Artsakh Avenue was filled to the brim last Saturday night — a boisterous gathering that included countless flags waving about, repeated choruses of Armenian mantras and a man dragging around a Turkish flag tied to his ankle.
And yet when Vaché Thomassian — a well-known member of the many Armenian advocacy organizations in the Glendale area — roared into the microphone that night, his simultaneously angry and hopeful words hushed the rapt audience. Hundreds had marched from the Armenian Consulate to Artsakh Avenue in support of the Artsakh republic, which with assistance from Armenia has fought to repel an Azerbaijani military onslaught since Sept. 27.
“We will never forget the silence from some of our so-called friends,” Thomassian said quietly, before raising the volume: “If anyone has ever looked into the eyes of an Armenian and asked them why they remember the history of genocide 100 years ago, you have your answer today! That history is our reality today!”
Southern California’s close-knit Armenian community — among the largest in a worldwide diaspora — has further crystallized in recent weeks, forming marches that have blocked freeways, gathering outside of the Los Angeles Times building in criticism of media coverage and planning massive rallies such as those leading to the Turkish Consulate in Beverly Hills. In September, the Azerbaijani military reignited hostilities with Artsakh, a largely Armenian-populated enclave that broke off from Azerbaijan by referendum in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed and its republics became independent.
That war paused in 1994 with a cease-fire agreement, but a coalition of nations has failed to broker a true resolution to the conflict and Azerbaijan’s and Artsakh’s militaries have periodically traded shots since then; a 2016 breach of the cease-fire killed hundreds.
Many Armenians view the hostilities — formally called the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, its name taken from the Russian name for the region — as a continuation in spirit of the Armenian genocide carried out by the Turkish rulers of the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1915; Azerbaijan and Turkey share cultural and linguistic histories, and Turkey has reportedly involved its air force and sent allied Syrian militias to assist the Azeris.
“The Turks and Azeris have made no mistake about that,” said Councilman Ara Najarian this week, adding that the escalation is “genocide 2.0” in the view of many Armenians. “They are after annihilating the Armenian population in Artsakh, and I don’t think they want to stop there. I think they want to march through Armenia and Yerevan [Armenia’s capital] and unite their pan-Turkic vision of one Turkic people across Asia Minor.”
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian, speaking at the Glendale rally last Saturday, said recent events have shown that Armenia’s only true ally is the diaspora.
“It’s every single one of you,” he said. “Every single one of you is a soldier in the trenches, but not holding a rifle. You have your cellphones; you have your laptops; you have your businesses that donate to Armenia. You do not stop until the very last drop of blood, because that is how we will preserve our legacy. That is how we will prove to the world that we, as a people, are not going to leave this Earth anytime soon.”
Speaking on behalf of the Armenian Youth Federation Roupen Chapter, Rita Badrosian told the crowd Saturday the unified work of the diaspora was the best cudgel against their home-nation’s aggressors.
“From the protests in Belgium to the donation drives in Los Angeles to the fundraisers in Toronto,” she said, “we are empowered by our youth and by the overwhelming unity of our people.”