The Armenian perspective : The impact of geopolitics, press and media, and trauma

As part of the Global Studies Lecture Series, a group of panelists met for “The Never-Ending Story: Artsakh and Azerbaijan” event to discuss and raise awareness about the tragedies that took place in Armenia, Artsakh, and Azerbaijan.

This event was jointly sponsored by the Political Science Department and the Global Studies Program. 

The panelists were introduced by the event’s host, Natalie Chaprazian, a senior global studies and early childhood education major.

The panel was comprised of the following four individuals: 

Rich Èlmoyan who is a geopolitical analyst at San Francisco State University. His instagram is @relmoyan.

Henry Theriault who is president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, and professor and chair of the Philosophy Department at Worcester State University.

Fred Tatlayn who is a social media influencer known as @Goliath.the.Great on Instagram. He also has a bachelor of science in biopsychology from University of California, Davis.

Natalie Kazarian is a licensed marriage counselor and family therapist specializing in family work and trauma. She resides in California and also runs an education Instagram page, (@nataliekazarianmft), focusing on psychology and advocacy.

Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, is a territory located between Armenia and Azerbaijan that has been disputed between the two states for decades. The aim of the panel is to discuss the geopolitical issues, the influences of press coverage and social media, as well as trauma Amerinians have faced both past and present.

Èlmoyan opened up the conversation from a geopolitical perspective looking at the South Caucasus region based around the Nagorno-Karabakh territory. 

“One side sees this as a human rights issue, another side sees this as a territorial dispute. Therefore, there’s already a dispute in the terminology in itself,” he said. “So I would like to bring in the geographic aspect of this.”

Èlmoyan explained the Caucasus is located at a “crossroad of continents,” including Africa, Asia, and Europe. “Routes along this region historically hold strong significance when regarding trade, natural resources, and political/military influence.”

He added this region is ethnically diverse with people from many different nations, including Cherkessians, Dagestanis, Chechens, Ossetians, Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis.

Èlmoyan provided historical background to the discussion. He explained that both Armenia and Azerbaijan were republics of the Soviet Union, with the disputed territory, Nagorno-Karabakh, being an “autonomous oblast.” 

In the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, this means the territory had the power to hold its own government, but had to report to a jurisdiction at a higher power – Azerbaijan, according to Èlmoyan. This was despite the territory being mainly in the Armenian region. 

He explained how the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast attempted to become a part of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic – the Armenian constituent republic of the Soviet Union – many times but failed to do so because it was seen as “unlawful.”

After many failed movements and attempts in the 1980s and with Soviet laws becoming more “lenient,” in 1991 the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast tried to use the “law of succession” to independently govern themselves, which was legal at the time, according to Èlmoyan. 

This was supported by Armenians who had a “cultural connection” to the territory, but opposed by Azerbiajanis who felt they had a “land claim” to it, he said. This led to war between the two states, which reached a ceasefire in 1994.

The agreement between the two states included the flat land surrounding the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which was seen as “important to have under Armenian control in order to promote peace,” Èlmoyan added.

This was until Sept. 27, 2020, when the ceasefire was violated and war broke out again between the two countries, which by Nov. 10 was settled with the help of Russia, whose “peacekeepers” now control a portion of Artsakh, he said. 

In closing his presentation, Èlmoyan said, “Russian peacekeepers are controlling the territory, Armenia is in a very tense place in its political make up, and Azerbaijan is benefitting from the win of the war with llama Alijev [the president of Azerbaijan] moving forward with more negative rhetoric that does not necessarily instill peace in this region.”

Theriault opened the conversation to how the press have covered the dispute. 

He explained how the media either represent the conflict as a mutually balanced one, or depict Armenians as the aggressors who are occupying land that “rightfully” belongs to Azerbaijanis. 

Highlighting the ideas of Islamic historian Ibn Khaldūn, Theriault said, “You should always check factual claims against the basic sort of context that you’re looking at to see if they’re actually rational or not.

“The basic idea is, you have to look beyond the rhetoric that people are saying in the age of the internet of endless websites and this and that,” he added.

