The Opponent as an Enemy in Armenian-Azerbaijani Online Communications

Sona Nahapetyan


The military actions in 1988-1994 between Armenians and Azerbaijani lead to the transformation of perceptions between two nations and highlited the deconstructive communication for the long-term outcomes. The war was conditioned by the fact that the territory of Arsakh, which was known as Nagorno Karabakh wanted to become independent from Azerbaijan (being an independent state of Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan)and join Armenia, since most of its population were Armenians. The outcomes for the war, especially socio-psychological ones, are promoting a situation, where the perceptions of the contradicting side are taking negative form at the public level.In parallel the Nagorno Karabakh[1] problem was raised, and at the same time Turkey’s tied its relations withAzerbaijan. And the good relationship at the level of ethnic groups led to the processing of enemy image.  Turkey closed the border with Armenia, stating that it will open the border after Nagorno Karabakh conflict is solved. This is especially important to mention at the unconsciousness level, since Armenians identify OttomanEmpire and YoungTurks to be guilty of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and since up until now current Turkis government does not recognize the Genocide, the enemy image is being transformed from generation to generation.

Even after 20 plus years diplomatic relations between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan are missing. Furthermore, each of the countries using their mass media are trying to demonstrate the negative image of the contradicting state. To do so both Armenians and Azerbaijaniare using multiple manipulation techniques and argumentation mechanisms.

In this informationwar[2] a significant role is given to the forums. Having millions of subscribers (՝27.827.681,՝4.999.336) and being a highly approachable information source they are getting more and more importance. In this case each of the sides lacking a direct communication path with the contradicting side is creating the image of the other group based on the alternative  media[3], based on the models offered by them.  The choice of the forums was based upon the language of the forums and the amount of subscribers: Russian and English-language forums were used with over million subscribers, with both Azerbaijani and Armenian subscribers.

The main advantages of the forums are the fact that those are two-sided and comprehensive, as well as discussion and direct clarification of the events takes the form of dialogical communication.

In this case it becomes obvious that it is important to research the mechanisms of the enemy image development and its justification in Armenian-Azerbaijani context for each of the sides. This is the main purpose of the current article.

Social constructivism assumes that identities differ in time and distance based on their societal conditions and changes, circumstances faced by the groups, as well as the different other factors such as belongings to certain groups.

One of the significant constructivists Benedict Anderson has his own understand and definition of nation and national identity:

In an anthropological spirit, then, I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community – and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign.It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.

The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them, encompassing perhaps a billion living human beings, has finite, if elastic, boundaries, beyond which lie other nations. No nation imagines itself coterminous with mankind.[4]

He continues to define the elements of his definition stating the reasons for the nations to be imaginative and limited in different terms:

It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in an age in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm. Coming to maturity at a stage of human history when even the most devout adherents of any universal religion were inescapably confronted with the living pluralism of such religions, and the allomorphism between each faith’s ontological claims and territorial stretch, nations dream of being free, and, if under .God, directly so. The gage and emblem of this freedom is the sovereign state. Finally, it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.[5]

Cohen A.P. also generates idea of the community to be the base of the identity, trying to differentiate the public and personal identities:

The boundary thus symbolises the community to its members in two quite different ways: it is the sense they have of its perception by people on the other side- the public face, or ‘typical’ mode; and it is their own sense of community as refracted through all the complexities of their lives and experience- the private face, and ‘indisyncratic’ mode. It is in the later mode that we find people thinking about and symbolising their community.[6]

In postmodernistic approach the construction and deconstruction of the enemy image is being proposed. It is being done based on socio-political and cultural changes. In this case specific changes can influence on diffusion of a group perception as enemies, while at the same time can cause to view another group as an enemy.[7]

The creation of enemy image and its circulation is being promoted with the help of various socio-psychological mechanisms, which are making the enemy image more spread and rooted among the representatives of the community. Some of the most significant ones are rationalization, projection, stereotyping and de-humanization, which are common defense mechanisms during the conflict, as commonly stated in Conflict studies theories.[8]

Rationalization is an unconscious defense mechanism, whereas rationalize means to  to indulge, often unchallenged, in excuses for or explanations of (behaviour about which one feels uncomfortable or guilty).[9]

As such an example we can consider how some of the Armenians and Azerbaijani are talking about the fact some of the land is not being cultivated and inhabited by Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh, thus those lands should be returned back to  Azerbaijan.

