Protecting human rights is a moral and multicultural principle.
- Armenian (հայերեն)
If you live in the greater Los Angeles area, you have likely seen during the past few weeks the display of Armenian flags on cars across the roads and raised on the sides of buildings throughout the city. These displays are borne more out of necessity than out of pride, though national honor undeniably bleeds deeply into that tricolor banner. Many Los Angeles residents have become accustomed to witnessing similar head-turning images but typically during the month of April each year when the Armenian community commemorates the Armenian Genocide and remembers the sacrifices of its fallen martyrs.
Why have Angeleno Armenians now, in the month of October, suddenly engaged in such a strong exhibition of support for their heritage and homeland? The answer to this question is an all too familiar one for the Armenian people, may trigger a foggy familiarity for others, and still remain completely sealed off from the consciousness of most.
On September 27, 2020, approximately 7,000 miles from our Los Angeles, Azerbaijan’s forces launched a large-scale military attack against the region of Nagorno-Karabakh (historically referred to by the Armenian people as Artsakh) igniting the worst violence the region has seen in decades. Since the initial Azerbaijani attacks, the dispute has quickly erupted into a full-scale military conflict which has unfortunately decimated largely civilian areas of Artsakh, particularly the capital city, Stepanakert. As a result of the recent Azerbaijani aggression, Armenians all around the world stand together in unity and condemn the violence that has been committed against the people of Artsakh.
The history of Armenians’ nativity in Artsakh dates back several millennia. This history plays a significant role in the current dispute and is largely the reason why ethnic Armenians knowingly feel that they are the rightful inhabitants of the Artsakh territory. Armenians have roots in the region of Artsakh since as early as the 9th century B.C. and have continuously lived and prospered on the land even after the last kingdoms of Armenia fell under foreign rule. The Armenian majority presence in the region was sustained uninterruptedly even through the Armenian Genocide in 1915, when the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) systematically massacred 1.5 million Armenians while simultaneously misappropriating what was historically Armenian land. In 1921, despite Azerbaijan’s previous commitment that Artsakh was to remain an integral part of Armenia, direct and arbitrary interference by Joseph Stalin forced the incorporation of Artsakh, as an autonomous territory, into Azerbaijan SSR without any keeping with legal procedure. This was a decision that was never recognized by the League of Nations, nor did the Armenians of Artsakh ever acquiesce to with this fiat and for decades struggled for reunification with their motherland, Armenia.
The current phase of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began in 1988 when Azeri authorities organized and perpetrated massacres and ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population on the entire territory of Azerbaijan. In 1991, the population of Artsakh, pursuant to a public referendum in full compliance with constitutional requirements, declared the establishment of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. In response, the Azerbaijani authorities organized large-scale military actions against the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Artsakh forces defended their independence and liberation for several years until the two sides eventually signed a ceasefire agreement in 1994. Despite multiple violations, the ceasefire remained active until the most recent Azerbaijan attacks.
On September 27, 2020, the Armenians in Artsakh once again found themselves the target of unprovoked Azerbaijani aggression. What makes the current conflict distinguishable from past violations of the ceasefire is the fact that the Armenians of the region are no longer only facing the onslaughts of the Azerbaijan forces. Instead, they now must defend their right to live against the triangular force of Azerbaijan, the Turkish government and recruited Jihadist. The Armenians have never viewed the regional dispute as an ethnic or religious conflict. However, the indisputable evidence of Turkish and Jihadist involvement has proven to the Armenians that the conflict has evolved from a territorial dispute to an existential threat.
On October 1, 2020, United States, French and Russian leaders called for an unconditional cease fire, which both the Republics of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia expressed a willingness to agree to. However, Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev has expressly stated that the aggression perpetrated by his forces will not stop until all ethnic Armenians have abandoned the Artsakh region. Since this time, Azeri aggression has only increased and thousands of lives on both sides of the conflict, including civilians, have perished as a direct result. Thus, considering the history outlined above, and in light of the most recent aggression against the Armenian people, one can easily understand why the Armenians have declared their right to live freely in the Artsakh region.
In the current conflict, the Armenians have proven to have a particular advantage that most parties to international conflicts do not ordinarily consider — the strong and unconditional support of its diaspora. As a direct result of the Armenian Genocide, there are close to 7 million Armenians living outside of Armenia throughout the world. Several hundred thousand Armenian-Americans reside in the greater Los Angeles area alone. The outpouring of support and activism from this global community has been evident in all parts of the world. The Armenian people do not only see the current conflict as a battle for Artsakh, but it is a battle for survival, for justice, for human rights, and for the Armenian people’s centuries-old dream to live on their rightful lands in peace.
Support and activism within the Armenian community has surfaced in many shapes and forms. Led by various Armenian organizations working in unity, the local Armenian community has rallied and demonstrated in various parts of the Los Angeles area. One location has become a rather consistent forum for Armenian demonstrations, the Consulate General of Azerbaijan. The demands of the Armenian community have been clear since the violence broke out on September 27 — the aggression against the Armenians of Artsakh must cease immediately and peace must be brought to the region. Armenians also demand that the United States and international community condemn the ongoing violence against the Armenians of Artsakh and that Artsakh be recognized as an independent sovereign once and for all.