Connecting these ideas back to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Theriault explained how this could not be a mutually balanced conflict because Armenia is much poorer in resources and power compared to Azerbaijan and its allies. 

Tatlyan discussed the influences social media and the “information cyber war” has on the conflict and public opinion. 

He pointed out the lack of coverage by the press pertaining to tragic events that took place on the Armenian side of the conflict, the misrepresentation of events that were covered, and headlines that painted false narratives.

“We’re fighting to just have balanced coverage in the news,” he said. 

Tatlyan shared a presentation that included photos depicting the hateful messages and disinformation that was spread on social media by “troll farms,” which are made up of hundreds of bot accounts of which were directly attacking Armenians. 

He added how he has spent countless hours blocking these hateful accounts.

Kazarian discussed the impact this conflict has on Armenians in terms of their mental health. 

She explained how there are three types of trauma that come into play: general trauma, vicarious trauma, and intergenerational trauma.

“Trauma does not impact everybody the exact same way, nor does it have lasting effects on everybody,” she said. “So, everybody who experiences trauma does not necessarily get a diagnosis of something like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, that does happen.”

Kazarian added vicarious trauma is “from being around or hearing stories of people who have been through traumatic events.”

She said Armenians who witnessed online what was happening in their country last year experienced this.

Kazarian said intergenerational trauma is “basically trauma that is passed down from generation to generation through things like storytelling.”

She added, “So just because a traumatic event is over, does not mean that your mind and body don’t remember it, and it’s oftentimes trauma is stored in your physical body.”

Kazarian cited the Armenian Genocide that took place in 1915 as an example.

She added, “Intergenerational trauma is not like a secondary kind of trauma – it is just as impactful.”

Joseph Coelho, professor and acting department chair of political science, mediated the Q&A portion of the event.

Attendee Lily Tal asked in the chat, “Why does Armenia still refuse to open their historical archives or sue Turkey in the international courts?”

Theriault said he was not sure what the attendee was asking, but said, “I’m so thankful that this person showed up because I think it gives the audience a sort of taste of the propagandising that we’ve been talking about.”

He was referring to the frequent questions Tal had been proposing in the chat throughout the event. 

Theriault discussed how the questions would be “completely irrelevant to the point,” and said it is a “tactic of distraction.

“It really distracts us,” he added. “It takes time from getting at the deeper more substantive issues.”

Attendee Aline Chaprazian asked in the chat, “Do you think this war will be documented in U.S. history books/taught in history courses, and is there fear that Azeri propaganda will affect the narrative?”

Èlmoyan said, “I would say it depends on the political motives in the future,” especially with what the U.S.’s relationship is with Turkey.

He added it also depends on which U.S. state because what is taught in California is different than in Mississippi.

Coehlo proposed a question from one of his students, “Culturally, are Armenians hesitant to do therapy?”

Kazarian said, “Mostly, yes,” because “a lot of times growing up – with such trauma in our backgrounds – there is a fear to move outside of the family system to get help or receive treatment for things.”

She said there is a “stigma,” especially for Armenian men when it comes to receiving mental health care. 

“We have to change the narrative, and there are some really wonderful influencers on social media – young people – who are changing the narrative for Armenians and mental health, and it is fantastic,” she added.

Attendee Tal asked why no Azerbaijan speakers were a part of the panel, stating in the chat, “This is not a community event, but a University event sponsored with University funds. As an academic institution, this lecture is biased and one-sided.”

Theriault said, “It raises some deeper questions about free speech and what free speech is. Free speech does not mean anytime you discuss an issue anybody who has an opinion on it is welcome to be part of the discussion of it.”

He added, “If people don’t like the composition of the panel, they can create their own events. There’s nothing stopping them.”

Theriault said he was a part of the group that organized the panel, and explained the group “desperately tried” to find an Azerbaijani journalist.

He added the problem was there is a possibility the speaker could be jailed or subjected to violence or “even assassinated” for taking part.

“We’re not willing to take that risk,” he said.