Projection is the process of projecting one’s own hidden desires and impulses[10]. It is common for everybody but when it turns into a complete psychological mechanism, it gains more power and more in depth form.

One of such widely spread tricks is the the idea that Anastas Mikoyan led the Baku massacres in 1905, when in reality Anastas Mikoyan was born on November 25, 1985.[11]

Stererotype is an extra simplied perception system, which tries to make specific people to fall into a group of identical description.This significant social-psychological mechanism allows youto identify a person as a belonger to specific group. In the absence of direct personal experience, stereotypes serve as a way of filling in the blanks in terms of expectations (or lack hereof) of those different from the individual imagining them. Construction of an enemy image becomes the “mental background for aggression, distrust, guilt, projection, identification with all evil, and stereotyping”.[12]

As a good example of this can be the fact that a large amount of Armenians considers Azerbaijani and Turkish to be of the same exact ethnic group, since they speak similar language and are in good international ties, such as a large number of cooperativeagreements.

Dehumanization is a process, when two contradicting sides are assuming that the other part is not human and they do not deserve to be treated as human, furthermore  are not applicable for having human rights.

This usually happens when the dichotomy of us and others gets more highlighted and more points of differences are being seen. Usually this leads to the  division based on different features leading to prescription of negative characteristics.

Differences in age, race, religion, culture, or appearance can be the characteristic(s) that stimulate resentment toward other groups. The unfamiliar andstrange evoke strong emotions and reactions such as aggression, fear, hate, aversion, and expulsion. Xenophobic and racist reactions create “an artificial binaryopposition that is resolved through the physical annihilation of one side by theother”.[13]

As a good sample of dehumanization can be the assumption that Armenians are themselves setting , some Nagorno Karabagh areas to fire to frighten up the bordering troops of Azerbaijani, which was a common topic in Azerbaijani forum, while dehumanization in Armenian forums was the common story, that during armed conflict between Azerbaijani and Armenians, Azerbaijani soldiers were not only killing the Armenian babies, but putting them afterwards into ovens.

Spillmann talked about the development of the collective unconscious that comes to support viewing others as enemies. They describe enemy image construction as a syndrome of deeply rootedperceptual evaluations that take on the following characteristics:

  • Negative Anticipation. All acts of the enemy, in the past, present, and future become attributed to destructive intentions toward one’s own group. Whatever the enemy undertakes is meant to harm us.
  • Putting Blame on the Enemy. The enemy is thought to be the source of any stress on a group. They are guilty of causing the existing strain and current negative conditions.
  •  Identification With Evil. The values of the enemy represent the negation of one’s own value system and the enemy is intent on destroying the dominant value system as well. The enemy embodies the opposite of that which we are  and strive for; the enemy wishes to destroy our highest values and must therefore be destroyed.
  • Zero-Sum Thinking. What is good for the enemy is bad for us and vice versa.
  • Stereotyping and De-Individualization. Anyone who belongs to the enemy group is ipso facto our enemy.
  • Refusal to Show Empathy. Consideration for anyone in the enemy group isrepressed due to perceived threat and feelings of opposition. There is nothingin common and no way to alter that perception.[14].

Nations “need” enemies. Governments use the idea of a common enemy as a method of social control, of reinforcing values of the dominant system, and of garnering participation in the maintenance of those beliefs

The construction of reality takes place in acognitive system, most likely in social-cultural predominations, which are regulated, reproduced and can evaluate and influence the communication and interaction.The dependence of it from knowledge becomes more important by the time, when a relevant attention is paid to the agents and means causing the diffusion and development of ideas.

As such means  can be seen the mass media. This means that owning a media tool one can create the specific type of impression about the world and specific event. In short it turns into a social knowledge helping to regulate the social construction of reality. This is why usually mass media does not create news, but rather uses the expectations of the population and tries to describe the reality based on that expectations in general, while for newswriting it uses the deconstruction of reality. But using the expectations is much easier mean, since this way the news will fall into topics, topics will fall into blocks and create a context, where the mass media user will gain a complete scheme of information and will be more keen to use that specific media for the generalization of their knowledge. This is simpler than getting to know newer things over and over again.

