First published in the Nov. 13 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
A year ago this week, a large crowd formed spontaneously outside of the Armenian Consulate, where members of the local Armenian diaspora expressed their shock, sorrow and anger that the 44-day war between their homeland and Azerbaijan had suddenly ended.
On Tuesday, a crowd again formed. This time, it was with a more organized and pointed message of disdain toward the Armenian political leadership viewed by some members of the diaspora as botching the defense effort and jumping at the chance to sign a ceasefire that heavily favored the Azerbaijan government in Baku’s objectives.
The gathering ran in conjunction others planned by the various Armenian Youth Federation chapters throughout the world, with the purpose of introducing its latest political campaign: “Resistance,” meant to oust Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan from power.
The AYF is the youth wing of the irredentist Armenian political party Armenian Revolutionary Federation, now an opponent of Pashinyan’s leadership after initially supporting him during a peaceful revolution in 2018.
“We are the beginning of your regime’s end,” declared Tsoler Hamamjian, the emcee at Tuesday’s gathering.
Perhaps by chance, she was facing a large poster of Pashinyan that had a large X spray-painted on it. Other posters outlined various grievances related to last year’s war and its ceasefire — that Azerbaijan continues to hold in captivity hundreds of prisoners of war and critiques of the Pashinyan government for allegedly jailing journalists, activists and politicians who are adversarial to his rule.
“Pashinyan’s dictatorial powers have stripped Armenian activists of their inalienable rights to freedom of speech by criminalizing those who dare speak out against him,” Hamamjian charged.
After Azerbaijani forces launched an offensive last year to reassert control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region — which in the 1990s was declared the breakaway Artsakh Republic by its Armenian population and bolstered by Yerevan — the diaspora here mobilized to raise and send donations of money and supplies to support the defense effort in Artsakh. Many volunteers also traveled to join militias in the warzone.
When the ceasefire was announced six weeks into the conflict, it came as a shock because Yerevan had triangulated little information about the state of affairs in the war, much less that it was in a position to surrender the majority of Artsakh’s territory back to Baku. Protests in Yerevan that night disrupted the Armenian parliament and resulted in various arrests. In the fallout, Panishyan called snap elections after resigning from his party’s government, only to return after receiving a majority vote in the June contest.
Terms of the ceasefire included ceding Azerbaijan’s reclaimed territory, which left the remainder of Artsakh as an enclave. A singular highway was designated as a link between Armenia and Artsakh, but the agreed-upon Russian peacekeeping forces have not materialized. (The ceasefire was brokered by Russia, which maintains close ties with both former Soviet territories and maintains a mutual defense pact with Armenia.)
Especially in recent weeks, Azerbaijani forces have repeatedly fired upon Armenian defenders along borders and have reportedly even crossed into Armenian territory — an escalation seen as a confirmation by diaspora members that Baku, bolstered by the Turkish government, intends to conquer the remainder of Armenia.
The AYF’s messaging paints Pashinyan as undermining Armenia’s sovereignty in favor of reconciling a political relationship with Turkey — an oft-repeated chant Tuesday was “Nikol Davajan,” to call him a traitor.
“Imperialists, globalists, superpowers are all pursuing their interests at the expense of Armenia and Armenians in Artsakh,” said Vicken Sosikian, who also spoke at Tuesday’s rally. “Who will defend the nation?”
In addition to Pashinyan, Sosikian also took aim at Armenian President Armen Sarkissian, who as commander-in-chief, is tasked with defending the homeland, Sosikian said.
“Yet, evidence shows he engineered the war and vowed to lose it,” he claimed, “surrendering 75% of Artsakh, sacrificing an entire generation” — more than 4,000 Armenians were killed — “and robbing the diaspora of its donations.”
Next steps, Sosikian said, were to resist the “domestic enemy” in Pashinyan, Sarkissian and their governments. He called upon the global diaspora to assert its wishes more forcefully for Armenia’s political future in the Caucasus region.
“You will lick your wounds. You will take back your dignity. You will restore your pride,” he said. “You will protest, you will write, you will fight, you will create, you will innovate.
“We will liberate.”