The Los Angeles area is home to many Americans of Armenian descent. Chances are you have an Armenian American neighbor, friend, or acquaintance.
By Marina Khubesrian
It’s time to check in with your Armenian friends. Listen to our history of Genocide in 1915 by Turkey and in October 2023 by Azerbaijan.
The City of Glendale is considered to be the center of Armenian American life in the US. It comprises 40 percent or 80,000 of the 200,000 Glendale residents. Most are very distressed by events in the Armenian Highlands, where the indigenous ethnic Armenian population of The Republic of Artsakh (also known as Nagorno Karabakh since the Soviet era) are being forcibly displaced by Azerbaijan’s military from their ancestral lands of 3000 years.
Read about the background of this region in the South Caucuses leading up to the war and 2020 in an article published in this very news magazine in here.
Armenians in the diaspora are descendants of survivors of the Genocide of 1915. They carry the ancestral trauma, still an open wound, because justice has not been served. Turkey has never been held accountable for this crime against humanity. Turkey denies the historical fact that it carried out a planned massacre, forced deportation, and deaths of one and a half million Armenians. Thousands of other Christian minorities from established societies in Anatolia for millennia also died.
For 107 years, Armenians recognize the anniversary of the genocide. On April 24 in 1915 the Turkish government rounded up and executed 500 Armenian civic and cultural leaders. Turkish authorities forced the men into death camps. They drove the elderly, women, and children out of their homes into forced exodus and death marches to concentration camps in the heart of the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor.
How is it that these same states continue the genocide of Armenians now in Artsakh? When a genocidal state is not held accountable it will continue this destruction, and history will repeat itself. Today, the Azerbaijan regime named a street in the occupied capital of Stepankert after one of the masterminds of the 1915 Genocide. He was convicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court yet is celebrated as a hero by Turkish states. Today, the Azerbaijan regime is rounding up diplomats, security, and civic leaders of Artsakh and charging them with false crimes.
On September 27, 2020, Armenians woke up to the horrible news that Azerbaijan’s ruling regime unleashed an all-out military assault on the Republic of Artsakh and its civilian population. This war lasted 44 days and took the lives of 4000 defenders of the Republic, mostly young men ages 18-22. Thousands fled their homes and villages at the border areas. Many returned after a ceasefire agreement that promised their security with the presence of Russian peacekeepers. The ceasefire held, with frequent violations by Azerbaijan, until September 19, 2023 when Azerbaijan forces unleashed attacks on the villages and the capital city of Stepanakert. A 10 month siege and blockade followed that slowly starved the Artsakh population.
In December of 2022, the Azerbaijan petro-dictator, Ilham Aliye, erected a blockade of the only road connecting Artsakh to Armenia via a land bridge called the Lachin Corridor. This blockade lasted 10 months. It resulted in food scarcity, hunger, malnutrition, and near starvation of over 100,000 ethnic Armenians of Artsakh of whom 30,000 are children. The blockade resulted in shortages of medicine and basic goods. Even worse, Azerbaijan President Aliyev cut off electricity and gas supply forcing the population to endure freezing cold winter temperatures. The Russian peacekeepers did nothing to open the blockaded road.
As the population faced imminent starvation, the international community did little other than “strong condemnation” of Aliyev. They did not impose sanctions, essentially giving Aliyev a green light to starve the population of Artsakh, and force them into subjugation to Azeri rule.
Aliyev and his family have ruled Azerbaijan in a dynastic fashion for 30 years. The core of his policy is to indoctrinate the population, starting in kindergarten, to hate and dehumanize Armenians, called Armenophobia. His military command commits war crimes, atrocities, and acts of terror including executions and beheadings of captured POWs and civilians. Videos of these acts of terror, vandalizing Armenian homes that his forces have captured, are circulated on social media to induce terror on the Armenians of Artsakh and Armenia. Aliyev has a documented history of ordering the destruction of centuries old Armenian churches, monasteries, and cemeteries in lands he has invaded. It is his attempt to rewrite history that denies the Armenian existence for millennia on these lands. This is what awaits the fate of the hundreds of ancient monuments scattered in Artsakh unless they are protected by UNESCO.
