When hundreds gathered outside of the Armenian Consulate last week — an event that largely turned the corner of Lexington Drive and Central Avenue into a sea of red, blue and orange — it was not to showcase aggression or hostility.
Rather, those who gathered in solidarity with Armenia and the Artsakh Republic sang, cheered and danced in the closed-off block, to a backdrop of motorists — many of whom had decked their vehicles with flags — enthusiastically honking in support. And, as officials for local Armenian organizations shouted to the crowd last Saturday, they did so out of love for their homeland, not hatred for Azerbaijani soldiers ordered to fire upon Armenian targets throughout July.
“We are here to tell our brothers and sisters in the homeland that the diaspora stands with them,” yelled Gev Iskajyan, a member of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region’s board of directors. “We are here to exemplify the love that we have for peace, the love that we have for freedom and the love that we have for our people in the homeland. That love will never cater to hatred.”
The Armenian and Azerbaijani militaries traded artillery rounds and drone strikes starting on July 12, when Armenian troops said their adversary’s units began aiming at civilian targets along the nations’ borders. The escalation again violates a ceasefire agreement in 1994 that followed the Nagorno Karabakh war; a more substantial incursion occurred in 2016.
In the early days of the Soviet Union, the communist state habitually redrew borders of its republics in an effort to stoke ethnic conflicts and tamp down united resistance to Moscow. As a result, the Nagorno-Karabakh region — also known as Artsakh — was carved out of Armenia and granted to Azerbaijan, where the September Days massacre of 10,000-30,000 Armenians took place in the capital city, Baku, in 1918.
The 1994 conflict arose when Artsakh voted to secede from Azerbaijan after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Though the region has retained some autonomy, it has gone virtually unrecognized as an independent nation and remains officially part of Azerbaijan as far as the United Nations is concerned. Armenian military units bolster a formal Artsakh Defense Unit.
“Artsakh is Armenia,” Iskajyan declared, to cheers. “Artsakh has always been Armenia and Artsakh will always be Armenia. To ensure that truth, the Armenian people will fight in the trenches. We will lobby governments and we will take to the streets like we are today and all the world will know that the Armenian people will not cater and will not yield to hatred.”
The recent escalation has killed more than a dozen on each side and triggered a wave of protests throughout the U.S., home to a large segment of the Armenian diaspora. The House Armenian Caucus, which includes Congressman Adam Schiff, also demanded the White House take action to stifle Azerbaijani actions.
Amid the protests, there have been reports of vandalism against Armenian schools in the Bay Area, and a march outside of the Azerbaijani Consulate in Los Angeles resulted in some hospitalizations after Azerbaijani counter-protesters sparred with Armenian marchers.
Hasmik Burushyan, whose organization Armenian Youth Federation organized Saturday’s event through its western U.S. office in Glendale, emphasized that Armenian organizations are largely calling for peace to return, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. She added that the groups take care to target the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey when protesting — not the Azeri or Turkish people themselves.
“Our organization is never against the people of Turkey or Azerbaijan,” she said. “Our target is definitely the governments and the state-sponsored violence that Azerbaijan and Turkey work for. There are definitely some people who, unfortunately, hate people for their identities, but our organization has never condemned the people.”
Burushyan said that solidarity is important for her organization, which collaborates closely with ANCA, and that the group has worked in direct support of Syrian and Kurdish diasporas in the area in recent years. Support from outside interest groups is key as well; she highlighted a show of solidary from Tuesday this week, when members of GlendaleOUT, an LGBTQIA group, quietly demonstrated in front of City Hall to show support for the Armenian diaspora.
“Justice is for every person and every community, and we believe in working together toward a collective justice for all people,” Burushyan said. “There’s a misconception that only Armenians care about Armenia and that’s false. It was really great to see at our rally; there was a good amount of people who weren’t Armenian. It just shows that human rights and the movement behind it are for everyone.”