This story is a group project for the Media and Society class (American University of Armenia) and provides full information about the media coverage of NKR and Azerbaijani 4-day April War. (Instructor Maria Titizian)
1. Which side had started the attack?
2. What was the number of casualties on both sides?
3. What were the war crimes committed by each side?
4. What were the vital propaganda messages during the 4- day war?
5. What was the role of photojournalists documenting the 4- day war?
At the very beginning, there was no direct announcement in any official page about which side started the attack, however, each side was blaming the opposite on starting it. At that times, Civilnet.tv warned that war was started by Azerbaijani Army, in the early morning of April 2. At 9:10 am, the page posted that the Azerbaijani Army continued the attack. Afterwards, on April 2, 2016, at 10:19 am the Armenian spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan announced that the opposite side started the attack, explaining that Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense did not have any posts about the war, until the Armenian side spoke up about it.
"I should note that, recently, in the territories positioned on the borderline, the armed forces of Armenia are planning diversions of heavy weapons against the population in villages, using artillery, which causes increase in losses among the population (this is misinformation, on the contrary, recently, the armed forces of Azerbaijan started artillery and rocket fire against the Armenian settlements "- ed.).
In order to counter these diversions, assessing the situation, we decided to shell Armenian positions and forcibly remove their armed forces far from our villages.
Besides, taking into account the possible actions of the units of Armenian armed forces, late on April 1, early in the morning of April 2, the Azerbaijani reconnaissance units initiated actions towards 3 directions. ... .. The main purpose of this activity is to resist the diversions and liberate our firing positions and the settlements. "
By monitoring the Azerbaijani media coverage we found out two things: Azerbaijan's Ministry of Defense did not cover anything on full-scale military operations until around 10 am, April 2nd. Before that two of the announcements that they gave were about two-sided artillery shelling, and one was about a book called “1918 massacres against the people of Azerbaijan.” The first abrupt announcement occurred around 10am by the Defence Ministry spokesman Vaqif Dergahli, who stated that the Armenian media reports on the Azerbaijani shot helicopter were disinformation.
On a security council meeting on April 2's evening Azerbaijan's Minister of Defense Zakir Hasanov reported to Ilham Aliyev that on the night of April 1 and morning of April 2 their reconnaissance units directed activities towards 3 directions of NKR positions (Talish, Horadiz and Seisulan).
There are two ways to find out the objective truth about this war from international media.The first way is to look into local but not-so-trustworthy sources, who usually take sides and make click bait article titles to generate more views on their website. The second way is to read from trustworthy and established news sources. A lot of international media agencies such as BBC, New York Times, Al Jazeera, Russia Today etc. tried to cover about April war. Looking deeper at the articles from these media giants, one can not surely state which side has started the war. All the broadcasting companies are utterly objective, and the reader can hardly note any bias in their content. According to the sources, both sides accused each other.
On April 2, at 9:05 am Armenian first channel informed that 5-6 Azerbaijani soldiers were killed. Later, at 7:35pm, we got information with a photograph that the opposite side had losses. There were eight dead soldiers counted on the picture. On April 3, 2016 at 9:10pm, we had been notified that Azerbaijani media posted false information about the number of their casualties. As Razm.info claims, they announced 12 killed soldiers instead of 21. However, a day ago, Armenians said there were 8 people killed, and when on the next day they talked about the 21 killed soldiers, we do not have any source which will let us know whether the previous 8 are included in these 21 or not.
On April 13, RA Ministry of Defense website announced a reference about the deceased during the military actions between April 2-5.
During the military actions on the direct contact line with the enemy, 64 army servicemen and 13 militia and reservists died (77 deceased)
- 15 officers
- 15 contract servicemen
- 34 mandatory servicemen
- 11 militia
- 2 reservists
- 1 officer
The total number of losses between April 2-13 because of escalation of tension on the border is 15 deceased/dead
- 9 army servicemen
- 2 militia
- 4 civilians
Total number of deceased/dead – 92
Announcement by the Defense Ministry of Republic of Armenia
Մարտական կորուստներ՝ ապրիլի 2-ից 5-ն ընկած ժամանակահատվածում հակառակորդի հետ անմիջական շփման գծում տեղի ունեցած մարտական գործողությունների ժամանակ զոհվել են 64 զինծառայողներ և 13 աշխարհազորայիններ ու պահեստազորայիններ`
պայմանագրային զինծառայողներ՝ 15,
ժամկետային պարտադիր զինծառայողներ՝ 34,
Ընդամենը` 77 զոհ,
Անհայտ կորած ` 1 սպա` կապիտան Գաբոյան Արգիշտի Արծվիի:
Ոչ մարտական կորուստներ ապրիլի 2-ից 13-ն ընկած ժամանակահատվածում սահմանային լարվածության ուժգնացման պայմաններում կորուստները կազմել են.
