territorial unit in Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh.

An Azeri soldier inspects the city of Cebrayil, where Azeri forces regained control during the fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, October 16, 2020. (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)An Azeri soldier inspects the city of Cebrayil, where Azeri forces regained control during the fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan, October 16, 2020. (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)

While the Armenia and Azerbaijan conflict is naturally overlooked not only now during the war in Ukraine but even in less tumultuous times. On a global scale, Armenian separatists who remain in the formerly occupied territories openly support Russian aggression, recently applauding Russia’s recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Lugansk, as independent republics.

Aligning with the UN resolutions on the matter, the US State Department explains that America “does not recognize Nagorno-Karabakh as an independent country” and “supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.” But last Friday, the State Department said it was deeply concerned with recent Azerbaijani troop movements, describing them as irresponsible and unnecessarily provocative.

In doing so, the State Department contradicted its own policy. Furthermore, by failing to stand with Baku, Washington neglects not only international law but also the strategic role that Azerbaijan plays in leading the triple-pipeline Southern Gas Corridor initiative – a centerpiece of efforts to decrease European dependence on Russian energy.

Meanwhile, in Israeli media, commentators and other influencers are crafting a narrative that is antithetical to Israel’s core interests. By continuing to use terms such as Nagorno-Karabakh and Artsakh (the Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh) for territories that Azerbaijan reclaimed in the 2020 war, they are distorting the realities on the ground and belying international law. Additionally, by amplifying Russia’s accusations against Azerbaijan in news headlines, they are lending undue credibility to Moscow’s influence war at the worst possible time, given the invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, Russia’s actions in Ukraine and in the South Caucasus are ultimately branches of the same tree.

However, if media influencers work to study and internalize the realities of these conflicts, it is not too late to fall on the right side of history.

The writer is the managing editor of the San Diego Jewish World, the former editor-in-chief of the Jewish News Syndicate and the founder of Stellar Jay Communications, a PR firm representing Azerbaijan.