New York Times’ Shameful Breach of Standards

BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN

In a page four article in Wednesday’s edition of New York Times, titled “‘Frozen Conflict’ Between Azerbaijan and Armenia Begins to Boil,” Moscow bureau chief Ellen Barry describes in detail makeshift and government-sanctioned sniper schools teaching Azeri youth the fine art of sniper fire to fight Nagorno-Karabakh.

In what can be described as a breach of simple journalistic standards, Barry provides a detailed account of Azeri “refugees” living in squalor and turning to the sniper schools to prepare for war against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. Her story is peppered with official and person-on-the-street accounts of how war is the only option to resolving the Karabakh conflict.

It is ironic. After all it was Felicity Barringer of the New York Times who broke the news of the 1988 peaceful demonstrations in Armenia and Karabakh, prompted by Glasnost and Perestroika, that started what is now known as the “Karabakh conflict.” Her newspaper diligently chronicled the savage Azeri pogroms in Sumgait, Kirovabad, Baku and Shahumian and the resulting war that Barry now references in her disheveled piece and attempt at reporting.

Barry quotes a 34-year-old and a 15-year-old student, both of whom express their willingness—and readiness—to go to war and in one instance also talks of the young Azeris’ shame for living in squalor as the impetus for their military outlook.

It was also the New York Times that expressed outrage and condemnation at the Madrassas being operated in Pakistan that trained young Muslims to fight Osama bin-Laden’s Jihad against the West. Barry’s piece seems to endorse the Azeri belief that the only way out of the situation is to establish free sniper schools to teach the young to fight. One wonders how the same publication can have such divergent views on what is essentially the same approach.

The reporter also discusses the matter with Azerbaijan’s presidential adviser, Ali Hasanov, who tells Barry, “There is no guarantee that tomorrow or the day after tomorrow a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia won’t start,” adding, “If necessary we are ready to give our lives for territorial integrity.”

An obvious question for a presidential aide perhaps would have been: why isn’t Baku spending all the riches it has amassed from oil and gas deals to provide better living conditions for these refugees, who Barry describes as “living along a dank, fetid hallway, on one floor of a former office building” with “three rough, foul-smelling holes in the concrete floor served as toilets for 21 families.”

Barry’s attempt to provide clarity of the international context of the conflict also echoes the Azeri cries that they have been left alone to fend for themselves.

“The United States, France and Russia do not do what they promised,” Barry quotes Hasanov. “America now thinks Afghanistan and Iraq are more important — and North Africa, and the missile defense shield in Europe — than such regional conflicts as Nagorno-Karabakh.”

There is no mention of the OSCE chairman’s appeal—which Azerbaijan unequivocally rejected—to both sides to withdraw their snipers from what is known as the “line of conflict.” No mention again of last week’s statement by president Obama, Sarkozy and Medvedev calling on the sides to finalize the so-called “basic principles” and condemned use of force in resolving the conflict. Nor, was there any mention of the Azeri threats to down civilian aircraft. The latter threat was even condemned by the most pro-Azeri US diplomat, Matthew Bryza.

The most incendiary part of Barry’s article is her conclusion where she quotes Shafag Ismailova, a 34-year-old student at the sniper school as saying: “We had a genocide, and no one helps us. Not America, not Russia.” The New York Times, which covered the Armenian Genocide as it was happening, should not allow such callous use of the word and must warn its bureau chiefs and reporters to be more sensitive in such matters.

The timing of the piece is also suspect. During a period when international attention has been focused on Karabakh, including a meeting by Armenia’s foreign minister with Hillary Clinton on the matter, the New York Times has mentioned the conflict in passing only once when reporting on Azerbaijan’s victory in the Eurovision 2011 song competition.

Could it be that Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov’s current visit to New York has promoted such a despicable piece in the New York Times? Or, has Azerbaijan’s $35,000-a-month contract with Patton, Boggs, LLC. to promote its interests in the US finally breached the most impenetrable walls of the Gray Lady?

Whatever the case, it is pieces such as Barry’s and those editors who approve their publication that might bring this “frozen conflict” to a “boil.”

 

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