For weeks, pro-Armenian protesters donated their money, stocked church parking lots and stopped traffic on the streets of the Los Angeles County city. They are protesting against the violent and ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous region of Caucasus mountains.
The fighting pits Armenia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh against the government of Azerbaijan, which claims the territory for its own and indicates several United Nations Resolutions as justification for the current hostilities. The conflict, which has simmered just above the surface since the mid-1990s, has erupted in recent months at levels not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union. In recent days, the two sides have agreed to a ceasefire, but it seems to fray.
Meanwhile, Armenian-Americans in Los Angeles continue to protest. On Sunday, tens of thousands of protesters closed a section of Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, near the Turkish consulate, calling for an immediate end to the conflict.
Levon Abrahamian holds a placard demonizing Turkish President Recep Tayyid Erdogan behind a background of red balloons. He and other organizers detonated them and distributed them to protesters outside the Turkish consulate on October 11, 2020. Photo by Benjamin Gottleib / KCRW.
It is a continuation of the Armenian genocide, said Levon Abrahamian, an Armenian-American activist. He and friends handed out red balloons to rally participants, signifying the Turkish flag and blood on the hands of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They are trying to ethnically cleanse us. But Turkey is trying to be sneaky and use a puppet Azerbaijani regime to do it.
The Turkish aggression continues to be a sore subject for Armenian Americans in Los Angeles – home to the largest diaspora – given Istanbul’s refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide. Turkey has also been accused of provide support to Azerbaijan in a way not seen in decades.
David Mahagyan at a candlelight vigil at St. Marys Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale on October 8, 2020. He and his friends designed sweatshirts with pro-Artsakh messages for sale in Los Angeles, with the aim of ‘send the profits to Armenia.
As for the current conflict, Abrahamian sees the fight in Nagorno-Karabakh through an ethno-religious lens; almost all of the approximately 150,000 people who inhabit the region are Christians and ethnic Armenians. Azerbaijan is predominantly Shia Muslim and Azerbaijanis are ethnically Turkish people.
Jasmine Tatoyian (far left) and daughter Noram (second from left) wearing shirts with the slogan Armenian Lives Matter during a protest outside the Turkish Consulate in Beverly Hills on October 11, 2020.
But Nasimi Aghayev, Azerbaijan’s consul general for the western United States, said the dispute was over land and borders, not race or religion, and that ethnic Azerbaijanis living in this region have been moved.
If we start to revisit historical issues, we will not go anywhere, Aghayev said. What matters today is that Azerbaijan has internationally recognized borders. Azerbaijan defends its own territory, its own land and its own people on its own soil.
Nasimi Aghayev, the Los Angeles-based Consul General of Azerbaijan, served as Baku’s spokesperson in the United States. He says Armenian-American organizations paint a distorted picture of the conflict.
Protesters waving the flags of Armenia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh at a rally near the Turkish Consulate in Beverly Hills on October 11, 2020.
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