The Perceptions of the “Enemy’s Image” in Armenia

SyuzannaBarseghyan, The Armenian Institute of International and Security Affairs

The use of the enemy’s image as soft power is a political practice, established ever since the ancient times, the significance of which is especially heightened in various crises, domestic, interstate and interethnic conflicts, and is based on streotypes in mass ethnic consciousness, as a mechanism of identifying “the others” and defending oneself from the latter.

Currently, the motives, mechanisms and methods for the formation of the “enemy’s image” in individual and collective consciousness are quite diverse. By the way, this image can be both invented and real. On the one hand, it is possible to artificially design and disseminate the “image of the enemy” as a tool of war propaganda: “First we create the enemy. The image precedes the arms. We kill the others in our minds, and then we procure clubs or ballistic missiles in order to physically anhiliate them. Propoganda precedes technology” (1).On the other hand, the presence of an “enemy’s image” is of fundamental importance to the society, which is impossible to eliminate due to humanistic considerations. “The image of the enemy is an objective ideological product, a kind of a propaganda GDP of a concrete country and era” (2).

In fact, “the image of the enemy” is a universal political tool which allows to both create(strengthen patriotism, mobilize the public, shape and reinforce identity and so on) and destroy (bring about social and ethnic conflicts, dehumanize social groups, nations, ideas, values and so on).

In a factual state of war to which it is a party, within a hostile environment and bearing hostile imagination of historical memory, with security problems and a priority of identity preservation, Armenia has its own peculiarities in the perception of the enemy.

The Hostile Neighbors of Armenia and Prospects of Reconciliation

Today in the Armenian society’s perceptions of enemies Azerbaijan is considered to be the most hostile country, hence, the structuring of the enemy’s image takes place mainly around that country and its people. According to public opinion in Armenia, the majority of the population believes that Azerbaijan is the most hostile country to Armenia (about 75% of respondents) (3): Turkey is considered the most hostile country byone fifth of all respondents. In fact, these two countries are major enemies (the other countries instigate innoticable levels of hostility). It is noteworthy that identifying Azerbaijan with Turkey has changed in the course of years: over time, Turkey is more often seen as separate from Azerbaijan, parallel to the decreasing perception of the former’s hostility, whereas the perception of Azerbaijan’s hostility is increasing. However, unlike Armenia, the perception of hostility if much more acute in Artsakh, also there is almost no difference between perceptions of Azerbaijan and Turkey: about 90% of the respondents consider both countries equally hostile (4).

The perception of hostility is manifest at personal level, too. According to the data of research conducted by CRRC-Armenia (5), the vast majority of Armenians does not approve of the marriage of Armenian women with an Azerbaijani or a Turk. There is some tolerance in the case of economic relations. Thus, 15 and 25% of respondents approve of business conducted by compartiots with the Azerbaijani and Turks, respectively.

The historical memory of the Armenian Genocide, the blockade of borders by Turkey, on the one hand, and the war with Azerbaijan and the unresolved Karabakh conflict, on the other, make the prospects of the reconciliation of these countries unrealistic. The Armenian public does not think the peaceful settlement of the NagornoKarabakh conflict is likely in the near future, even though the majority of the people are for the resolution of the conflit through peaceful negotiations (6). As compared to the impossibility of reconciliation with Azerbaijan, it is obvious that there is a need for greater “tolerance” on the part of Armenians for reconciliation with Turkey. The population of Armenia realizes the cost of economic development wins and losses as a result of unblocked border, as well as its impact on security.However, the majority approves of the normalization of relations without any preconditions, yet prioritizing the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the issues of the Karabakh conflict regulation (which Turkey is using as a precondition) (7).

The way of thinking, rooted in public consciousness that Azerbaijan and Turkey are pursuing a hostile policy against Armenia and Artsakh (frequently this is perceived as cooperation between the former two countries), bring about a universal hostile perception of those countries mainly not differentiating between official policies and people’s standpoints.

The Image of the Enemy: Stereotypes and Perceptions

“The image of the enemy”, i.e. the evaluative description of the enemy in public consciousness, the perception and understanding of it may often be significantly different from the “enemy”, since the image reflects not only the objective reality, but also the evaluative and emotive components. Besides, stretotypes and attitudes, myths and prejudices typical of mass consciousness greatly influence the shaping of the enemy’s image.

The image of Azerbaijan and Turkey as the enemy is less invented or mythological and is rather relevant to Armenia, the real threat posed to the Armenian people and the memory thereof. The deadly threat that comes from the enemy and is established as a given in the daily routine becomes the most important indicator of the semantic and rhetorical structure. Consequently, both the instrumental aggression – attack, and the hostile intent – destruction are included in the circulated image of the enemy.

