By Silke Reichrath
For over 30 years, ethnic and multilingual media monitoring has proven its usefulness to policy-makers and business or NGO decision-makers. While the importance of engaging with the numerous Chinese - and South Asian-language media in Canada is obvious because these population groups make up major market segments and constituencies in the big cities, the relevance of some smaller languages in the Canadian context is sometimes discounted.
Armenian media in Canada
For example, the Armenian media in Canada consist of three primary publications: two weekly papers published in Montreal - Horizon Armenian Weekly and Abaka – and the TorontoHye monthly out of Toronto. Each has a website that is updated regularly. Their absolute number of readers may be limited, but their reach within the Armenian community is significant. Horizon Armenian Weekly has an estimated circulation of 8,000 within an Armenian-Canadian community estimated at 80,000-100,000.
These outlets have a threefold purpose: 1. to translate and convey key Canadian news; 2. to inform about events and initiatives within the Armenian-Canadian community; and 3. to compile key homeland news. With the homeland crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh over the last two months, these three areas have been conflated, with a focus on lobbying and protest action within the Armenian-Canadian community and on statements on the conflict by Canadian policy-makers at all three levels of government.
Thrust in the limelight: Coverage of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in the Armenian-Canadian media
In October, the Armenian media highlighted that Azerbaijan was using Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 attack drones, which are equipped with Canadian-manufactured target acquisition sensors made by L3Harris/WESCAM and that Armenia accused Turkey of redeploying fighters from Syria and F-16 fighter jets to support Azerbaijani forces. They reported on statements by Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, then-Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Canada-Artsakh Parliamentary Friendship Group Leader Rachael Harder and other MPs, the Green Party, British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix, MPP Aris Babikian, and Toronto Mayor John Tory against the Azerbaijani operation and against Turkish support for Azerbaijan and in favour of Artsakh. Much of the coverage was on community lobbying efforts by the ARF, the Armenian National Committee of Canada, and a coalition of 20+ Armenian churches, organizations, associations, political parties, and independent community leaders grouped in the newly formed United Armenian Council of Ontario (UACO) before Canadian federal and provincial representatives in Ontario and British Columbia.
As the month progressed, the main Armenian media continued reporting on protests by Armenians in Canada against Turkish-Azerbaijani aggression against Artsakh and on Champagne’s statements in support of a ceasefire and the OSCE Minsk mechanism (TorontoHye, 20/10/2020). An article in TorontoHye blamed Champagne for issuing export permits for the target acquisition sensors despite a 2019 ban on arms sales to Turkey. The article claimed 12,000 civilian deaths in Artsakh, 25% more than the Canadian COVID-19 death toll (TorontoHye, 20/10/2020). Armenians in Montreal wanted Mayor Valérie Plante to recognize the right to self-determination for the people of Artsakh, while Armenians in Vancouver protested outside the CBC against “the barbarism committed by Azerbaijan and Turkey’s governments and soldiers” (Horizon Armenian Weekly, 19/10/2020). In a debate in the Ontario legislature, the three parties condemned the “inhumane crackdown by the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey on the Armenians of Artsakh,” which they called a second genocide (Horizon Armenian Weekly, TorontoHye, 22/10/2020). A letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from “the Armenian-Canadian community at large” was highlighted several times, signed by L’Union des communautés arméniennes du Québec, the United Armenian Committee of British Columbia, and the United Armenian Council of Ontario and published in TorontoHye and Abaka (TorontoHye, Abaka, 22/10/2020).
In November, coverage continued of efforts by the Armenian National Committee of Canada to organize protests from Vancouver to Waterloo and lobby Canadian politicians, including MPs Kerry-Lynne Findlay and Kenny Chiu. Senator Leo Housakos, Green Party MP Elizabeth May and the City Council of Laval expressed their support for Artsakh.
The other side of the coin: Coverage in Turkish media
While to our knowledge, there are no active Azerbaijani sources in Canada given the relatively small Azerbaijani community in Canada, we looked at active Turkish-Canadian sources. The two main active Turkish websites, Canadaturk in Toronto and Turknews in Hamilton, responded primarily to the export ban against Turkey. One Turknews article on Azerbaijan's perspective cited Turkish Ambassador Kerim Uras calling on Canada to act like an ally and stating that the suspension of weapons exports was hasty and contrary to the spirit of NATO. Uras pointed to the claim that Armenia had occupied 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory and caused the dislocation of a million refugees. He called on Armenia to withdraw from Azerbaijani territory. He denied that Turkey had sent Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan and claimed that Armenia was using Kurdish “terrorists” (Turknews, 08/10/2020).
Historically, the Armenian community has kept Genocide Remembrance Day alive and well in Canada and in the minds of Canadian political leaders. The material we found demonstrates that the community has been effective not only in attracting mainstream media coverage even in the midst of a pandemic but also in using the community media internally to elucidate their point of view. Ethnic media provide a window into the discourse and organizational life of a minority group in Canada as it relates to Canadian politics. Monitoring these outlets can provide policy-makers and advocates with context for the demands of different spokespersons and help clear up misinformation that may be circulating.