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This is why American Armenians in Southern California are protesting



Since September 27, the escalating conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has killed hundreds and thousands of displaced people, and American Armenians in southern California have taken to the streets in protest.

In the days and weeks before a ceasefire was announced late Friday, thousands gathered outside the Azerbaijan Consulate in Los Angeles, blocked traffic on 101 and 170 highways, marched to Glendale and are gathered in front of the CNN and Los Angeles buildings. Times. On Wednesday, a crowd closed Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, and on Thursday many went to Washington to protest outside the White House.

In addition to the protest, the American Armenian community has launched fundraisers and social media campaigns (shared by the likes of the Kardashians), and some have left or are preparing to leave Southern California with the intention of volunteering and fighting.

All in the midst of a pandemic and a chaotic election in the United States.

Southern California is home to one of the largest Armenian diasporas. The first significant wave of immigrants came after escaping the Armenian genocide of 1915 (the Turkish government disputes that the deaths – estimates range from 600,000 to 1.5 million people killed under the Ottoman Empire – constituted genocide).

In 2000, a neighborhood in East Hollywood was designated Little Armenia. Glendale is home to the largest American Armenian community in the region, as well as significant populations in Burbank, Pasadena, Montebello, and La Crescenta.

Here is the background on how the conflict got to this point and its implications in Southern California.

What is the history of the conflict?

The tiny mountainous southern Caucasus enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, referred to by Armenians by its historical name, Artsakh, is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but its population of 150,000 is mostly ethnic Armenian.

It self-governs and receives funding from Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, which is much larger than the Armenian population of around 3 million.

The map shows the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region between Armenia and Azerbaijan

“The Caucasus has always been at the center of three empires,” said Salpi Ghazarian, director of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies. “Once they were the Russian, Ottoman and Persian empires, now they are Russia, Turkey and Iran. In that area of ​​the Caucasus many ethnic groups have always coexisted, one on top of the other. The borders always shifted … because everyone was always wandering around. ”

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can be traced back to the beginnings of the Soviet Union. In 1923, Nagorno-Karabakh became part of Soviet Azerbaijan while maintaining its autonomous status.

Around the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there were attempts by Nagorno-Karabakh to break away from Azerbaijan, which were met with violence. About 30,000 people were killed and 1 million displaced. Armenia and Azerbaijan have had a ceasefire since 1994.

Violence has erupted periodically since that ceasefire, particularly during the 2016 Four Day War, when clashes left hundreds of deaths.

What is the recent history?

In July, border clashes resulted in the deaths of Armenian and Azebai soldiers.

The problems started much earlier, said Philip Gamaghelyan, assistant professor at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego. He is also the co-founder of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation and the managing editor of the Caucasus Edition: Journal of Conflict Transformation.

“The negotiations were very active until around 2011, when they essentially stopped working on a solution,” he said.

In 1992, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe formed the Minsk Group, with Russia, France and the United States tasked with finding a diplomatic solution in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“They weren’t successful for many reasons,” Ghazarian said, “but it wasn’t anyone’s priority either.”

While the Clinton and Bush administrations were heavily involved, the United States began withdrawing from the region during the Obama administration, and this continued during the Trump presidency, Gamaghelyan said.

“The absence of meaningful negotiations has made a final war increasingly likely,” he said. “And it has given space for other local players like Turkey to start making moves.”

Previously, other countries supported one side or the other but were not directly involved, Gamaghelyan said. Armenia said last month that a Turkish warplane had shot down an Armenian jet. But Turkey and Azerbaijan forcefully denied this.

Turkey vocally supports Azerbaijan. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said that a call for peace from France, Russia and the United States was unacceptable and “our Azerbaijani brothers are now waiting for the day they return to their land”.

Turkish involvement is terrifying for the American Armenian community, many of whom have family ties to the genocide.

Laurence Broers, a conflict scholar, told the Times that although Azerbaijan instigated this attack, that country sees the conflict as a defensive war to reclaim the lost land.

The ceasefire is expected to begin on Saturday at noon.

How does the conflict unfold in Southern California?

Talar Chahinian, a lecturer in the Armenian Studies Program at UC Irvine, said many Armenians in California received news that Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, had been attacked around midnight on September 27 or had woken up there. next morning.

“There was a sense that this was the big one,” he said. “Just like in California, when you are always waiting for the Big One, the big earthquake. Every day after, in every thread, in every space I was checking, from the university to the staff, there was this fear that they would come. They’ll finish what they started, the genocide. It was a very personal reaction that people were having.

“It seemed like this was the last line,” he continued. “We knew civilians were being attacked, the capital was being attacked, Turkey was open to them being in it, and this time it looked very different.”

A woman holds a sign saying Trump stop Turkey, stop genocide

A woman holds a sign on Tuesday during a protest outside the Los Angeles Times headquarters in El Segundo.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“At first, previous generations were linked to the Armenian genocide, and now there are more current migrants who may have participated in the 1994 war,” Gamaghelyan said.

So these are direct links with Armenia and Artsakh, not an abstract relationship, Chahinian said.

But there is also a lot of internal diversity in the Armenian American population in Southern California, he said.

