As Armenian Americans have been protesting daily in Los Angeles and around the world in recent weeks, some Angelenos flew to Washington D.C. to demonstrate outside the Capitol Thursday with an urgent demand for U.S. lawmakers.
Demonstrators asked Congress to impose sanctions on Turkey and Azerbaijan for war crimes committed against Armenian civilians living in the Nagorno-Karabakh border region, also called Artsakh. The protesters are also calling on the Trump administration to cut military aid to both U.S. ally nations.
“Although it’s happening in a tiny country in Armenia, 7,000 miles away, the ramifications and the consequences of what’s going on effect a bunch of world powers,” said L.A. resident Dickran Khodanian outside the Capitol Wednesday. “Right now Armenia is in danger.”
Khodanian flew from L.A., along with many others, to protest in D.C. as representatives inside the Capitol held Supreme Court hearings.
The demonstrations come after war broke out on Sept. 27, following decades of tension over Nagorno-Karabakh, a historically Armenian region which was placed under Azerbaijani rule by Soviet authorities. The open conflict broke out in 1988 when the region made a bid for independence, triggering hostilities.
In 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh held an independence referendum in which 82% of all voters participated and 99% voted for independence. Soon after, hostilities with Azerbaijan turned into a full-blown war that killed an estimated 30,000 people and displaced about 1 million.
John Evans, former U.S. ambassador to Armenia, told KTLA that based on independent review, Turkey was planning the September attack.
“I think there is no question that Azerbaijan started it. We know that they had a big military maneuver with Turkey late in the summer. We know that these Syrian mercenaries were showing up a week before it started,” Evans said. “Armenia is defending the status quo.”
Evans said he believes there is evidence of war crimes being committed.
Sen. Robert Mendez, along with other Democrats, issued an open letter Oct. 1 to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling for the suspension of U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan.
In an interview Wednesday, Pompeo said, “We’re hopeful that the Armenians will be able to defend against what the Azerbaijanis are doing.”
Pompeo also said, “We now have the Turks, who have stepped in and provided resources to Azerbaijan, increasing the risk, increasing the firepower that’s taking place in this historic fight over this place called Nagorno-Karabakh, a small territory with about 150,000 people.”
The deadly dispute over the land — populated 95% by ethnic Armenians, according to a 2015 census — has raised painful memories of the Armenian genocide, which Turkey still denies.
“I think we’re increasingly seeing more and more members of Congress speak out on this issue; already a hundred have,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America. “They see this situation a small country, landlocked, blockaded, just 3 million people, the first Christian nation, at risk now of a second genocide.”
On Sunday, tens of thousands of Armenian Americans and supporters marched to the Turkish consulate in Beverly Hills to decry Azerbaijani aggression in the region.
Azerbaijan maintains that it is not the aggressor.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights cited 50 civilian deaths on both sides.
Some worry there’s risk of an even bigger war, involving Russia, Turkey, Georgia and Iran.
“The destruction and death is much worse than anybody realizes. It will only be after the dust settles that we know how bad this has been,” Evans said.