The Burbank City Council voted this week to condemn Azerbaijani aggression in the mostly Armenian region of Artsakh, a disputed area over which Armenian and Azerbaijani forces have clashed.
Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, includes the Hadrut province, with which Burbank declared a friendship in 2014.
Reported violence by Azerbaijani forces in Artsakh has been the focus of widespread protests and rallies recently, with the Armenian flag becoming a not-uncommon sight in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.
The panel’s unanimous vote also directed city staff members to send a letter of support from the council for a potential U.S. House of Representatives resolution, House Resolution 1165, that would condemn Azerbaijan’s military’s actions in Artsakh. The resolution’s authors include Reps. Adam Schiff and Brad Sherman, who represent Burbank.
“City Council stands in support of our Armenian residents, friends, neighbors and our Friendship City, Hadrut, in denouncing aggression and violence against Artsakh,” said Mayor Sharon Springer in a statement. “We also extend our deepest condolences.”
The Burbank chapter of the Armenian National Committee of America had called on the City Council to condemn Azerbaijan’s actions, according to a staff report submitted to the council.
City staff members will return to the City Council with a local resolution denouncing Azerbaijani aggression for a vote at a future meeting.
“What they are doing, actually, if you think about it, is just a continuation of the genocide,” Sarkis Simonian, chairman of the ANCA’s Burbank chapter, said in a phone interview. Roughly a century ago, the Ottoman government carried out a genocide against Armenians in Turkey. Turkey has declared military support for Azerbaijan, though its extent is disputed.
“Whatever they couldn’t complete at that time, they’re trying to do it now,” Simonian continued. He referenced reports, such as by human rights organization Amnesty International, that Azerbaijan has been using cluster bombs, which are banned under an international agreement. Azerbaijan has denied using the weapons, claiming instead that Armenia has deployed them.
The Burbank Unified School District board also voted Thursday to condemn “Azerbaijan’s unprovoked aggression against Artsakh” and Turkey’s assistance of the country.
“Just imagine what this does to a student here who has family there,” said board President Armond Aghakhanian. “Imagine how difficult it is for some of these parents who are going back now. There are people leaving and going back to their motherland. Imagine how difficult it is for that child, their mother and father gone?
“This is a very serious matter. But this is also about freedom and democracy. This is not just about the Armenians and Artsakh. This is about humanity. Everything we’re talking about tonight is about humanity. And it’s difficult. It’s difficult for all of us.”
BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill also emphasized that the school district would not tolerate bullying of its students of Turkish descent, a concern that had been raised during the meeting.
“This statement tonight is really about the actions of leadership and military powers that are creating a war across the country, and we want to make sure we highlight that war and bring peaceful resolution. But I do want to stress to all of our families in Burbank Unified: Here in Burbank, you are welcome.”
Recent armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the contested region of Artsakh, which flared up in late September, has once again been thrust into public view after decades of tensions between the two nations, both former territories of the Soviet Union.
Although Artaskh is internationally considered as part of Azerbaijan, its population is almost totally ethnically Armenian and its legislature voted to join Armenia in 1988, declaring independence from Azerbaijan in 1991 as the Soviet Union fell.
The move triggered intense fighting between the two countries, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and causing hundreds of thousands of people to flee the region. A ceasefire was declared in 1994, but pockets of fighting have continued.
Fighting along the border resumed on Sept. 27, with officials from both nations claiming the other’s military made the first attack. Thousands of soldiers and dozens of civilians have reportedly been killed.
A cease-fire agreement was made between Armenia and Azerbaijan on Oct. 10, but governments and media reports have said fighting has continued.
In Los Angeles and surrounding cities, including Burbank, protests have been held in support of Armenia. Hundreds of protestors previously gathered at Burbank City Hall, and as the City Council decided on Tuesday to condemn Azerbaijani aggression, pro-Armenia demonstrators blocked traffic on the 134 Freeway in Burbank.
The decision was a rare one for the panel, which in the past “has not taken a stance on international conflicts or issues that do not have a direct impact on the city of Burbank,” according to a staff report submitted to council members, though the city’s Friendship City link to Artsakh was mentioned during the meeting.
Simonian encourages local residents to tell their federal representatives to support House Resolution 1165. But, he said, there’s also an importance to the Burbank City Council taking a stance as its own entity.
“When you have your own residents going through trauma,” he explained, “having something specific for them [is] much more healing than something more general.”