Suren Sargsyan

US Media Coverage of the Armenian Exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh

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On September 19, Azerbaijan launched its gruesome attack against the civil population of Artsakh following a nine-month total blockade, committing atrocities resulting in the ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population. This was covered in the US media. Below we have singled out what kind of issues were discussed and the manner in which they were presented.

Separatists instead of Armenians or Karabakh Armenians

The first and foremost problem that one can encounter when reading several articles in such American media outlets as the Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Fox News and NPR covering the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh (NK) conflict is the use of the term “separatists” instead of “the local Armenian population” or “NK Armenians,” and “separatist government” instead of “the unrecognized NK government.” The shift in the discourse can indicate two things: either some circles in the United States are trying to delegitimize the Armenian entity that existed in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh or that Azerbaijan is paying huge sums of money to do that job.

US Assistance to Armenia and the Visit of Samantha Power

The American media portrayed the US official response to the situation in Artsakh. The response came in two directions: one in the form of financial assistance provided to Armenia, specifically the $11.5 million in humanitarian aid  announced by the Biden administration, and the second was in the form of a statement calling for respect of the “sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and democracy” of Armenia. That statement was made by Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) during her visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan days after thousands of Armenians were forcibly displaced from NK. This visit of Samantha Power and the announcement of US assistance to Armenia was covered in a number of US media outlets.

Deteriorating Relations between Armenia and Russia 

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Another key point that received wide coverage in the US media was the deterioration of relations between Armenia and Russia, and the issue of Russian peacekeepers.

First, US media highlighted that the Armenian government accused the Russian peacekeepers of failing to protect the Armenian population, which also led to mass protests in Armenia, including the one outside of the Russian Embassy in Yerevan.

However, it was also stressed that the tension between the two countries emerged way before the exodus of the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians. Among the reasons, two were particularly emphasized: joint military exercises with the US and ratification of the Rome Statute. Another reason highlighted by the US media is the sending by Armenia of humanitarian aid to Ukraine and the visit of the Armenian prime minister’s wife to Ukraine. CNN even cited the Armenian prime minister stating, “We are not Russia’s ally in the war with Ukraine.”

Last but not least is an analysis referring to Russia’s actions. The New York Times concludes that Russia acted within its own interests: it tilted away from Armenia towards Azerbaijan, which is “much richer and militarily stronger than Armenia.” and  “offers a bigger market for Russian goods, particularly weapons, and sits astride roads and railway lines vital for Russia’s trade with Iran and Turkey.”

Thus, the US media coverage of Armenian-Russian relations widely emphasized the tensions and problems developing between the two countries, putting specific emphasis on issues related to or of concern to the West.

Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan’s Western Orientation

As already mentioned, the relationship between Armenia and Russia was highlighted in a number of US newspapers including the Western orientation of Pashinyan. Some news outlets such as Newsweek went so far as to state that the dissolution of NK is a “win for Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan” in realpolitik terms, as it was a “political burden and a barrier to regional peace and integration.” According to the same controversial article, “ Peace will also allow Yerevan to cooperate with Azerbaijan and Turkey, which could accomplish Pashinyan’s goal to reorient Armenia to the west.”

Other articles highlighted the fact that Pashinyan and his government were critical of Moscow and its peacekeepers and that mutual accusations were made. Pashinyan is represented as someone “who has sought to strengthen ties with the US and the EU” while he is viewed “with suspicion” by Russia’s president who abhors so-called “color revolutions.” Also, Pashinyan’s comments, including criticism of Russia, the lack of the need for continuing the Russian military base in Armenia and the need to diversify Armenia’s relationships, are often cited in the US media.

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