The Armenians of Artsakh were on the verge of starvation. Increasing condemnation of Aliyev and focused diplomacy did not result in lifting the blockade. The International Court of Justice ruled that the blockade, starvation, and intimidation are illegal. The Court warned Aliyev that his actions are considered genocide since starvation leads to death.
Aliyev, strongly backed and encouraged by Turkey’s President Erdogan, ignored the order to end the blockade. Instead he amassed his vast petro-dollar funded military machinery along the entire border with Artsakh. He conducted a massive military strike including raids, expulsions of Armenians from their homes and villages, and bomb strikes on population centers and the capitol Stepanakert. The attacks were more horrific than during the war in 2020, forcing many to flee for their lives with just the clothes on their backs and very few belongings. Atrocities were committed against civilians including children. The Russian peacekeepers did nothing to deter the attacks, but had orders to evacuate those who had no means of escape. Thus began the exodus of ethnic Armenians from their ancestral home of 3000 years. When the Azerbaijan military arrived in Stepanakert, no one felt safe after the bombardment and blockade. The democratically elected government was forced to surrender, to order a decree to disband the democratically elected government, and submit to Azerbaijan rule. Aliyev said that he would guarantee the security of Armenians if they chose to stay and become Azeri citizens and “reintegrate” into Azerbeijan, which has never had rule over Artsakh.
Over the next 5 days was the full ethnic cleansing, a legal genocide of the ethnic Armenian population of Artsakh. Over 100,000 people took to the road that now was unblocked for their exodus to the Armenian city of Goris. The Armenian government received the refugees, provided food and humanitarian aid, and began the process of providing short and long term shelter and assistance. The heroic people of Artsakh held out as long as possible hoping for peace, but were forced to exit the hellscape created by the regimes in Azerbaijan and Turkey.
The journey of 1-2 hours through the mountain roads to Armenia took 2-3 days. People packed into vehicles with few belongings, rushed to get out, endured hunger, thirst, rain, and cold in open bed trucks, tractors, and whatever transport they could find. The Armenian government sent buses to evacuate those stranded in Stepanakert. They were terrified, hungry, and cold for 5 days. The reports, images of the exodus, are harrowing. The anguish on the faces of the people is hauntingly palpable. They were forced to leave everything behind; 30,000 childhoods were stolen. Many elderly did not survive the extreme duress and suffering of forced exodus from their homeland.
As descendants of survivors of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, Armenians in the Diaspora are witnessing a repeat of the trauma of violently forced exodus, and reliving the horrors of genocide. It’s impossible to describe the shock, dread, and disbelief that this could happen in 2023. The world is watching but not heeding the warnings.
The media is finally starting to cover this story. They ignored the gravity until it led to the disastrous result of ethnic cleansing. A step in the right direction happened on October 5, 2023: the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the European Union to impose sanctions on Azerbaijan in connection with its actions against Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh).
All Armenians want is peace to live on their indigenous and ancestral lands as a sovereign democracy. Azerbaijan has now amassed troops at the border of Armenia and threatened invasion of Southern Armenia if they are not given control over Armenian lands to turn into a trade corridor. I hope that what Aliyev did is taken seriously by the international community of states. I hope that effective deterrents are put in place, including military aid to Armenia, which Aliyev has started calling “Western Azerbaijan.” He continues to appropriate what Armenians have built and nurtured.
Efforts are underway to address the discrimination of Armenians and Armenophobia in Azerbaijan. I hope that these efforts succeed for the sake of the Azerbaijan children being indoctrinated in hate and falsehoods.
I hope the world realizes the threat Azerbaijan and Turkey pose to peace, ethnic minorities, and smaller neighboring countries being destabilized and invaded. All this is for the dream of Pan-Turkism and Turkish hegemony.
I am grateful for the Armenian nation in the homeland and the Diaspora that keeps on fighting for justice. I am grateful for our allies in peace, justice, and humanity. There are opportunities to support and donate to organizations that are active in political advocacy (ANCA.org), in preparing the legal case of war crimes by Azerbaijan officials by documenting evidence (CFTjustice.org), and in providing material aid to the forcibly displaced and traumatized heroic Indigenous people of Artsakh. Locals can also bring donations of clothing to the Artsakh Farmers Market in Glendale every Sunday in October.
Marina Khubesrian, M.D., South Pasadena Mayor (ret.), Family Physician, and Enviro-Health Policy Advisor
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