As a counteraction to such a perception of hostility, the image of the enemy is dehumanized through various means, namely by ascribing various negative qualities, associating with death, hatred, conspiracy, aggression, violence and other hostile actions. An Azerbiajani or a Turk (often the same ethnonym – Turk – is used) we deprive them of human qualities, and through the generic image they are turned into an absolute evil. Thus, the country, the leader, the people, the ideas, the political system, the culture and the civilization, the history, the religion and so on are considered to be hostile. The personal stories of the opponents, human empathy towards them are depleted in this general dehumanization: “The value of every individual life is lost, since people’s attention is focused on the generic topic of victory or defeat in the conflict.” (8)

On public and state levels the image of the enemy becomes even stronger due to the consciousness that there is a deep and comprehensive Armenophobic propaganda in Turkey and especially in Azerbaijan, from school textbooks and historiographic literature to mass media and official propaganda. Besides the perception of the current image of the enemy, Armenians also bear the historical memory thereof. Having been subject to the most extreme manifestation of hostility, a genoside, the Armenian people bear this memory, consequently, they try to keep the realization of the deadly threat coming from the enemy fresh in their minds due to self-defense considerations.

The Genocide and the Karabakh conflict have become part of the Armenian indentity. People aspire for feeling they matter and constitute a part of an important resource. “The conflict was mythologized too, in such a manner that it is considered to be extremely important and even valuable. This may have to do with the emotional burden of actualizing the price paid for the conflict and still being paid to this day. This includes the official rhetoric, which depicts the conflict as practically unresolvable”. (9)

However, regardless of the identification of Azerbaijan and Turkey as enemy, the Armenian people perceive them differently on psychological level. If our perception of Turkey is from the standpoint of the victim, Azerbaijan is seen from the position of the winner. If in case of Azerbaijan we believe that we have restored justice (according to extreme nationalistic circles – not fully), in case of Turkey demanding claims and the restoration of justice are still topical. This difference in perceptions, however, does not stop from maintaining “a Turk remains a Turk” stereotype (ascribing it to the ordinary population, too), thus establishing deep mistrust and anticipation that they will commit a genocide upon the next appropriate occasion. The society finds it hard to overcome the stereotype of Turksthat presents them as butchers.

The Armenian specificity of shaping the image of the enemy has not only strengthened the negative aspects of the enemy’s image, but has created a contrast with the image of the enemy, using the positive image of the hero. Presenting the image of the enemy with that of the hero within the same mythologeme, the strength of the hero is stressed over the contrasting qualities of the enemy. For example, a person who is publicly ascribed inhuman or cruel deeds is not glorified as a hero in Armenia (the hero may have committed such an act, but this is not discussed in public and is not encouraged with a state award). The violence commited by an Armenian is presented as just revenge. Barbarity is not justified on the level of perception. The image of the Armenian hero reflects philanthropy (for example – care for the peaceful population), restoration of justice, courage, and devotion to the motherland.

The Importance of the “Enemy’s Image” in the Context of War

The propaganda led by any country preparing for war creates an “image of the enemy” which has an undeniable impact on people’s hostile imagination. It is necessary to destroy the living force of the opponent in order to be resilient and win in the war. That is why it becomes necessary to ascribe them inhuman qualities which will abolish the psychological hindrances and will justify their deeds. Besides, the definitions of an enemy’s image indicate who/what becomes a threat to the people and the state, what are the parameters of that threat and what is necessary to undertake for protection from the enemy.

The images of the enemy created on the basis of some historical events are transferred from generation to generation, change with time, disappear or neutralize. However, the image latent in situations of no tension reappears and is activated in public consciousness. Thus, the image of the Turk as the enemy that was passive in Soviet Armenia, was activated in the Karabakh movement and in the following years of war. The memory of the Genocide became the locomotive of the Karabakh movement (10). On February 27 – 29, 1988, people perceived and evaluated the massacre in Sumgait as a manifestation of the Genocide, and thus, it moved the memory of the Armenian Genocide in 1915 – 1923 to the forefront (11). Thus, the hard memories of the Genocide and the image of the enemy played a positive role in the mobilization of the Karabakh movement and the victory in the war.

It is not accidental that in the future Azerbaijan started to make use of the Karabakh conflict as a tool for national unification and shaping the Azerbaijani national identity, as well as the “liberation” of Karabakh as a “sacred” goal which should ensure such unification. Based on these ideas, the Azerbaijani elite is trying to recreate the Armenian model of historical memory by various means (Karabakh as a “sacred place”, “a lost land” just what Western Armenia is to Armenians, the myth of the “Genocide of the Azerbaijanis” by Armenians, Armenians/Karabakh people as mythological enemies for the unification of the nation) (12).
In the course of the Karabakh war the enrooted stereotypes against Turks were used to understand the enemy (Azerbaijan) and describe it. Later, the experience of the war and the following years of the war situation created the image of a new enemy –the Azerbaijani – and made it more topical.

