The city joined other American municipalities this week in formally recognizing the Republic of Artsakh’s independence, a symbolic move meant to bolster awareness of the breakaway nation’s effort to separate from Azerbaijan, which has resulted in military hostilities.
The move comes as federal officials — including Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents Glendale — have called for American recognition of Artsakh, a predominantly Armenian-populated region considered part of Azerbaijan by all other nations. In the years since Artsakh voted by referendum to declare independence in 1991, it has attained recognition only from other unrecognized nations and, more recently, 10 American states, including California.
The city of Los Angeles also recognized Artsakh’s independence in 2014.
“Now that’s not going to fight any battles,” said Councilman Ara Najarian of Tuesday’s resolution of support, which he proposed. “That’s not going to deter an Israeli-made or Turkish-made drone from slamming into our schools and offices there, but it’s a statement of support, that we in the city of Glendale support the independence, the integrity and the sovereignty of Artsakh.”
Intense fighting resumed in September, when Azerbaijani military units began offensives against the Armenian-bolstered security forces in Artsakh with the goal of regaining control of the region. The two sides had skirmished in July in another breach of a ceasefire brokered in 1994 to stop the initial war.
Armenians largely see the Azerbaijani effort as echoing the Ottoman Turkish genocide against them in 1915, when mass killings and pogroms were carried out with some assistance from Azeri mobs.
“It’s truly astonishing that we’re on the verge of genocide No. 2 in the last 100 years against a peaceful Armenian population,” Najarian said. “I’ve been to Artsakh several times. … It’s a country. They have a parliament. They have a democratically elected president along with members of parliament. They have universities and schools and hospitals and concert halls and much more.”
Artsakh has functioned essentially autonomously since 1991, when residents of the Nagorno-Karabakh region declared their independence in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. When the Russian Revolution of 1917 toppled that country’s monarchy, Armenia and Azerbaijan enjoyed a brief period of independence during which they battled for control of Nagorno-Karabakh. That ended when the newly formed Soviet Union re-absorbed the Caucasus region.
In keeping with Moscow’s practice of sowing discord among non-Russian Soviets — and in appeasement of newly independent Turkey — control of Nagorno-Karabakh was ceded to the local Azerbaijani government.
An international coalition titled the Minsk Group has worked since 1994 to mediate a peace process, with no success. Multiple ceasefires brokered since September have quickly been violated by Azerbaijan, the Artsakh forces have said.
The war is geographically and politically complex. The mountainous Artsakh nestles against Armenia’s border and virtually extends the latter’s shared border with Iran, with which Armenia has developed strong economic ties. Armenia itself also separates another enclave of Azerbaijan from the rest of that country. Both countries largely view Nagorno-Karabakh as important to their nation-building.
Glendale Mayor Vrej Agajanian recalled being in Artsakh in 1994 and seeing the graves of fallen soldiers and civilians.
“Armenians have been there for thousands of years,” he said. “They’re not new.”
Armenia retains a strong security relationship with Russia while some of its leaders have also pursued integration with the European Union; prominent American officials continue to support Armenian causes, including Schiff and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Turkey has reportedly used its military to assist Azerbaijan while also purchasing defense hardware from Russia — a move that complicates Turkey’s NATO membership and ostensible alliance with the U.S.
The large Armenian diaspora in the U.S. has made its case in recent weeks with protests that have blocked freeways, mass fundraising campaigns to support Artsakh, an ongoing hunger strike in downtown L.A. and assertive lobbying of politicians.
“Just driving around the city, it’s a sea of Armenian and Artsakh flags,” Najarian said. “Our residents are deeply committed.”
The recognition passed Tuesday with unanimous approval, with Councilman Ardy Kassakhian making one amendment: replacing references to “Caucasia” or the “Caucasus Region,” derived from Russian transliteration, with the original “Armenian Highlands.”
“When we start using the terms that are foisted upon us … I think names do matter and history matters,” Kassakhian said.