Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Azeri Cyber Forces

Sparks are flying in cyberspace as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict takes on a new and unexpected dimension.
By Mark Grigorian

Azeri computer hackers are sabotaging a series of Armenian web sites, which, they claim, spread lies about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.


Two groups of hackers - which go under the monickers of Green Revenge and Hijak [sic] Team 187 - are said to be involved in the virtual hijacking, which has provoked a storm of protest in Azerbaijan and Armenia (www.greenrevenge.domainvalet.com).


The hackers - who sabotaged the Armenian State Television and the Armenian Assembly of America sites earlier this month - claim in broken English that they want to provide an accurate picture of events in the disputed enclave.


"The general mission of our project is providing true information about real situation of Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict," the hackers' site says. "At present a lot of Armenian sites provides tones [sic] of lie to you. We decided to fix this, using our best efforts."


Their tactics are primitive and unsubtle. Visitors to hijacked sites are greeted by a blank page, which forwards them to the hackers' site. Here they are regaled with a litany of anti-Armenian abuse as well as a guest book featuring messages left by other callers.


"Congratulations Azerbaijan," reads one note signed by Adolf Sturm, from Austria. "I think if you hacked Armenian sites you will have back your own lands in Karabakh!"


Samir, in Holland, is more outspoken, "Azerbaijan Rules!!! Armenia Sucks!!! You Armenian losers soon will be crawling on your dirty knees. Actually, you are on your knees already. Greatly [sic] done, Green Revenge. Avenge our men and old people who were scalped and whose eyes were poked out by Armenian terrorists."


None of the e-mail addresses provided in the guestbook appear to exist.


The incidents have provoked howls of outrage from the press in both Azerbaijan and Armenia. "The Karabakh war has moved to the Internet," wrote Zerkalo ("The Mirror") in Baku while Golos Armenii ("The Voice of Armenia") in Yerevan branded the hackers "hooligans".


Eldar Zeynalov, director of the Human Rights Centre of Azerbaijan, said the hackers targeted the sites because they were trying to toady up to the Azeri leadership. He called for official sites to play a more responsible role and provide unbiased information on political issues.


"All sites purporting to give information about the Karabakh conflict stress external aggression and victimisation," said Zeynalov. "They make no contribution to the peace-process."


So far, Armenian hackers are refusing to be drawn into a virtual vendetta. Yerevan webmaster Avetis Avagyan said, "I've been waiting for Armenian hackers to retaliate but I haven't noticed anything so far. We shouldn't fight on the Internet. We should be above that."


Grigor Sahinian, technical director of Yerevan's Arminco Internet company, says Armenian hackers have the know-how to launch a crushing offensive against the Azeris. "They [the Azeris] don't know the meaning of real hacking. But we've no intention of getting involved."


One Armenian webmaster reportedly posted a message calling on volunteers to "organise a group and hack a couple of Azeri sites" but the appeal fell on deaf ears. An Armenian website posted a long warning about the hackers, including advice about how to take protective countersteps (www.armenia.com).


Internet experts are confident that tracking down the culprits should present few problems. One American webmaster speculated, "The so-called groups are just one person and we have information that he occupies a senior position in a major telephone company in Baku."


Mark Grigorian is IWPR Project Editor in Yerevan and Director of the NGO Co-operation and Democracy.