A new Armenian initiative has the potential to exacerbate even further the already hostile relationship between Yerevan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, on the one hand, and Azerbaijan on the other.
Last month, an Armenian-sponsored radio station began broadcasting from Shusha
(known as Shushi in Armenian), the second-largest town in the disputed enclave, to Azerbaijan’s Talysh minority.
The radio station in question is named Tolyshistoni Sado (Voice of the Talysh) and broadcasts three hours daily in both Talysh (an Iranian language) and Azeri.
Fifty-percent of the broadcast content is Talysh popular music and the remainder devoted to Talysh culture, according to former Armenian diplomat Ara Papyan
, who now heads the Modus Vivendi center, which co-initiated the project jointly with the Iranian Studies Faculty of Yerevan State University.
Papyan told the Caucasus Knot news agency that the broadcaster’s aims are entirely peaceful, devoid of any political content, and aimed at strengthening peace and stability in the region. But he also said one of the messages the station wants to convey to Talysh listeners is that the Karabakh conflict “is not their war, and that they are not obliged to support Azerbaijan.”
The Talysh are an Iranian people who live in the southeastern regions of Azerbaijan bordering on Iran. The official results
of the 2009 Azerbaijani national census give the number of Talysh as 112,000, or less than 1 percent of the country’s total population, compared with 76,800 in 1999.
Nonetheless, some Talysh claim the true figure
is 500,000, and that a further 600,000 Talysh live in Iran. Papayan gave the total number
of Talysh in Azerbajan alone as 2 million. Azerbaijan’s state-controlled media do not provide either TV or radio broadcasts in the Talysh language.
The Azerbaijani authorities reportedly initially assumed that the Iranian government was behind the new broadcaster; some Azerbaijani linguists quickly concluded
that the station’s journalists were Iranian Talysh. But the Iranian Embassy in Baku issued a statement
on March 27, one week after the broadcasts began, denying any connection with the initiative and affirming support for the territorial integrity of the Azerbaijan Republic.
Azerbaijani officials have not commented publicly on the new radio station, but Bayram Safarov, a leading member of the former Azerbaijani community of Nagorno-Karabakh, denounced
it as a "provocation" instigated by "Armenian separatists" and called for international condemnation.