The Enemy as an Important Element of Propaganda

The concept of the “enemy’s image” is directly linked with propaganda. However, different political forces make use of this link differently: “The phenomenon of the “enemy’s image” is most prominently expressed and manages the consciousness of the society in states with authoritarian and totalitarian political regimes” (13). We see clear differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan/Turkey, along with a number of changes after 2018 Velvet Revolution in Armenia.

The mechanism of the negative mobilization of the society, i.e. the use of the external enemy’s image to overcome domestic problems has been constantly used in the domestic political life of Armenia. Taking advantage of the war situation, the authorities strengthened the constrast between security interests and fundamental principles of democracy in the political discourse. These discourses have established some narratives which aimed at the justification of authoritarian governance or the regression of democracy (authoritarian approaches are presented as a guarantee for power and security), socio-economic hardships (at the expense of the everlasting peril of the war and defense costs), the role of the guarantor of the NagornoKarabakh conflict resolution (the settlement in favor of Armenians was directly linked with some individuals in power).

The taboo of not making “Turks happy” with domestic weaknesses, omissions and problems was definitely broken after the Revolution in April 2018. The massive participation in the revolution broke the long-standing myth that the Armenian society will not go for domestic shocks due to its historical memory, conservatism and common sense/wisdom, realizing the advantages it will give to the enemy against the peril of hostile environment and threat of war.Even though this thesis was voiced throughout actions of civil disobedience, and information was being shared on the movements, shifts and threats along the border, not only did it fail to restrain the participants, but generated counterarguments that civic engagement, spirit and moods and people’s power, on the contrary, could in the same manner serve the cause of defending the motherland. 

We can state that regardless of the existence of a nationalistic discourse in Armenia, there is no hate speech or extreme aggression against the enemy.The various sources of information that precondition the perception of the enemy and shape the image thereof are incomparable with the propaganda in Turkey and especially in Azerbaijan, where children’s literature, school textbooks, media, political rhetoric and other means of communication are filled with hostile discourse or hate speech and propaganda. Unlike the Azerbaijani propaganda that proposes itself as homogeneous, the pluralism in Armenia, as well as the variety of opinion-making sources and their content differences are obvious. In the societies of Armenia and Azerbaijan the asymmetry in the presentation of the enemy’s image and the propaganda is expressed in the political rhetoric, in the media, in social media, academic programs, art and everywhere else. For example, in Armenian children’s literature and textbooks there is no xenophobic propaganda, there are no epithets labelling Azerbaijanis or Turks (14).In the media outlets, too, despite the existence of nationalistic discourse, systematic use of extreme manifestations and vocabulary is not the case. For example, it can be noted that the word opponent is used more often than the word enemy. As for the political discourse, all political leaders and forces’ rhetoric of war has not been extreme.

Moreover, in post-revolutionary Armenia there were new emphases in the peace discourse: the new government has spoken more about the readiness to and significance of peace (certainly, emphasizing that such discourse should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness or unpreparedness for war).  The leader of the country, the Prime Minister spoke about the peaceful population among the Azerbaijani people and cooperation with this population.
The Specificities of Armenian Mechanisms for Shaping the Enemy’s Image
Thus, to sum up, we can group the following grounds for structuring the “image of the enemy”:
Traditional grounds

The primary one among the Armenian specificities of building the image of an enemy is not viewing the external enemy as a means for the shaping its own national identity, since the Armenian people have not historically had the need for shaping an identity, and besides Armenia is almost a monoethnic state (15)(in Azerbaijan, for example, we see the opposite situation: the image of the enemy is prioritized rather for the establishment of the indentity and the unification of ethnic minorities in the country). The external enemy rather contributes to the reinforcement of domestic relations to fight against mobilization and threats from the enemy. The following factors stand out within the traditional grounds, shaping the image of the enemy:

• Historical
The historical memory and the past losses of Armenians are among the major factors of conflict continuity. That memory is kept awake even beyond Armenia, in the Diaspora. However, as a party that has won the war and has established historical justice (from the viewpoint of Armenians), the Armenian society does not bear the same level of extreme aggression as the losing party.

• Sterotypical
The Armenian and Azerbaijani war has left “unexploded bombs” in the form of stereotypes in the public consciousness that impede the peaceful settlement /resolution of the conflict and discussions on cooperation prospects. The historical memory of the Genocide has also shaped hostile imagination stereotypes which greatly impede the normalization of Armenian – Turksih relations. Our perception of the enemy’s image is based on various archetypes: “Aggressor,” “barbarian,” “criminal”, “abuser”, “torturer,” “butcher,” and so on.

