The conflict in the Artsakh region continues despite a Russia-negotiated cease-fire, and the local Armenian community is organizing to raise awareness of the dangerous escalation.
On Sept. 27, the territorial dispute over the region of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, ignited again when it was attacked by the military forces of Azerbaijan. Within the borders of Azerbaijan and adjacent to Armenia, Artsakh is an area of Indigenous Armenians that declared independence from Azerbaijan in December 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Azerbaijan has attacked Artsakh on several occasions, including this past July. In 1994 and in 2016 cease-fires were signed in order to establish peace, although what began on Sept. 27 has been the most severe military action since the 90s.
After Armenian forces took over the Azeris’ region, the cease-fire of ‘94 created one of the worst ‘frozen conflicts’ areas in the post-Soviet space. Azerbaijan’s autocratic ruler, Ilham Aliyev, with the support of Turkey, has been striking Artsakh in order to regain the territory his country lost in the 1990s.
Outside of Armenia, the largest population of Armenians live in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Many people in Los Angeles and around the country are protesting against the violence that Azerbaijan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are perpetrating against ethnic Armenians. On Sunday a large march took place in Los Angeles with LAPD estimating 100,000 demonstrators.
“This is not a war, it is genocide” was written on one of the signs held by protesters last week in Hollywood, blocking the 101 and the 170 freeways to raise awareness about the recent attacks in Artsakh. Monday, protesters gathered in front of the CNN building, asking for more accurate news coverage of the events overseas. Several intersections were blocked by hundreds of people marching and waving flags.
“The devastation that my country is going through in the 21st century is unbelievable. And especially hearing the words of Turkey’s president about finishing what they didn’t end in 1915, which is the Armenian genocide, is so devastating.” Said Susanna Faljyan of the PCC Learning Assistance Center. “Four of my cousins are there fighting to protect the life of their children and the land where their parents and grandparents were born.”
There are many Armenian-owned businesses in Pasadena and its surrounding cities also have a large Armenian community. PCC also has a large population of Armenian students, faculty, and staff. Some of their families live in Artsakh.
“There are many students and faculty who identify as Armenians and many of them feel the looming threat of ethnic cleansing and genocide.” Said PCC Political Science professor Azniv Azzie Mekhitarian. “These are not unfounded fears as so many of us are grandchildren of genocide survivors and are all too familiar with the language and actions of genocide perpetrators. We have heard current governments officially at the highest levels in both Turkey and Azerbaijan use the language of ethnic cleansing.” Mekhitarian said. “We have seen our diaspora community churches and schools vandalized with anti-Armenian language. However, our commitment to speaking truth to power is strong.”
The concern is the fighting could turn into a full-scale war, with the potential to draw in superpowers like Turkey and Russia. Both sides appear resolute to continue the fight.
“I think international pressure and sanctions are the only things that will make him stop. It would be amazing if the U.S. would help, but the government’s connection with Turkey is too strong, due to oil and military bases, to risk any real action.” Said Sharis Amirian, an articulation officer and counselor at Pasadena City College. “We haven’t even been able to get a U.S. president to officially recognize that the Armenian genocide took place and to refer to it as a genocide.”
Amirian thinks that one of Erdogan’s main goals is Pan-Turkism since he has said that he, “will continue to fulfill this mission, which our grandfathers have carried out for centuries, in the Caucasus again.” This is in reference to the Armenian genocide where the Ottoman Empire massacred 1.5M Armenians, along with 750K Greeks, and 250K Assyrians starting in 1915 under the veil of WWI. Turkey is the post-WWI remnant of the Ottoman Empire. In Amirian’s opinion, Erdogan’s intentions are to pick up where the Ottomans left off because Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh are in the way of reaching his vision of a Pan-Turkic state.
In addition, Amirian believes that if Erdogan gains control of the Republic of Artsakh, there is a threat that his next step will be neighboring Armenia, which has no diplomatic relationship with Turkey and is situated between Turkey and Azerbaijan. This will allow Erdogan to have a direct pipeline of oil to be sent from Azerbaijan to Turkey to disperse around the rest of Europe.
Amirian argues that Erdogan’s support of Azerbaijani aggression is not only leading to the destruction of infrastructure and homes, but also to historical churches and sanctuaries that have been in that region for hundreds of years: this is in an effort to erase proof of ethnic Armenians being Indigenous to the region.
Russia has made more of an effort to help broker a cease-fire, along with leaders from Canada, Sweden, and the Netherlands calling for an end to the aggression from Azerbaijan and Turkey.
According to Amirian, the international recognition of the Republic of Artsakh would make an impact, ending all claims to it by Azerbaijan.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan believes that the decision to unleash a war was motivated by Turkey’s full support. He thinks that without Turkey’s active engagement this would not have begun.
With the U.S. being a long time ally ofTurkey, Armenian Americans are calling on the U.S. to pressure Turkey to stop allowing U.S. made weapons to be used against ethnic Armenians. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton described Donald Trump’s relationship with Erdogan as a “bromance.”
Serj Tankian, the lead vocalist of the band System of a Down, believes that Trump’s close tie with Erdogan is what prompted him to invade Artsakh.
“The U.S. did not stand up for their own Kurdish allies in Syria against Erdogan,” Tankian said. “The U.S. administration has not tempered Turkey in Libya, Greece, Cyprus, nor the Caucuses. Many say that it is because of his hotel investments in both Turkey and Azerbaijan. There could be something even more than that. That is why it is imperative for Russia and the EU to temper Turkey’s regional ambitions and aggressions.”
Tankian admits that international recognition and reparations could have made a difference in avoiding Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s current invasion attempt of Artsakh.
“Without punishing a crime, let alone a crime against humanity, the perpetrators are allowed to continue without impunity.” Said Tankian.
Turkey has been accused of sending mercenaries from Libya and Syria to fight against Armenians since Azerbaijan is a Muslim and Turkic country.
People in Artsakh spoke Armenian as early as 100 B.C. Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi believes that the provinces of Utik and Artsakh were a part of the Armenian Kingdom of Yervandouni (Orontids) during the 4-2nd centuries B.C. As the 10th province of the ancient kingdom of Greater Armenia from 189 B.C. until 387 AD, under the suzerainty of Sassanid Persia from 387 to the seventh century, Artsakh fell under Arab control from the seventh to ninth centuries, and it maintained its autonomy after the Turkic invasions of the 11th to 14th centuries. It is a land that is ethnically and historically Armenian. In 1920 acting Commissar of Nationalities for the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin gifted the territory to Azerbaijan and it’s been in conflict ever since.