հակառակորդի հանցավոր գործողությունների արդյունքում զոհված ԼՂՀ խաղաղ բնակիչներ՝ 4, Ընդամենը` 15 զոհված/մահացած:
Ընդհանուրը` 92 զոհված/մահացած:
On April 2, Qafqazinfo.az reported 12 casualties by Azerbaijan's side. On April 4 Metbuat.az reported that on the night of April 3 and morning of April 4, 3 of Azerbaijan's soldiers died. On April 6, Azerbaijan Ministry of Defense spokesman Vagif Dargahli announced that 31 soldiers were killed from April 1-5.
On April 7 Meydan TV announced 94 names of Azerbaijan's army casualties- 3 times more than the official numbers.
International Media Reports About Causalities
A lot of International Media reported causalities of the April war. Most of them wrote about what the defense ministries and television announced.
For example,the broadcasting agency France 24 wrote that Armenian president Serj Sargsyan told at a state security council meeting that 18 Armenian soldiers were killed and 35 injured. Also Serj Sargsyan said that Azerbaijan's MI-24 helicopter was shot down which Baku admitted it.
Azerbaijan's defense ministry announced that “Six Armenian tanks were destroyed (and) more than 100 Armenian servicemen were killed and injured,” it said in a statement, saying 12 Azerbaijani servicemen had also been killed.
Reuters cited an Armenian television announcement which stated that 20 of Armenian troops had been killed and 72 wounded in the three days of fighting to date.
Later on April 2, at 8:30am, we had the first official announcement by Razm.info about a killed boy - Vaghinak Grigoryan, born on 2004, because of the Grad rocket shelling by Azerbaijani Army. On April 3, 2016, we got shocking news posted by Hetq.am, Armenian investigative newspaper, that Azerbaijani soldiers killed the elderly spouses Valera Khalapyan and his wife Razmela and cut off their ears. They also killed Valera’s mother Marusya, born on 1924. The next day, Hetq informed that another 5 Armenian citizens died while riding a bus along Martakert, shelled by Azerbaijani forces. The news was confirmed by NKR Ministry of Defense.
Armenian Media Represents:
On April 2, an inhabitant of Terter region of Azerbaijan Orxan Valeri oglu Rehimov, born in 1993 and his nephew Jelal Rehimov were in a VAZ 2107 car, when a shell fell on it, killing Orxan and Jelal later died in the hospital.
On April 4th a shell fell on the herd of 30 sheep, killing the 62 year old shepherd Dadashov Qarash Shahmar oglu from Ehmədagaiı village, Aghdam region.
On April 5th another 2 civilian deaths occurred- Ferman Elchin oglu Asadov, from Ganja born in 1992 and Turane Kamandar qizi Hesenova, a 16 year old girl.
On April 6 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that 6 Azerbaijani civilians died during the 4 day clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan. On the same day according to Qafqaz.info at least 18 people were wounded from April 1-5.
On April 7 Meydan.tv announced the names of the 6 civilians.
International Media coverage about War Crimes
Most of international media news agencies reported that an Armenian 12- year-old kid was dead and two other boys were wounded because of the grad missile.
Both sides tried to manipulate the information in order to prevent populations from panic and present their militaries as more victorious. On April 3, 2016, Armenian newspapers publicized that Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense declared ceasefire. Later, Armenian spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan made it clear that it was a trap, and Azerbaijani side continued shooting anyway.
At that times, many fake Facebook accounts had been detected. They had Armenian names and photos with Armenian and Karabakh flags, they were spreading false information and writing to Armenian people in order to draw any information. Furthermore, the Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defense tried to fool and disconcert Armenian Lieutenant Colonel Seiran Ohanyan through an illiterate letter.
ՀՀ ՊՆ խոսնակ Արծրուն Հովհաննիսյանը Ֆեյսբուքում գրել է.
Ադրբեջանական կողմը, հաշվի առնելով նախորդ անգամվա ծիծաղելի իրավիճակը, որում հայտնվել էր, այս անգամ ազգանուններ չի նշում: Սա էժանագին հնարք է, ուղղված սեփական հասարակության ոգու բարձրացմանը, այլապես լավ գիտեն, որ ազգանուն հնչեցնելու դեպքում իբր զոհված գեներալն ու գնդապետները կես ժամից անձամբ կխոսեն:
“Long awaited news: The Azerbaijani side, taking into account their previous comical condition, this time does not mention the surnames of their dead soldiers. This is a very dime trick, directed towards its own population’s increase of moral, otherwise they know better, that in case of announcing surnames, the so-called killed general and colonels will talk in half an hour personally.”
