Analysis: What Twitter tells us about the leaders’ communication strategies in the Second Karabakh War

In the information age, the war of words can be very revealing. In this analysis for KarabakhSpace.eu, Yalchin Mammadov looks at what the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders' twitter posts throughout the 44-day war can tell us about how they wanted to portray the conflict to the international community.

During the 44-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Autumn 2020, both Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan, and Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, made extensive use of Twitter for their international communication. This article will attempt to deduce the main messages and discursive strategies of the leaders by analysing the content published on their respective twitter accounts during the war.

The first thing to point out is that Ilham Aliyev has two official Twitter accounts: one entirely in Azerbaijani and one for communication in English and Russian. During the war, Aliyev published public announcements of military achievements and excerpts of his interviews made with international media outlets. 

Nikol Pashinyan has only one Twitter account – his personal one that he has used since 2009. During the war, he mostly published messages in English, but also sometimes in Russian, French, German and Italian. Nikol Pashinyan’s tweets were spontaneous and often linked to other sources (videos, articles, interviews). 

Ilham Aliyev communicated more frequently on Twitter than Nikol Pashinyan, and consequently, the Azerbaijani leader’s account offers more content during the period studied. That said, public announcements of military achievements were excluded from the analysed content. Furthermore, the posts published in Russian and in English were translations of each other. 

We will assume that the leaders’ tweets published in English were intended to target an international audience, and they aim, among others, to vindicate their positions internationally. We also assume that there is hardly any need for Ilham Aliyev and Nikol Pashinyan to convince their populations of the rightness of their actions, even though they did not miss the opportunity to address the nation regularly (Aliyev more often than Pashinyan). 

The frequency of the messages is, however, not the main difference between two leaders’ communication approaches. They are also different in style and purpose, and are characterised by two main patterns: Pashinyan’s communication sounds hysterical and claims that Armenia is facing an aggression; Aliyev adopts an assertive tone, giving the impression that for him it is a just and legitimate war. 

Pashinyan’s clash of civilisations 

Pashinyan’s main focus is the claim that Turkey is at war against Armenia. He uses “Turkey” more than “Azerbaijan” in his twitter messages with “Turkey” being the third most used term in his communication during the analysed period. He denounces the “Azerbaijani-Turkish alliance” and the “political and military support of Turkey” to Azerbaijan; calls on the international community “to use all of its influence to halt any possible interference by Turkey; and claims that his country is fighting against “Azerbaijani-Turkish bandits”. For Pashinyan, “Peaceful resolution will be possible when terrorists and Turkey leave our region with their goals”.

Pashinyan tries to present the conflict as civilisational. For him, “The borders of Artsakh have become a civilizational frontline”. He insinuates that this is the war of the civilised against barbarians, a fight against the enemy of the whole civilisation. For him Azerbaijan is in “a war against democracy”. He tries to warn, in different messages, that Azerbaijan threatens a big part of the world: “This war is equally directed against Christians, Muslims & Jews” or “This terrorism equally threatens the United States, Iran, Russia, and France”. 

Through these messages he underpins this vision: 

  • “Artsakh has become the frontline for anti-terrorism”.
  • “This united movement of Armenians across the globe should attract other nations who pursue justice, freedom and love & who are against violence, corruption, terrorism”.
  • “war against Artsakh and Armenia with the help and involvement of foreign terrorist fighters”. 

The Armenian prime minister frequently uses the term “genocide” trying to link the conflict to the events of 1915. He states: “Karabakh without Armenians, hence it means genocide” or “Prevent Genocide. Recognize Artsakh”. He claims that, this is not a war of two armies, but “Azerbaijan with Turkey's direct support continues its genocidal policy against Armenians”.  He adds, “for Turkey, however, continuing a genocidal policy is not only a means of implementing Armenophobia, but also a pragmatic task”.

Consequently, Pashinyan’s strategy is to show that Armenians are fighting for their survival. He repeats “The people of Nagorno Karabakh face existential threat”.

For Pashinyan, “if the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan succeed, it will mean a genocide for the Armenians”. It would be interesting to know if he qualifies the present situation as genocide, as the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan have, in fact, succeeded. 

Pashinyan calls on the international community to act, especially by putting pressure on Turkey: “I call on the international community to use all of its influence to halt any possible interference by Turkey”. He also urges “the international community (…) to recognize Artsakh” even though no relevant diplomatic actions have been taken by Armenia. 

Finally, on a smaller scale, the Armenian prime minister tries to express the determination of Armenia in this conflict: 

  • “All Armenians must unite to defend our history, our homeland, identity, our future and our present”. 
  • “And we will win and there is only one prerogative, that we promise ourselves that we won't retreat a single millimeter from defending our people and our Artsakh”.

