From women’s rights protests in Iran to environmental protests in Berlin, activism takes place all over the world as a means to bring about social or political change.
Modern activism relies heavily on the media, a tool that provides any and everyone an outlet to comment on current events, share personal content and even voice their concerns on social and political issues. The media allows us to travel all around the world in a moment; it allows us to check up on relatives 7,000 miles away and virtually visit friends across the country.
Unfortunately, the media, specifically Western media, plays too big a role in shaping the world’s understanding of violence and human injustice, desensitizing the Western world to cruelty, casualty and war.
While the media is an effective tool in giving voice to the voiceless, it has become yet another platform through which certain groups of people are chronically underrepresented. Selective activism has become a popular phenomenon, particularly in western media, in which people selectively determine which issues they think are worth advocating, further silencing marginalized groups. So to those who choose to advocate only for the issues they deem important, I ask — what makes one human life worth saving over another?
In February 2022, Russia launched a devastating and unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Almost instantly, my Instagram feed was flooded with support for Ukraine — from friends to celebrities, everyone I followed shared their support for Ukrainians impacted by the crisis. It is important to state that I, too, support Ukraine and am extremely pleased that the issue received the recognition it deserved.
In a strange way, however, seeing the mass support for Ukraine reminded me of how truly alone the Armenian people are in their ongoing struggle for survival. The media’s detailed coverage of Ukraine is a, somewhat, rare occurrence likely due to the geopolitics of the region. Western ideology has taught us that war is a normal occurrence in the Middle East, in Africa, and in countries we’ve never heard of; however, war in Europe was not something we thought we’d see in our lifetime, until Ukraine.
The destructive stereotypes that Western media has instilled in us have deep roots in racism and hatred. The west has taught us to expect war in second and third world countries, as we have been conditioned to view them as developmentally inferior. It comes as no surprise that a large majority of the populations in which we expect conflict are demographically people of color. The values that western media has and continues to preach stem from ethnocentrism, promoting centuries of racism and marginalization. Even when Western media chooses to cover certain conflicts elsewhere in the world, the coverage of these issues is minimal and often brushed off as a devastating but predictable occurrence.
In 2020, Azerbaijan launched an attack on the Republic of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, resuming a war that began three decades ago. Radio silence was what the Armenian people were met with online. These unnecessary, unprovoked acts of violence came with the loss of 3,825 young soldiers, including Gor, my 18-year-old cousin.
Since the war in 2020, Azerbaijan has repeatedly violated the ceasefire and attacked civilian populations, including homes, schools and religious institutions — yet, only radio silence from the global community. They committed hate crimes on American soil, vandalizing Armenian schools in San Francisco and Los Angeles — yet, again, radio silence.
Now, I ask again: Why is it that the lives of Ukrainian people are deemed more important to the global community and media than the lives of the Armenian people?
The phenomenon of selective activism is unbelievably dangerous to those who are repeatedly ignored. It tells us that our issues are not important enough, that the lives we lost were not important enough, and that we, simply, are not important enough.
In December 2022, Azerbaijan illegally blockaded the Lachin Corridor, the only road connecting Artsakh to Armenia after the 2020 war. Under the guise of an environmental protest, Azerbaijan has been holding over 120,000 Artsakh citizens hostage for over four months.
Innocent human beings have been stripped of their basic rights, forced to live without electricity and ration dwindling food and medical supplies. Azerbaijan has cut off the gas supply to Artsakh, forcing schools and businesses to close down. This blatant violation of human rights was, once again, trumped by a more attractive issue on social media: the earthquake in Turkey. Although it is imperative that Turkey and Syria receive the humanitarian aid they need, seeing the blatant discrepancy in the level of media attention has been a sensitive issue for some in the Armenian community, given Armenia’s history with Turkey.
Selective humanitarianism adds salt to the wounds of the Armenian people whose ancestors experienced a, still-unrecognized, genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey, in 1915 and, now, an attempted ethnic cleansing by Turkey’s sister state, Azerbaijan.
Though Turkey continues to uphold its legacy of genocide denial, through the country’s hypocratic alliance with Azerbijan, they have been given a second chance to finish what they started in 1915: the annihilation of the Armenian people. To make matters worse, the so-called environmental protestors in Azerbaijan were seen holding up the Gray Wolves symbol: the hate symbol of a Turkish terrorist group that denies the Armenian genocide and continues to perpetrate crimes against Armenians. The Grey Wolves symbol of hatred and murder is what forced my ancestors into the diaspora, killing those who refused to leave their home. Armenians are a proud people, unified by culture and language but most by their shared generational trauma; trauma forced upon them by Ottoman Turkey and by the Grey Wolves symbol.
The Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is a complex one to understand, politically speaking. But from a human rights perspective, it isn’t some complex, confusing issue — it is a blatant violation of human rights and an attempted ethnic cleansing at the hands of Azerbaijan. If Azerbaijan is not held responsible for its crimes, this crisis, which began in the early 1900s, will continue to plague the Armenian people. Selective humanitarianism fosters an environment of violence and allows the aggressor to proceed without so much as a slap on the wrist.
Selective activism allows human injustice to go unanswered while turning human rights violations, mass murders, and attempted genocide into a trend. Due to selective activism, many of those who supported Ukraine, when it was trendy to, may not realize that it is still an ongoing crisis.
To call oneself an activist is to advocate for injustice all over the world, not to further silence minority groups. Human rights violations are not trends, they are not fads; rather, they are very real, very permanent crimes that must be brought to justice.
So, the next time you choose to post about an issue just because your favorite celebrity does, also consider educating yourself on the issues that are not popular enough to make it to your Instagram feed.
Photo by Jelger Groeneveld.