On October 5, 2020, demonstrations were joined by government officials including Congressman Adam Schiff, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and other local officials in a show of solidarity with the Armenian people while urging leaders in Washington to conduct the necessary diplomacy to bring peace to the Artsakh region. On October 11, over 150,000 Armenians marched and peacefully protested from Pan-Pacific Park to the Turkish Consulate to raise awareness about the ongoing Turkish-Azeri aggression against the Armenian people. During the March for Victory, the message was once again clear, recognize the independence of Artsakh, condemn the violence against the Armenians of Artsakh, and bring lasting peace to region. This mass showing of solidarity received international media coverage and demonstrations throughout the world have since followed daily.
The Armenian community has also directed its attention to the media’s mishandling of the conflict. On October 3, 2020, demonstrations drew about 500 participants to the CNN building in Hollywood where they gathered and called for broadcasters to provide more accurate coverage of the conflict. On October 12, nearly 100 demonstrators blocked traffic in front of the CBS Studios in Los Angeles to protest the network’s subjective and inaccurate local coverage of the 150,000-person March for Victory.
On October 18, 2020, hundreds of local Armenians gathered in Newport Beach while President Trump arrived at his private fundraiser. The Armenian community once again called on the president to sanction Azerbaijan and Turkey on account of their unjustifiable aggression against the Armenians of Artsakh.
City streets have not been the only forum for demonstrations. On several occasions, Armenian activists have blocked major freeways such as 101, 170 and 134 to bring awareness to the conflict, and as a call for action to the United States government and international community. Demonstrations and massive showings of support are not confined to the Los Angeles area, rather, similar demonstrations have taken place and will take place from San Diego to San Francisco, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston, and virtually every other place throughout the world that is home to an Armenia community.
Importantly, Armenian activism has produced more than just symbolic gestures. Instead, support and activism by the Armenian diaspora have produced practical results that are sure to benefit the people of their homeland. On October 1, 2020, Congressman Adam Schiff, who tirelessly hears and supports the voices of his Armenian constituents, along with a bipartisan group of 48 Members of the House, wrote to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. The Members of the House expressed concern about the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia while raising their particular concern about Turkey’s illicit involvement in the conflict. On October 19, it was announced that Secretary of State Pompeo will host both the Armenian and Azerbaijan Foreign Ministers on October 23 as a forum for further negotiations and peace talks.
The massive level of activism and dissemination of awareness has prompted certain foreign powers such as Canada to take action as well. On October 5, 2020, the Canadian government announced that it had suspended all relevant arms exports to Turkey after allegations had been reported of Canadian imaging and targeting systems on unmanned drones being used by Azerbaijan in the conflict. Additionally, certain parts of the international community have begun to consider or even acknowledge the sovereignty of Artsakh. On October 15, 2020, the Italian city of Milan became the first ever large European city to recognize the Republic of Artsakh. On October 19, 2020, the mayor of Paris, Nouvelles d’Arménie said in an interview “if the only solution to the current conflict is recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh, I think we should not hesitate.”
The Armenian community’s fundraising efforts in support of the Armenians of Artsakh has gone into full force as well. The Armenian community in Southern California alone has already raised millions of dollars in relief funds and fundraising efforts continue to grow. Since the initial Azeri attacks on September 27, the Armenia Fund, which is the main aggregator of donations, has collected over $120 million dollars from people around the world and donations continue to be given each day.
The Armenian community has also organized supply drives all over Los Angeles collecting items such as medical supplies, trauma supplies, clothing, canned food, and tools. On October 10, 2020, a cargo plane carrying 20 tons of donated items that were collected in Los Angeles landed in Yerevan, Armenia to be delivered to Artsakh. On October 14, the government of Turkey blocked 100 additional tons of humanitarian aid from traveling through Turkey’s airspace to Armenia. However, on October 19 another plane from the U.S. West Coast carrying 43 tons of humanitarian aid landed in Yerevan after the Eurocontrol organization forced Turkey to allow the plane to travel through its airspace given the plane’s humanitarian purpose.
Some Los Angeles residents have even decided that their assistance would be best served from within the conflict zone. Several Armenians traveled to Artsakh where they are now providing humanitarian aid to civilians affected by the Azerbaijani attacks. Reports from these brave individuals also confirmed that Azerbaijani forces have targeted civilian areas in Artsakh with heavy shelling and bombing on the capital city of Stepanakert.
The Armenian people, including those here in Los Angeles, see peace and autonomy for the region of Artsakh as the only resolution to the current conflict. The Armenian community stands by the notion that protecting human rights is a moral and multicultural principle, and any infringement on human rights anywhere must be recognized and addressed. They have demonstrated that they will unconditionally defend this principle, and accordingly, Armenian activism in Los Angeles and all throughout the world will undoubtedly continue until the conflict in Artsakh is resolved.
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