A Czech politician faces backlash for reducing the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict to Christianity versus Islam.
The former foreign minister of the Czech Republic has sparked controversy calling on Europe to defend Armenia in its conflict with Azerbaijan.
“Let's help the oldest Christian nation in the world,” said Karel Schwarzenberg, who is also a member of the Czech parliament. His words were widely interpreted as a dogwhistle attempt aimed at pitting the ongoing conflict as a clash between Christianity and Islam.
Schwarzenberg is not known for being a far-right politician, however the crusading language could have been easily taken from that political spectrum.
Azerbaijani opposition politician, Ilgar Mammadov, condemned Schwarzenberg’s remarks in a tweet for being “deceitful” and exposing the Czech politician as a “racist.”
I've always respected the former Czech foreign minister Schwarzenberg for speaking up on human rights in🇦🇿, but yesterday he exposed himself as a racist. Here is the end of his deceitful writing about Armenia's war against🇦🇿: "Let's help the oldest Christian nation in the world."— Ilgar Mammadov (@ilgarmammadov) October 13, 2020
Another expert on the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan called Schwarzenberg’s words “quite a shocking and dangerous narrative..just adding fuel to the fire.”
But the Czech politician is not the only one to frame the conflict in the South Caucuses as one between Islam and Christianity.
In a Facebook post earlier this month, Wilders said “I will always support my Christian Armenian friends against the violent Islamic barbarism of Azerbaijan.”
Wilders has a long record of framing political issues as a clash of civilisations primarily between Islam and Christianity.
The current narrative of attempting may well succeed in Europe given the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the continent. A majority of Europeans believe that Islam is not compatible with Europe.
Politicians attempting to paint far away conflicts along sectarian lines, will find an audience only too willing to accept the binary.
In France, the far-right leader Marie Le Pen, who came second in the 2017 Presidential elections and in the past, has called Islam a threat to the country and Europe, published a statement in support of Armenia.
While not explicitly referencing the religion of the parties involved in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, Le Pen’s position on conflicts involving Muslims is decidedly hawkish.
Even as some European politicians are keen to frame the war along religious lines the reality, however, is far from that.
A research paper looking at the issue, found that “Western Media” in particular has attempted to frame the issues as one between 'Christian Armenians' and 'Muslim Azerbaijanis.'
This is even as “Armenian and Azeri government and religious leaders have stated that the war in and for Karabakh is not a "religious war" at all” the paper noted adding “religious symbolism and sentiment seem to be more than peripheral aspects of the conflict.”
An exception was when the Armenian Ministry of Foreign affairs bizarrely tweeted a picture of a priest holding the cross and an automatic assault rifle with the caption “Faith and Power.”
The tweet was widely mocked. However, it seemed to signal a message to far-right politicians in Europe and America who are keen to capitalise on sectarian rhetoric.
Some have argued that Armenia has sought to emulate the Bashar al Assad playbook in Syria which aimed to showcase the initial protests to his rule as a campaign run by ‘Islamists’, thereby portraying himself as the moderate the West could work with.
The strategy eventually helped Assad survive, even if the West has not accepted his rule over Syria. However, there is a cautionary tale in how complex conflicts become lightning rods for internal politics in the US and Europe undermining negotiations in the conflict countries.