Արծրուն Հովհաննիսյանը տեղեկացնում է.
Հարգելիներս, ադրբեջանական հայտարարությունը տեղեկատվական ծուղակ է, այն չի նշանակում միակողմանի հրադադար։ Խնդրում եմ առանձին պարզաբանումներ մի պահանջեք։ ԼՂՀ ՊԲ հայտարարություն կտա։
“My dear ones, the Azerbaijani announcement is an informational trap, it does not mean one sided ceasefire. Please do not demand an individual explanations. The Ministry of Defence of Karabakh will announce it.”
The most major propaganda technique by Azerbaijan was the cover up of its military casualties. Officially, only 31 soldiers died on Azerbaijani side. However, there are at least 94 casualties recorded by Azerbaijani news agency Meydan.tv, verified by posts on social media outlets posted by relatives and friends of the deceased.
Both Armenia's and Azerbaijan's media news outlets did not talk of civilian casualties of the other side. Noam Chomsky defines this paradox as "the worthy and unworthy victims." By showing that your side had civilian casualties, but the opponent didn’t, you paint a picture where you are innocent and the opponent is a war criminal.
Aljazeera wrote in one of the articles that Artsrun Ovannisian, the Armenian Defense Minisry spokesman, said that the Karabakh militia advance overnight, "liberating new positions." He said that the Armenian artillery hit Azerbaijani units as they were moving to the front line.
Armenian forces also occupy several areas outside Nagorno-Karabakh proper.
None of the Armenian news agencies provided this kind of information.
Eugene Goodwin, famous lecturer and journalist (1983) wrote, "Pictures usually have more impact on people than written words.” When we hear the news, and there are no visuals, it makes us feel incomplete and not fully informed. When the attacks started on the April 2nd, we apparently had no photographs from the front line.People were informed that there were massive attacks, Azerbaijani army bombed Martakert School:one child is dead, the other two are wounded.
Pan-Armenian Media that also has a separate section of photojournalism sent several photojournalists to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic immediately. So, the first photographs we saw from the 4-day war, represented wounded children, surrounded by the doctors and their relatives. At the same day, around 8 PM, Armenian Defense Ministry published a photograph of the Azerbaijani downed helicopter and later on, the photos of Azerbaijani dead soldiers (photographs can be seen below).As one of the first images from the front line, these two photographs showed that the Armenian army is ready to fight and the message was to calm down the public.
Starting from April the 3rd, we had many photojournalists from Hetq, Photolure, and Sputnik Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh. The first shocking images published by Hetq represented the Azerbaijani attack over Talish village. Photojournalist Hakob Poghosyan photographed elderly people brutally killed by the Azerbaijani soldiers. These images were shocking for the public, as those make us realize that the enemy was on our land. Representation of this kind of photographs is not ethical and disrespectful towards the victims, but Hetq team apologized saying that there is no another way to show reality.
The photographs of helpless people being killed along with the photographs of two wounded children at the hospital had a huge emotional impact on our society. Our patriotism was greater than before. And our media showed us the images of volunteers going to the front line (later on, this became an iconic photo). The same day we saw the photographs of young soldiers fighting for their nation directly from the front line. Our photojournalists were highly responsive. Starting from April 3, our media was filled with the portraits of our late heroes.
The flow of photographs continued the next day. Pan-Armenian and Sputnik Armenia released the photographs of bombed and abandoned Martakert and photographs again from the frontline. On this day we also saw the photographs of President Sarkisyan visiting our soldiers at the hospital. It was an element of a propaganda showing how our government cares about every soldier in our country. The same day we saw the images from the funeral of hero Sasun Mkrtchyan. We saw people showing their respect and mourning with his relatives. Regarding the ethical point of the photographs: the 7th highlight of NPPA CODE OF ETHICS states that photojournalists can “Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.” In this case, the whole nation was mourning the death of a hero who left a mark in our history. On April 5, propaganda continued. Sputnik released a photo set showing everyday peaceful life at Stepanakert: people work, children smile. And we also saw pictures from Masthtots park showing the unity of the Armenian nation.
Some international news agencies posted the news about the events along with the photographs they reached through the AP, Reuters and also AFP. Panarmenian and Photolure cooperate with Reuters and AP, so Reuters released an article with 15 photographs from the events, NY times shared photograph via Reuters, Washington Post, and Al Jazeera via AP.
Analyzing the role of photojournalists during the April War, we can say that they showed the responsiveness of the Armenian Media. They not only documented the events but also showed the reality to the international media. We do realize that photojournalists can’t cover everything but thanks to their responsiveness we had at least some notion of what was going on in the border.