The musical, historical, and visual aspects of the video should evoke empathy and sadness.
The Armenian cellist Sevak Avanesyan was filmed in the snow-white and rubble-covered Holy Savior Cathedral in the city of Shushi in Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region in Azerbaijan that has been dominated by ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s.
Armenian officials said the cathedral was shelled on October 8 by two attacks by Azerbaijani forces as part of their offensive to retake the region that began in late September.
The resumption of the decades-long conflict sparked an all-out information war that – as both sides claim – reflects, distorts, lambastes and transmits hostilities on the ground.
The cello piece entitled “Storch” was written by Armenia’s most famous and tragic composer Komitas, who suffered a nervous breakdown after surviving the mass murders of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey and died in a mental hospital in Paris.
Armenia and many Western nations refer to the murder of up to 1.5 million Armenians as “genocide”, while Turkey rejects such allegations.
Violoncellist Sevak Avanesyan plays “Krunk”, composed by #Komitas, in # Ghazanchetsots Cathedral of the Holy Savior in #Shushi.
The cathedral was attacked twice by Azerbaijani forces on October 8th. pic.twitter.com/mmlOPW4fGr
– Armenia @ (@armenia) October 12, 2020
The music video was posted on Armenia’s official Twitter account on October 12, and the message was clear: the shelling of the cathedral by Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking nation of 10 million people, of which Ankara is closest ally, was part of a centuries-old hostility towards Turks Armenians.
The opinion is widespread in Armenia, where many view the conflict as an apocalyptic dispute aimed at destroying their statehood, history and culture.
“I hope we beat them [Azeri] This time hordes like in the 1990s, and my people will not be exterminated, ”Mari Arzan, a resident of the Armenian capital Yerevan, told Al Jazeera.
For Azerbaijan, however, such claims are a slap in the face.
Baku officials vehemently deny any connection between the Ottoman-era conflict and their efforts to reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh and sparsely populated adjacent areas that were once populated by hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis.
Baku simply rejects the fact of the shelling.
“The information about the damage to the Shushi Church has nothing to do with the military operations of the Azerbaijani army,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “The Azerbaijani army does not target historical, cultural and especially religious buildings and monuments.”
Many in Azerbaijan remember their peaceful coexistence with ethnic Armenian neighbors in Soviet times.
During the mandatory two-year military service, Azerbaijani and Armenian conscripts often banded together to defend themselves against harassment and bullying by high-ranking soldiers.
The Muslim Magomayev, an Azerbaijani singer named “The Soviet Tom Jones”, often played songs by Armenian composers.
For Azerbaijani observers, the video from the cathedral is part of a wider campaign to siege Baku and its efforts to return what belongs to them under international law and the status quo after the collapse of the Soviets in 1991.
“We are seeing an unprecedented information attack on Azerbaijan,” Emil Mustafayev, a political analyst based in the Azerbaijani capital, told Al Jazeera.
“The Armenian side deliberately publishes forgeries – for example about the involvement of certain Syrian mercenaries on the Azerbaijani side,” he said.
Numerous reports in the Armenian and international media claim that Ankara hired hundreds of pro-Turkish Syrian fighters and sent them to the front.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected the reports – and said that Turkey “fully” supports its Azerbaijani allies.
Unsurprisingly, the information war is echoing through the chambers of power on both sides.
“I urge each of you to expose the falsifications of Armenian propaganda and to convey the truth about the Armenian aggression to the international community on all platforms! Anyone who regards Azerbaijan as their mother country must raise their voice and refute the Armenian lies! “Mehriban Aliyeva, Azerbaijan’s First Lady and Vice President, wrote on Facebook on October 5th.
Her husband agrees, and has pointed out how the conflict is being covered by Russian news outlets, especially after Moscow called for a ceasefire and offered to hold more rounds of peace talks.
A man walks next to the ruins of a house that was destroyed by the recent shelling during the military conflict over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region in the city of Martuni on October 14, 2020 [Stringer/Reuters]Russia maintains a military base in poor Armenia and supplies it with oil and gas.
“In some Russian [television] We are seeing blatant anti-Azerbaijani propaganda, forgery and manipulation, ”Ilkham Aliyev told the RBC Daily online portal on October 11th.
Since the early 1990s, the conflict has claimed more than 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands.
Many Azerbaijani and Armenian refugees fled to Russia, mainly in urban centers, leading to xenophobia and hostility to migrants.
Despite all the adversities, many migrants in Russia managed to defend their homeland in the social media war.
“I want you to understand that Azerbaijan stands for justice and is now returning its occupied territories,” wrote Gasan Guseinov, an ethnic Azerbaijani video blogger with 14.3 million subscribers, on Instagram.
The Armenian side reflects the claims.
“Sometimes there are examples of overt war propaganda, as is the case in all conflicts,” Richard Giragosian, a Yerevan-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera.
He says Aliyev, who inherited his presidency and authoritarian politics from his father Heydar, is doing himself a disservice by keeping the domestic media on a leash and withholding information from the front lines.
Azerbaijan, for example, does not disclose its military death toll, but Aliyev has claimed he will provide details when clashes subside.
“Ironically, such a secret approach [triggered an] Erosion of trust and a lack of reliability that affected any official announcement of a win or claim to victory, ”said Giragosian.
Although many Azerbaijanis and Armenians will deny any semblance between their cultures and ways of thinking, for some outside observers the information war is rooted in much older traditions.
Azerbaijan, Armenia, and neighboring Georgia were part of the Iranian, Arab, and Turkish empires before Russia took over the region in the 19th century.
“This is the classic Great Middle East when the warring sides exaggerate their successes on the battlefield,” Pavel Luzin, a Russia-based analyst at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington think tank, told Al Jazeera.
“These are not even deliberate lies or disinformation, but part of a centuries-old culture,” he said.
Women stand at the entrance of a cellar during the shelling in the city of Terter in Azerbaijan on October 13, 2020 during the ongoing military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region [Bulent Kilic/AFP]