Traditionally in February, when an anniversary of the Khojalu tragedy is marked, Azerbaijan is using its diplomatic and propaganda machine to invite the world attention to the Armenian “atrocities” during the 1992-1994 war in Karabakh.
This year, however, this campaign has been particularly vigorous in view of at least two propaganda failures suffered by Baku in the last several months.
Since August, the Azerbaijani propaganda, in which millions of dollars have been invested, has failed to reap benefits from at least two cases that from seemingly big victories turned into crushing defeats. The first was the case of Azerbaijani officer Ramil Safarov, who had brutally murdered a fellow Armenian student in Hungary in 2004 and was serving a life jail term in Budapest before being extradited and quickly pardoned in Azerbaijan last August. The pardoning of the “national hero” by the Azeri president and other honors given to the axe-murderer upon his return to Azerbaijan enraged not only Armenia, but also most of the civilized world.
The second defeat was the decision by Mexico City authorities to dismantle the statue to current Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s late father Heydar Aliyev, which was unveiled a year ago in the central part of the city, and remove it to another place. Mexico said it did not want to tolerate a monument to a dictator in the heart of its capital.
Now Aliyev needs to offset these losses, and he apparently has invested heavily in the campaign for the international recognition of the 1992 tragedy in the village of Khojalu in Karabakh as “genocide of Azerbaijanis”.
Armenians deny any deliberate killing of civilians in what was a major military operation that secured a strategic position for Karabakh in the war against Azerbaijan. Yerevan and Stepanakert insist the Azeri population had been properly warned of the planned onslaught and given a corridor to retreat, while the Azerbaijani side is to blame for failure to evacuate civilians. Some evidence also suggests that Аzeri combatants deliberately posed as civilians to attack Armenian positions and also that some Azeri civilians were killed by retreating Azeri forces to put blame on advancing Armenian troops.
Still, with its “caviar diplomacy” Azerbaijan still occasionally manages to have resolutions on Khojalu passed here and there. The latest of such resolutions was passed by the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Czech Parliament. However, the Czech Foreign Ministry later said it hadn’t been involved in the passage of the resolution.
Also, the U.S. administration website still has a pro-Azerbaijani petition over Khojalu that has now been signed by 25,000 people. Armenian lobbyist organizations in the United States have demanded that the text be removed from the site as it simply distorted the facts.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, commenting on the issue, said: “The tragic loss of life in the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan reminds us that there cannot be a military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Only a lasting and peaceful settlement can bring about stability, prosperity, and reconciliation in the region. As co-chairs of the Minsk Group, we remain firmly committed to working with the sides towards that.”
In this regard, questions have been raised in Armenia whether the country’s foreign policy and diplomacy are making enough efforts to stop the aggressive propaganda of Azerbaijan. Diplomats give assurances that a lot is being done, but not everything is being said out loud. This is most likely to be the case, judging from the fact that the Azerbaijani propaganda still has boomeranged in most cases.
This is also being acknowledged by some Azerbaijani scholars who try to oppose the clumsy practice of the country’s leadership. Among those who have raised their voice of dissent is writer Akram Aylisli, whose latest “Stone Dreams” novel tells about massacres and expulsion of Armenians from Nakhijevan.
The publication of the book led to persecution of its author in Azerbaijan and now Aylisli thinks of leaving his country. This has also led to reaction from world media to cause another backfire for the Azeri propaganda.
Meanwhile, these and other Azeri steps are seen by many in Armenia as an attempt to divert world attention from another tragedy, Sumgait, a town in Azerbaijan where Armenian pogroms were committed in late February 1988 as a response to the demand of Karabakh Armenians for unification with Armenia.
Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of staging a “state crime” by sponsoring the massacres of Armenians in Sumgait, while Baku is apparently using Khojalu as a means to counter the Armenian arguments in the continuing propaganda war.