Now, what this idea that media practices, among other things, represent topics, represent types of people, represent events, represent situations; what we’re talking about is the fact that in the notion of representations is the idea of giving meaning. So the representation is the way in which meaning is somehow given to the things which are depicted through the images or whatever it is, on screens or the words on a page which stand for what we’re talking about[15].

If you think that the meaning that it is giving is very different from or a kind of distortion of what it really means, then your work on representation would be in measuring that gap between what one might think of as the true meaning of an event (or an object) and how it is presented in the media.[16]

As a main outcome the alternative Mass media were created to be based on dialogic communication.[17] Here active actors are multiple, and some of the themes have contiunes and broaden review.  Blogs and forums are two types of such media.

Forums are those net platforms, which give a possibility to create discussions, to publish the opinion of the participants in the public messages. Forums contain different topics, which are being used for the discussions.

Except of traditional Q&A textual messages, forums can also include photos, videos, links to different websites and thus become a broader platform for pointing out different opinions and ideas.

Forums frequently become the main mean where two contradicting groups are trying to demonstrate their approaches concerning this or that event. Therefore it turns into a virtual platform, where two groups of contradicting and crossing identities can impress their own opinion-leading to the social construction of reality, and in some cases even to the generation and strengthening of the enemy image.

The methods of qualitative and quantitiatve document analysis were used for the research of the enemy image in Armenian-Azerbaijani online communications in forums. These methods allow to make impression about the perceptions of each side not only about the contradicting side, but also their own group. The forums were used as the main (and obviously among the few communication channel) platform for the analysis. The virtual platform was used since the face to face communication in the mass form is missing based on objective and subjective reasons.

Forums were used since here we have dialogical communication and each of the sides has the possibility to express their opinion and to make argumentations to justify their opinion. Using forums is not only good way to get documentized information, but also to have justified information and thus make the analysis based on the provided argumentations.

Multi-level sampling method has been used to get the information. At the first level all forums, which have Armenian and Azerbaijani participant and where Armenian-Azerbaijani relations are discussed have been separated. At the second level those forums which use English/Russian have been separated (having in mind that those are two languages commonly spoken and used by both nations). And at the final third level forums which have long online history, are technically powerful and have more than million participants have been separated. As a result two forums have been analyzed- and The time interval of the analysis falls into 01.01.20009- 01.05.2010 period. The period is significant, since it is considered to be the raise of the online communication phase between Armenians and Azerbaijani. Since start of 2009, the amount of Armenian and Azerbaijani dialogues become about 45% more intensive than the previous year leading to the creation of dialogic communication.

Generalizing the main findings of the research we can state the following:

  • Armenian-Azerbaijani relations in Armenian forum topics are being directly discussed in the context of Nagorno Karabakh, while in Azerbaijani forums they are being discussed also in other contexts.  Furthermore Azerbaijani forum topics mainly state that Armenian-Azerbaijani relations are gone wrong due to the Russian intervention. Here the idea of Georgia trying to create negative impression about Azerbaijan around the Armenians is being also highlighted: Georgians didn’t want to provide shelters for Meskheti migrants.
  • Azerbaijani forum topics were mostly about the political and diplomatic relationship between the groups, while Armenian forums also highlight the everyday life topics. Azerbaijani forums even had topic devoted to the Armenian political leaders involving not only the president and prime minister, but also members of Parliament.  While Armenian forums only discussed the president of Azerbaijan. There was a special section in forum entitled “Armenian political leaders”. Here the biography of the MPs was being discussed. The main highlights were made upon the fact that Armenian MPs are “illegal drug-dillers”, “own businesses, are oligarchs, though it is not acceptable by law”, “create laws which are only useful for their own businesses”, etc.  The VP and president were discussed as “stupid”, “irrational leaders”, “leaders without any charisma”. While in Openarmenia forum Azerbaijani president has been discussed as “cruel”, “dictator” and “mean”.
  • Despite the fact that the forum topics in Azerbaijani forum were 256 and were way more dominating in terms of quantity, those had lesser views than the Armenian forum, which had only 186 forum topics.
  • The forum comments and discussions for both forums had mostly emotional component. There was even a scientific expert in Azerbaijani forum named Arif Yunusov, but even in his case some of the comments were more of emotional rather than specifically analytical. Arif Yunusov, who was considering himself to be an expert of the field was mentioning data and analysis, which were relying upon his own findings, which had no references. One of the administrators of Openarmenia forum was commenting upon Yunusov’s findings using references to the leading international analytics.
  • Armenian comments and topics both in Armenian and Azerbaijani forums were mostly identifying Azerbaijani as Turks. The cases in Armenian forum were taking around 76% of cases. In addition to identification of them as Turks they were being viewed as enemies (this means in the beginning of the topic it was stated that Turks and Azerbaijani are the same), in the rest of 24% of cases where there was no such identification 63% of topics were having no attitude towards Azerbaijani (their actions were not being considered in the context of nationality), while in 37% the attitude was even positive (these were remarks about having common Armenians and Azerbaijani population living next door in peace for years).
  • Azerbaijani members of the forums were more tend to describe the their group with positive attitude (94%) than Armenian members (78%). The contradicting group was being seen as negative in both cases for most of the time. Azerbaijani were being described by Armenians as self-less, cloned Turks, people who have physical disabilities, such as abnormal form of skeleton. Azerbaijani were describing Armenians as terrorists and aggressors. Among other common prescriptions were tigerish and severe. In both cases all kind of argumentation and justifications were being used.
  • The discussions in both forums were being done based on the principles of debate. Both Armenians and Azerbaijani were more tend to communicate with non-collaborative models. This means that the communication is not taking positive path and every communication turns into a negative and confronting dialogue.

As a conclusion I would like to point out that one of the major contributions of the research was the idea that though in real life there is no direct communication between the two nations there is such a communication when it comes to the online platform. And here each of the sides does not only try to show their own perception of the incompatible realities, but tries to somewhat justify their point of view. This is especially important for discovering the pseudo-facts and narratives laying behind the viewpoints.

[1]Nagorno Karabakh is currentlythe Republic of Artsakh. The term Nagorno Karabakh is used in the text since the conflict is internationally and scientifically known as Nagorno Karabakh conflict.

[4]Anderson, Benedict R. O’G. “Imagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism”/Benedict Anderson.-Rev. and extended ed., 2nd ed., p. 7 1936

[5] Ibid p.9

[6] Cohen A.P. “Symbolizing Boundaries: Identity and Diversity in British Cultures”,Manchester University Press,  1986

[7] СмитЭ., p. 261

[8]The follow-up examples are used from the analytical paper of Vrtanesyan K., stating the common misperceptions of Armenian and Azerbaijani population based on his review of different forums from 2008-2010 years.

[9] Collins English Dictionary 5thEdition published in 2000

[10] Collins English Dictionary 5th Edition published in 2000

[12]Fiebig-von Hase, R Introduction. In R. Fiebig-von Has & U. Lehmkuhl (Eds.),Enemy images in American history (p. 2). Providence, RI: Berghahn 1997

[13] Kibbey, A. Editorial: Gender and the American ideology of war. Genders Online Journal, 37 2003

Retrieved March 6, 2003, from

[14] Spillman, K. R., & Spillmann, K. “Some sociological and psychological aspects of “Images of the Enemy.” In R. Fiebig-von Has & U. Lehmkuhl (Eds.),Enemy images in American history (pp.

50-51). Providence, RI: Berghahn 1997

[15]Hall, 6, Representation and Media, transcripts from lectures, Media Education Foundation, MEF, 1997

[16] Ibid p. 9

[17]In dialogic communication each participant possesses genuine concern for one’s partner instead of as a means to an end.This facilitative communication is opposed to coercing and exploiting, dishonest forms of interactions that are used to manipulate people in various degrees. See Thomlison, T. Dean  Toward Interpersonal Dialogue. New York: Longman 1982

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