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Conflict Mythology and Azerbaijan Armenian News Network / Groong September 17, 1997 By Emil Sanamyan Almost every day now media outlets report on the continuous multinational effort to forge out a final peace settlement in the nine year-old conflict between the government of Azerbaijan and the people of the de- facto independent Nagorno Karabakh Republic-Artsakh. Their reports generally contain a brief on a recent round of talks, where parties would once again reiterate their incompatible positions, with mediators privately promising a diplomatic breakthrough soon. Over the years such reports have become enveloped in the usual repetition of grim statistics: tallies numbering the dead and refugees, and areas occupied. These numbers are derived from the parties to the conflict, journalists, and aid workers who cross-quote each other without direct research. While it would take a very serious effort to count up the exact number of refugees and displaced persons (1), calculating the area under Artsakh's control involves only simple addition. In one of the very first reports seeking to establish the percentage of Azerbaijani area occupied in the conflict, Thomas Goltz, wrote among other things, "With Armenian nationalists controlling nearly all of Nagorno-Karabakh and some 15% of Azerbaijan [Ed. i.e. N. K. plus some 15%], the shock waves from the conflict are spilling into Azerbaijan itself." (Business Week, July 5, 1993) From there it went soaring: "By now Armenian armed formations have occupied up to 20% of Azerbaijan's territory." (Vitaliy Strugovets, Russian daily "Krasnaia Zvezda", August 12, 1993) "Azerbaijan has lost 40% of its territory" (Steve LeVine, Washington Post, November 8, 1993) "Armenian forces [are] already controlling 25 percent of Azeri territory" (Jon Auerbach, Boston Globe, April 21, 1994) These are just a few samples of literally hundreds of reports, repeating these "statistics". It is difficult to single out the first person or organization to misrepresent the actual figures, or to ascertain whether this act was some journalist's bold initiative or rather a deliberate propaganda ploy set into motion by Baku. After some fluctuations, most Azerbaijani state officials, sympathetic columnists, and foreign reporters alike settled on the 20% figure by the beginning of 1997 -- three years after the cease-fire took effect: "But Armenians are killing us, they've occupied 20 percent of our territory, they've displaced 1 million of our people -- one-seventh of our population -- and everybody is saying, 'Poor Armenians, there could be genocide against them from the Azerbaijani side!'" (Azerbaijani President's Foreign Policy Advisor Vafa Guluzade in Azerbaijan International, Spring 1997) "As a result of a series of Armenian offensives, 20 percent of Azerbaijan (including Nagorno Karabakh) are currently occupied by Armenian forces." (Azerbaijan's Ambassador in US Hafiz Pashayev, Boston Globe, April 24, 1997) "At the same time, Russia has given critical military aid to neighboring Armenia, allowing it to occupy 20 percent of Azerbaijan." (Former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and Hoover Institution research fellow Peter Schweizer, New York Times, May 9, 1997) "Armenian-backed military forces seized over 20% of Azeri territory during the war" (Glen Howard, an analyst at the Strategic Assessment Center of Science Applications International in McLean, VA , Wall Street Journal, May 14, 1997) "Well-armed Armenian forces [are] occupying some 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory." (Washington Times editorial, July 30, 1997) And the cycle is completed with, "On the ground, however, Armenia still is occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan." (Thomas Goltz in an interview to NPR's All Things Considered, August 1, 1997) In order to discern how much territory is really under the control of the Artsakh National Army, one need simply to consult a map of the area at the time just prior to the 1994 cease-fire, and refer to an Azerbaijani government publication showing Azerbaijan's territorial subdivisions, e.g. "Azerbaijanskaya SSR: Administrativno-territorial'noye delenie" [Azerbaijani SSR: Administrative-territorial division], 1981, Azerneshr, Baku. From the Azerbaijani perspective, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast [Region] (NKAO), an entity that was assigned to the Azerbaijani SSR by Stalin, belongs to the independent Republic of Azerbaijan -- even though the latter never administered it. For indigenous Armenians who have populated the area for many centuries, Artsakh is a sovereign republic established by an overwhelming vote for independence at the 1991 referendum. Artsakh comprises the area of the former NKAO (4,388 square kilometers, or less than 5.1% of the total territory of the former Azerbaijani SSR) plus the Shaumian region (528 square kilometers), decreasing Azerbaijan's share of territory from 86,417 (of the former Az. SSR) to 81,501 square kilometers. Meanwhile, the fact that Artsakh Armenians have continuously lived in Artsakh makes any use of the term "military occupation of Artsakh proper" by Armenians totally untenable. By the time of the cease-fire in 1994, Artsakh armed forces also had the following regions of Azerbaijan under their control: Lachin, Kelbajar, Kubatly, Zangelan, Djebrail regions in full, and over three-fourths of Agdam, and less than a half of Fizuli regions (2). Together with the area of NKAO (3), Artsakh controls roughly 12,136 square kilometers, in other words, just over 14% of the territory of the former Azerbaijani SSR. Considering that 7,898 square kilometers are controlled by Artsakh National Army in Azerbaijan proper, under 9.7% of Azerbaijan is actually occupied. At the same time, all of the Shaumian region and some areas in Mardakert and Martuni regions of Artsakh remain under Azeri military occupation, meaning that close to 14% of the territory of the Artsakh Republic is occupied. Accurate reporting requires clear knowledge of the actual situation on the ground. Artsakh forces seized only the noted territories while they clearly had the opportunity to seize much more as their opponents sank deeper in turmoil of 1993. Artsakh Armenians deliberately neutralized only as much territory as was required to safeguard their settlements from constant long-range artillery shelling (approximately 30 kilometers) and to create a shorter defensible front-line. This reasoning explains why it would be suicidal for Artsakh to offer the areas under their control to be part of negotiations before sufficient international security guarantees are in place and a comprehensive agreement on mutual non-aggression is signed with Azerbaijan. The 20% exercise is illustrative of the manner in which imprecision and inaccuracies -- and this is only one of many -- in the reporting of this conflict are perpetuated through a combination of patently false state propaganda statements, bad journalism, weak analysis, and careless editing. ------------------------ (1) Note that the total number of displaced people on both sides is indeed over one million. Based on figures from the Baku branch of UNICEF, the US State Department in its 1995 "Human Rights Report on Azerbaijan" found 650,000 Azerbaijanis had fled the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian offensives in the course of the war, excluding a further 50,000 in the spring of 1994. The FPA Group will address this topic in an upcoming study [Ed.] (2) Areas in Azerbaijan presently under Artsakh's control: Lachin 1,835 Kelbajar 1,936 Kubatly 802 Jebrail 1,050 Zangelan 707 Agdam 875 (80% of 1,094) Fizuli 693 (50% of 1,386) Total 7,898 km2 (3) Not all of the area of the former NKAO is in the hands of the Artsakh National Army. Over 150 square kilometers of land in Mardakert and Martuni regions is under Azeri occupation.