First published in the Oct. 2 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
Monday marked one year since Azerbaijan’s military began what would be a 44-day campaign to invade and ultimately reclaim control of most of what had constituted the Armenian-majority breakaway state of Artsakh since 1994.
The invasion would ultimately be revealed as heavily one-sided, with Baku’s well-funded and well-sourced military using sophisticated drones and ballistics to largely overwhelm Artsakh’s defenders, who stood only with Armenia against a force bolstered technologically by Turkey and Israel and, according to some news reports, in manpower by non-state militias. Azerbaijan did not formally report its casualties, but lost more than 4,000 soldiers and saw over 120,000 civilians displaced as Azerbaijan won back, via ceasefire accord, most of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. That accord has not resulted in peace. Although a portion of Artsakh remains, now as an enclave within Azerbaijan, agreed-upon Russian peacekeepers have not materialized to guard the highway linking it to Armenia. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani forces continue to spar with Armenian soldiers and in recent weeks have gone so far as to enter Armenia and hold territory there, taking soldiers as prisoner in the process. (Artsakh remains formally unrecognized by any nation, including Armenia.)
“The 2020 Artsakh war offered a vivid picture of what is needed and what is not needed to strengthen our homeland,” said Armenian Youth Federation member Areni Hamparian, whose group staged a candlelight vigil on Glendale’s Artsakh Avenue on Monday night. “Let us use this knowledge wisely, and with great prudence, to recommit ourselves to the Armenian cause and pave a clear path toward a free, united and independent Armenia.
“Our homeland will shine once again as we work to honor those who gave their last measure of devotion for it.”
Hundreds gathered for the program on Monday, filling the boulevard named for a state to which many can trace their family roots, before the Ottoman Empire’s genocide forced survivors from their ancestral homes and helped create a global diaspora larger than the now-independent Armenia. Speakers roared, interchangeably between English and Armenian, against the “tactical and genocidal aims of the Turkish-Azerbaijani state,” to quote AYF member Jibid Melkonian, as musicians and singers captured the emotional mood of the evening.
“They took an entire generation from us,” Melkonian said. “Thousands demonstrated what it means to give the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of a free Artsakh. A year ago, pan-Turkism directed Azerbaijan and Turkey to restore the same vile campaign that guided the Ottoman government at the turn of the century. They targeted our schools, our homes and our communities.”
Whatever the mood of Monday’s program might have felt to those present, dispirited it was not. Speakers emphasized the “determination” in self-determination as they forecast an ascendant Armenian nation.
“The struggle for recognition, reparations and restitutions is up to us, without relying on external forces or corrupt entities to do our bidding,” Melkonian said. “The return to Sushi, Talish, Hadrut and Kalbajar” — cities now in the custody of Azerbaijan — “is up to us. The strength and will of our people are in our hands. Our people’s rightful sovereignty and self-determinations fall on our shoulders.”
“Our soldiers of the past, present and future are the very heart of our nation,” said Hamparian. “Their bravery, their courage, sustains for the Armenian nation. To be clear, they are the reason we have our homeland. Let us always remember their commitment, which is sacred; their lives, which are filled with purpose; their commitment to our cause, which is ironclad — today, tomorrow and forever.”
Perhaps as a nod to the United States’ embrace of the Armenian diaspora, the program Monday began with three national anthems — “Azat u ankakh Artsakh” for Artsakh, “Mer Hayrenik” for Armenia, and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”