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BBC news coverage targeted in 'media war' between Armenia and Azerbaijan

  • Armenian community to protest outside BBC headquarters in Salford tomorrow against 'biased' reporting
  • Armenian and Azerbaijani expats in Manchester feel greatly affected by eruption of violence in home countries
  • Hundreds of people have died in September and October in the latest clashes over territory

Armenian and Azerbaijani expats in Manchester are fighting a ‘media war’ over the recent violent clashes between their home countries.

Local members of the Armenian and Azerbaijani communities feel that international media is guilty of biased reporting on the current fighting, with an estimated death toll between several hundred and a few thousand.

The violence that erupted in September is the latest escalation of an unresolved conflict over territory between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Tatevik Bagratyan, 31, who was was born in the Kotayk province of Armenia, is organising an Armenian protest outside the BBC office in Salford tomorrow (Saturday).

Nijat Jafarli, 26, who was was born in the Ismayilli region of Azerbaijan, is part of the Azerbaijani community in Manchester. 

Both say they feel greatly affected by the current strife in their home countries.

Tatevik said: "You go to work every day and think: I wonder how many more have been injured? I wonder how many more are dead?

"I wonder what I can do to help. Two of my first cousins are in the army and one has been injured. It is terrifying."

Nijat said: “It is hard. Rockets flying over your family’s head and you have to create some spreadsheet for work.

"And not many people here know what is going on. Not a single person at work has asked me: What is going on in your country?”

As expats in the UK, where the conflict has hardly received public attention until the latest clashes, Nijat and Tatevik say they see themselves in the middle of what Nijat calls a “media war”.

Nijat Jafarli Azerbaijan
Nijat Jafarli, 26, Azerbaijani expat in Manchester

Both sides accuse each other of being responsible for the recent clashes, and both sides claim that international coverage of the conflict is too subjective.

Nijat said: "There is this media war going on. It is not just on the battlefield. We are trying to deliver the facts and not let the other side present lies.

"We are trying to create a balance of facts in the media because we feel like we don’t have a voice right now.”

Tatevik said: “There is so much misinformation. The BBC has been quite bad with their reporting; it is extremely biased. They failed to report on so many human rights violations.”

As an example she cited the bombing of an Armenian church in the city of Shusha in Nagorno-Kabarakh on 8 October.

She said: “As Armenians, a church is sacred for us. We would never bomb a church.

"The headline by the BBC was so insulting. They said: ‘Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of targeting cathedral’.

"What does it mean, ‘accuses’? Who else was it going to be that bombed that church?

"We don’t want favourable reporting. We just want them to provide comprehensive coverage. Important facts are overlooked. But they are necessary for the viewers to have a balanced perspective.”

The Armenian community will be demonstrating against biased reporting outside the BBC building on dock 10 in Salford from 12 am to 2 pm.

Nijat  said: “We don’t know how it will go down and we don’t want violence.

"It is their right, if they want to protest, they should. I trust the real journalists to present both sides.”

Map_Nagorno_Karabakh
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is the main site of a territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Image: Marshall Bagramyan

The conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has roots in the last century. Both countries were part of the Soviet Union, with Stalin responsible for defining the countries’ borders in the 1920s.

The region of Nagorno-Karabakh became part of Soviet Azerbaijan, but has for centuries been inhabited by an Armenian majority.

Ethnic Armenians prefer to call the region by its old Armenian name, Artsakh.

In 1988, the Karabakh Armenians demanded to join Soviet Armenia. The resulting conflict escalated into a full-scale war until a ceasefire was brokered in 1994.

Ever since, the countries have been deadlocked in a state of ever-present conflict.

Tatevik left Armenia at age 10.

She said: “I was in Armenia when the war was happening. A lot of my friends didn’t have fathers because they died.

"We didn’t have electricity a lot of times, we had to ration food, and there was constant fear. I really did experience the trauma of that first war with Azerbaijan as a child. “

Nijat came to the UK in 2013 for his studies.

He said: “I was born in the year the ceasefire was agreed, but my mother, my father, everyone saw the war.

"There were breakings of the truce with casualties from both sides.

"When I was young, whoever you talked to and whatever you watched on TV, the number one problem was Karabakh: We have to get the land back.

"That is the sentiment we grew up with.

"It is a justified feeling: If someone tries to occupy your land and force you out, you want to go back there and take revenge.”

Tatevik Bagratyan
Tatevik Bagratyan, 31, Armenian expat in Manchester

Until now, Armenians control most of Nagorno-Kabarakh and approximately 9% of Azerbaijan’s territory surrounding the area.

The region is de facto independent, but internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.

About 800,000 Azerbaijanis and 300,000 to 500,000 Armenians  have been displaced during the war.

Thousands of people are assumed to have died while the exact number is unknown.

Both Tatevik and Najic emphasize that their expat communities want a peaceful life for both nations, but the feelings of resentment are strong on both sides.

Nijat said: “On Wednesday, the city of Barda outside the conflict zone was shelled.

"I saw a picture of a father trying to protect his kid and they both died. Seeing this hurts and you don’t want to fight.

"But if Karabakh was given to Armenia that would probably be worse. Sometimes war is the only answer.

"You don’t want to be violent, but if someone is attacking you, you have to self-defend.

"I still hope for a diplomatic solution, but it doesn’t look like that right now.

"The conflict should be solved through international law and not a historical nationalistic sentiment of hatred from each side. The solution should include Armenians living there peacefully.”

Tatevik said: “They claim that the land is theirs, but it is historically ancient Armenia.

“We are asking for peace. All over the world you see Armenians calling for peace. We have no reason to attack. We defend. Azerbaijan attacked and invaded Artsakh [the old Armenian name for the region].”

“This is a fight for our survival. Armenia is under genocide watch at the moment.”

Both the Armenian and the Azerbaijani communities in Manchester try to support their home countries from a distance. In addition to their media campaigns, each side raises funds to help civilians suffering from the conflict.

Salford Docks
The Armenian protest will be held on Dock 10 in Salford on 31 October 2020, 12 am. Image: Victoria Thiele

At the moment there is neither dialogue nor open conflict between both groups in Manchester.

Nijat said: “At this moment, I don’t think there is any Azerbaijani in touch with any Armenian, even in the UK. Feelings are very hot.

"So we are ignoring each other. It is almost impossible to have an academic or civil debate right now.“

Tatevik said: “We haven’t had conflicts. We are a small community of Armenians and we are hoping that our protest will stay peaceful."

Her main concern is a potential further escalation of the conflict. Turkey openly supports Azerbaijan, while Russia is considered an Armenian ally, but has not gotten involved directly yet.

BBC fact checkers have confirmed the authenticity of a video showing the beheading of two Armenians in military uniforms by Azerbaijani troups, which is classified as a war crime.

Tatevik said: “I am worried that this will turn into a more regional crisis with bigger players like Iran and Russia coming into it.

"Everyone wants to avoid that. But if you have a look at it, it is just innocent people dying.

"War crimes are happening, there have been beheadings filmed, and the international community hasn’t really gotten involved, which is very sad.”

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