Days after Armenia accused Azerbaijan of bombing its citizens, thousands of Armenian diaspora in Los Angeles rallied around the CNN building to seek a national audience. Vart Vars Megerditchian, a biology major at Pasadena City College, gazed around the seven blocks that were barricaded by the sea of Armenian flags.
She realized she was surrounded by one common bond. It was a feeling she’d described as a resilient unity because every Armenian already knew what was at stake. Turkey, often described as “one nation-two states”, because of its close relationship with Azerbaijan, is responsible for the Armenian genocide.
“Turkey tried to burn all of our cities, all of our villages, all the churches,” said Megerditchian. “They tried marching us down. Giving us no water and no food. No anything. They tried marching us through the desert with the main goal of killing us and wiping us off the earth.”
Four days ago Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to one of many perpetual ceasefires between the two countries in Moscow. Russia, known for its high population of Christians, has historically sided with Christian Armenia, while Azerbaijan, known for its Muslim concentration, does the same with Muslim Turkey. Minutes after a ceasefire was negotiated, Armenia accused Azerbaijan of bombing a small town and killing one of its citizens. Subsequently, Azerbaijan also accused Armenia of breaching the ceasefire.
Megerditchian has only been residing in the United States for the past 3 years. She grew up in Lebanon and Syria because of the Armenian genocide, where 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Turkey and the Ottoman government in 1915. To this day, neither Turkey nor Azerbaijan recognize or acknowledge the genocide. Her family had to move out of Armenia to avoid being slaughtered and although they don’t have direct family living in Armenia, they still treat it with admiration and reverence.
“Their mission is to complete what their ancestors have started,” said Megerditchian.
Some Armenians fear the dreaded term, Pan-Turkism. The term pre-dates the Nazi’s Aryan myth to unite all Germanic people and refers to a desire to unite all Turkic people. In order to make this movement a reality, Turkey would have to eliminate the Armenian people because Azerbaijan and Turkey are on the opposite sides of Armenia.
Armenians worldwide understand that the purpose of the genocide was to eradicate Armenians from the land. The genocide started by collecting all the males in the families followed by the elderly and the women. The Ottoman made them march through the desert with the goal of migrating Armenians out of the land. Many had no food or water,
so dehydration and starvation were two of the largest threats to survival. Megerditchian’s great grandmother and great grandfather survived this “deathly march” out of Armenia.
“I’ll do whatever I can,” said Megerditchian. “If that means missing classes, I’m going to do all that I can because it’s a matter of life or death.
The 30-hour rally outside of the Los Angeles based CNN building was a direct result of the media coverage. CNN and the L.A. Times were criticized for covering the story without receiving both sides.
Azerbaijan accused Armenia of bombing and taking their land. The story gets more convoluted because the bombings have been happening in Nagorno-Karabakh or what is known as Artsakh to Armenians. The land is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is highly populated by Armenians. Christopher Khachadour graduated from University of California, Irvine in 2019 as a political science and history major.
“In November of 1991, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh held a referendum and 99.8% voted for Independence from Soviet Azerbaijan,” said Khachadour. “Not only was there a vote of the ruling counsel of the region, but also a referendum of the entire population. And even with Azerbaijani’s not participating, Armenians being the majority, the Soviet government completely ignored it.”
According to Google public data, there are approximately 3 million Armenians living in Armenia. Azerbaijan has a population of 10 million and Turkey has a population of 80 million. Artsakh was given to Azerbaijan by the Soviet Union. This causes some to question why Armenia would bomb its own people and start a conflict with a country 3 times its size that has an ally who is 26 times its size. This is why Armenians were so upset at the coverage or lack of understanding in the conflict.
Sosse Krikorian, English and Armenian major at University of California, Berkeley wasn’t shocked when she heard the news that Azerbaijan and Turkey were collaborating.
“Honestly, I’m not surprised,” Krikorian said. “Because through history I think we’ve kind of seen that a tactic of Turkey is to commit genocide when the world is distracted. This is very much on brand for what they usually do since everyones distracted with the virus.”
This is why Armenian diaspora have been demonstrating, protesting and blocking the freeway by walking the US 101 Freeway in both directions. They are desperately trying to get the attention of the U.S. media, but with all the social injustices that are being highlighted today Armenia’s unrest is not getting as much press coverage.
“If you look at it from history, it doesn’t make sense,” Megerditchian said. “Why would Armenia kill its own people. The fact that American news media is trying to cover it as very neutral, doesn’t do justice to what’s actually happening.”
Krikorian is disappointed to see the lack of support from friends or through social media. The fly on Vice-President Pence’s forehead went viral during the vice-presidential debate, however, the Armenian support has been light to say the least.
“Everyone’s going through a struggle, but activism isn’t transactional,” Krikorian said.
The United States has the ability to make an impact on the conflict, but the Trump administration has been silent on the situation. Megerditchian isn’t sure she wants the U.S. to step in as much as she wants peace.
“When we say we want peace, we want anything that will lead us to get there,” said Megerditchian. “If peace takes the U.S. stepping in and doing something peacefully to actually implement peace, we’re all for it. But if the U.S. stepping in means more war, more killing, more conflict, more clashes, more bombing, I don’t know what would happen after that.”
Khachadour feels that the U.S. should step in, but doubts that they would given the circumstance. U.S. President Donald Trump has two towers in Istanbul, Turkey and one tower in Baku, Azerbaijan.
“The United States is the only power that can actually put Turkey in its place,” said Khachadour. “And he’s not doing it because Trump is so concerned with making American great again.”
Even with all the bombing and violence, Megerditchian plans to become a medical doctor and utilize her skills in Armenia. In the summer of 2019, she had an opportunity to visit Armenia on a medical mission trip and helped setup clinics. Armenia needs help with basic medical care and medicine. Megerditchian recalls that one of the villages had a doctor visit from the capital once every two weeks. She wants to help the cause even if that means she’ll be working in the most dangerous areas.
“It’s not just a random country you’re going to volunteer in,” Megerditchian said. “It’s your own existence that you want to pass onto your kids. This Armenian heritage, Armenian identity.”