Aliyev’s “peace through strength” 

Aliyev’s position is mostly built on the assumption that Azerbaijan is acting within the framework of international rules. It reiterates the rhetoric on “law enforcement” that the Azerbaijani side heavily referred to during the war, in order to justify the military operations.

  • “We are implementing the UN Security Council resolutions single-handedly”.
  • “We have already implemented a part of the basic principles of the UN Security Council resolutions”. 
  • “conflict’s military resolution must enter a political phase and we are ready for that”.
  • “The UN Charter ensures every country's right for self-defense. We are defending ourselves and liberating Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory from occupation”.
  • “For the Azerbaijani people, it is a liberation war. For Armenia, it is a war of occupation. Armenia’s occupation forces are on Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory”.

At the same time, Aliyev stresses the failure of international mediation and insinuates that the reason of this failure is the partiality and bias of the mediators, implying that the Azerbaijani army is completing the task that the mediators should have accomplished. Accordingly, he exploits the past declarations of mediators on the inadmissibility of the status quo.  

  • “All the calls for inadmissibility of the status quo and a need to change it made by the international community and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chair countries fall on deaf ears”.
  • “Minsk Group co-chairs are permanent members of the UN Security Council. Those countries have done nothing to enforce the four resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Armenia’s troops”.
  • “Mediators must be impartial and unbiased when it comes to adhering to norms of international law and impartiality”.
  • “There is no such thing as status quo. We have changed it on the battlefield”. 

 

According to Aliyev, the Azerbaijani army is fighting against a criminal regime and this gives, in addition to those arguments already mentioned, more legitimacy to the Azerbaijani side. While stating this, he sometimes does not refrain from making heavy accusations against Armenia in this regard:  

  • “We are also stopping Armenian fascism”. 
  • “Armenia will answer for those war crimes” .
  • “Armenia has, in fact, perpetrated an environmental terror against Azerbaijan”.
  • “Armenia's fascist leadership has perpetrated next war crime, fired on the cities of Gandja and Mingechevir using tactical operational missile system”.
  • “fascism policy pursued by Armenia’s leadership”.

Another item that the Azerbaijani president builds his war discourse on is related to the expected outcome of the military operations. He tries to channel the attention to future prosperity and development issues that Azerbaijani military victory would bring:

  • “We see the future of the Karabakh region as an area of peace. With our investments and development experience, we can transform that region into one of the world’s most prosperous regions”. 
  • “Karabakh is one of the most beautiful and fertile regions of our country. Prospects of this region will be crucial for Azerbaijan’s sustainable development. Great work is ahead of us in terms of the region’s restoration”.
  • “We will build cities across the liberated lands and turn those areas into paradise. Those lands will reinvigorate, life and children’s laughter will return there. Citizens of Azerbaijan will live on those lands in dignity”.

Like Pashinyan, and with no surprise, through his tweets Aliyev tries to demonstrate his determination. However, unlike Pashinyan, he underlines that the Azerbaijani army is better equipped than the Armenian army, and calls on foreign forces to refrain from dissuading Azerbaijan:

  • “This war is a Patriotic War for our people. We are liberating our Motherland’s territories from the occupiers, restoring historical justice on the battlefield”.
  • “We have modern weaponry and high fighting spirit”.
  • “No force can withstand the will of the Azerbaijani people. We have demonstrated our strength on the battlefield, both to the enemy and the entire world”.
  • “Our State has a strong will and a powerful army. No one can stop us”.

Finally, Aliyev tries to highlight that Azerbaijan has friendly relations with neighbouring countries, thus the Azerbaijani military attack is supported by a large part of the international community. While he is boasting of a “Support by the Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States”, he points out that his country “does not wish to involve any third country and do not see any involvement. Because the countries that surround us are our partners and friends”. For Aliyev, the Azerbaijani position “is based on common sense and humanitarian grounds and is supported by the international community”.

By way of conclusion

Perhaps, this analysis would be complete if it included multiple communication channels, and not only Twitter. However, since it is one of the biggest social networking sites in the world and widely used for political communications, generalisations can be made through this kind of analysis.

This article does not try to verify the veracity of the conveyed messages by Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders. Let’s not forget that the war discourse is in its very essence partial and seeks to manipulate minds by exaggerating, distorting or simply fabricating the facts. 

 

source: This op-ed was prepared for KarabakhSpace.eu by Yalchin Mammadov, an Azerbaijani analyst based in Brussels.
photo: The twitter logo in the colours of the Azerbaijani and Armenian flags
 
The views expressed in opinion pieces and commentaries do not necessarily reflect the position of KarabakhSpace.eu or its partners

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