• Psychosocial
In ethnic autostereotypes Armenians describe themselves as kind, non-aggressive, not cruel, creative, sedentary nation, and on the contrary, in the heterostereotypes of Turks/Azerbaijanis, qualities of cruelty, aggressiveness, destructiveness and invasiveness are ascribed. This contrast enables the use of social tension at the times of crises, as thesimplest and most effective means of releasing the aggressive energy and channeling it towards the enemy.

Targeted-rational and value-based rational grounds

Besides the above-mentioned traditional grounds, the reason for our hostile attitude towards and the conflict with Azerbaijan and Turkey are the interests of the two countries. The ambitions for territory in case of Azerbaijan, the recognition of and compensation for the Genocide in case of Turkey and the unwillingness to agree for compromises are the targeted-rational bases for the image of the enemy. The hostility formed on this bases is further strengthened due to value-based rational grounds. The definition of the enemy is further reinforced through the contrast of ideological, ethnocultural, religious and other values. For example, we contract our ideological and political system differences, our cultural, religious and civilization belonging, the difference in our historical background and its duration within the image of the enemy.

Manipulative grounds

The “image of the enemy” is manipulated for the sake of both external and domestic processes. Stakeholder states that act as third parties also make use of the tool for manipulating with the enemy. The concept of the enemy by itself also brings forth a negative perception, which fails to lead to positive evaluations, moreover to create unbiased attitudes. Armenians ascribe a lower status to the enemy – low intellect, a low level of self-organization, low culture, viewing it asan entity that has a history without a history and without a shaped national identity. Often, the enemy becomes the scapegoat for one’s own faults and mistakes.

The use of the enemy’s image in domestic processes is part of the Armenian domestic reality, too. The former power made use of the enemy’s image in order to legitimize the political regime, overemphasize security issues, justify military costs at the expense of social expenditure, and so on. However, the revolution introduced some changes in this mechanism of manipulation, indicating to the mythological nature of incompatability between the threat from the enemy, i.e. security and war and democracy. The popularity of using the method of constructing an “image of the enemy” to manipulate public consciousness in countries with an authoritarian/totalitarian regime is also characterized by the presence of propaganda in these states as the main political tool of ideological influence.


1. Keen S. Faces of the Enemy: Reflections on the Hostile Imagination / Enlarged ed. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 2004.
2. СавельевА.Н. Образврага. Расология и политическая антропология. Серия "Библиотека расовой мысли". – М.: Белые альвы, 2007. – 608 с.
3. CaucasusBarometer, Public Perceptions on Political, Social, and Economic Issues in the South Caucasus Countries, CRRC-Armenia, 2017 (https://www.crrc.am/wp-content/themes/crrc/barometer_files/presentations...).
4. Opinion Polls in Nagorno-Karabakh: Comparative Results from 2015 and 2016, IPSC – Institute for Political and Sociological Consulting, Armenia, 2016 (http://eufoa.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Comparative-opinion-polls_20...).
5. CaucasusBarometer, Public Perceptions on Political, Social, and Economic Issues in the South Caucasus Countries, CRRC-Armenia, 2017.
6. Caucasus Barometer, Public Perceptions on Political, Social, and Economic Issues in the South Caucasus Countries, Yerevan, 2013.
7. Towards a Shared Vision of Normalization of Armenian-Turkish Relations, Key Findings Based on the Public Opinion Survey, CRRC-Armenia, 2015.
8. Envisioning Peace: An Analysis of Grassroots Views on the NagornyKarabakh Conflict, International Alert, 2018
9. Ibid.
10. Marutyan A. Description of Armenian Identity: Memory of the Genocide and the Karabakh Movement, Yerevan, 2009. [in Armenian]
11. Marutyan A. The Karabakh movement (1988-1990) in posters: general characteristics, Scientific news, 1/2017, pp. 41-47 (https://artsakhlib.am/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Marutyan-Harutyun-Karab...). [in Armenian]
12.  Zolyan M. The Interethnic Conflict and National Consolidation Processes (Once Again on the Karabakh Conflict), Lraberfor the Humanities, № 1, 2004 pp. 59-69. [inArmenian]
13. Гасанов. И.Б. Национальные стереотипы и «образ врага». М.: РАУ, 1994
14. Children’s liaterature and textbooks in Azerbaijan directly preach anti-Armenian sentiments. The content of textbooks and other educational materials can be found at http://azerichild.info/books-education-azerbaijan-hatred-from-childhood....․ In Turkish textbooks we can notice some appeasement in the recent 10 years. If previously, for example, they used “the so-called Armenian Genocide”, in the new textbooks we can come across expressions such as “the events of 1915”, “just memory”, “normalization”, “sending condolences,” “memorial rituals”. (http://hayernaysor.am/archives/170500):
15. Over 95 percent of the population are Armenian.

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