“There are Armenians who left Armenia in the Soviet area, bringing that experience,” he said. “There are those who left in the years following independence during the economic difficulties. There are Armenians from Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Lebanon, most of whom left during the Lebanese civil war in 1975-1990. ”

Chahinian is from Beirut, and both of his grandparents were refugees and survivors of the genocide.

“There are also Armenians from Iraq and Iran who left at the beginning of the Iranian revolution – and so much more,” he said. “So you have a collection of historical traumas and displacements. You have war, various oppressive regimes and revolutions. “

Despite the diversity of experiences, he sees that everyone is uniting now for this common goal: “Everyone is just everyone on deck”.

Chahinian explained that many Armenians see this not as a territorial dispute but as a threat to Armenian identity.

“I’ve heard colleagues and friends say, ‘Where else should we go?'” He said. “And I think this gets to the heart of why Armenians are on the streets, blocking traffic…. What they are fighting for is 10% of their historic land. People talk about genocide and ethnic cleansing, but they are not taken lightly. This is the idea that it is this tiny fragment of place that Armenians can call home, and that is what is under existential threat. ”

What are the demands of the demonstrators?

The main goal is to get more attention on the situation.

“At the end of the day, the countries, the people, the government, the dictators … they can only do what the world allows them to do,” Ghazarian said. “Everyone can be influenced by understanding and information.”

Other calls for action, as highlighted by the Armenian National Committee of America, include support for aid efforts in Nagorno-Karabakh, a call for the United States to cut all military aid to Azerbaijan, and a call for countries to the world to condemn the Azerbaijani and Turkish aggression.

Is religion a factor?

International media often frame the dispute between a Christian country, Armenia, and a Muslim country, Azerbaijan – and Nagorno-Karabakh as a minority Christian enclave within a Muslim-majority country.

While this is true, all parties agreed that this is not about religion, Ghazarian said.

“It’s easy to frame this way,” Gamaghelyan said.

He said religion is not a major factor in local relations between the two countries, but acknowledged that religion is exploited by both sides when it comes to reaching foreign nations, whether it be appealing to Christian-majority societies. or to frame the conflict within the context of Islamophobia.

Protesters wave Armenian flags

In 2018, the Armenian Genocide Committee organized a march in Los Angeles in commemoration of the Armenian genocide.

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

What about disinformation?

Another reason Armenians protest is that some question the media coverage of the conflict.

The protest outside the Times headquarters in El Segundo on Tuesday was partly driven by anger over a story quoting Nasimi Aghayev, Azerbaijani Consul General in Los Angeles, who accused Armenia of promoting white supremacy propaganda. .

But Gamaghelyan said another part of the problem is that both countries block certain information.

“Azerbaijan has technically shut down their social media outside the country,” he said. “And they do not allow independent journalists to enter the area on their side. Armenia has also approved a declaration of war that restricts free speech, banning the dissemination of information other than their official channels.”

As a result, much of the information reported comes from the military in each country.

“Each side reads its own official information, which is attacked by the other side,” he said. “So different information is passed on to each community.”

People also get information directly from the region, Chahinian said.

“They have siblings serving on the front lines, displaced families, so the news they get is from daily phone calls, real-time updates, family members who have died,” he said.

Is there an Azerbaijani population in Los Angeles?

The population of Azerbaijan is about three times that of Armenia. Although there is an Azerbaijani community in the Los Angeles area, it is small compared to the American Armenian community here, Gamaghelyan said.

Ulduz Azar, an Azerbaijan Cultural Society of Northern California official, told the Times that his local community in San Francisco is also raising funds to send to Azeris who have lost family members or whose homes have been destroyed.

“We are all very, very worried and tense,” Azar said. “We are trying our best to help those affected.”

What was the response from US officials?

In April, the Democratic presidential expectation Joe Biden he promised to support a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide if elected in November, something that presidents Trump, Obama and others have not done.

In a September 28 statement, Biden called on the Trump administration to step up diplomatic efforts.

“The outbreak of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh runs the risk of escalating into a wider regional conflict, which is why third parties in the region must stay out of this conflict and the Minsk Group mediators must immediately try to ease the escalation and return to negotiations. “Biden said.

At the time, Trump told reporters that he had just learned of the matter and was examining the situation “very carefully”.

This month, Nikol Pashinyan, the prime minister of Armenia, said Trump had promised to call him about escalating the conflict before he fell ill with COVID-19.

On Monday, a group of officials, including Los Angeles City Councilor Paul Krekorian and State Assembly Member Adrin Nazarian, gathered at Los Angeles City Hall in solidarity with the Armenian community and called on the Trump administration to to intervene diplomatically.

Local officials wear masks and hold a flag outside L.A. City Hall.

Wearing masks with the flag of the Republic of Artsakh, elected officials posed for a photo after making statements about the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

What could happen in the future?

“Sooner or later, most likely after the election, the United States could get involved,” Gamaghelyan said. “So there is a very good chance it will become another hot spot in international competition.”

“At the end of the day, there has to be a peaceful negotiated solution,” Ghazarian said. “Any other solution will not work, otherwise it would have worked by now … If it were the only military conflict, we would have finished, but we are not done.”




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