Addendum 2.2: Fighting for Peace (feat. LMU's Armenian Student Association)

Monday, October 26, 2020

Photo: Alina Mirzaian

Addendum 2.2: Fighting for Peace (feat. LMU's Armenian Student Association)

By Raven Yamamoto 

Lynette Aslanian and Araz Merguerian of LMU's Armenian Student Association discuss how their community has responded to the deadly conflict that has erupted between the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the past month — a conflict that has stood for decades between the two countries and has now boiled over into what people are now calling the second Armenian genocide. Together, they answer the questions many LMU students have: What exactly is going on? And why don’t LMU students know about the humanitarian crisis taking place and taking lives as we speak? (Hosted by Raven Yamamoto. Music: Spring Thaw by Asher Fulero. Listen here or on Soundcloud.)


Raven Yamamoto (RY): This is the Addendum, Agency's news podcast, where we go beyond the page and to the people and dive deep into the issues that really matter to our Lions. Today, we're talking to the Armenian Student Association about their response to the deadly conflict that has erupted between the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan in the past month, a conflict that has stood for decades between the two countries and has now boiled over into what people are now calling the second Armenian genocide.

We're here to answer the questions many LMU students have — what exactly is going on? And why don't more of us know about the humanitarian crisis taking place and taking lives as we speak? I'm Raven Yamamoto. This is the Addendum.

Right now, Armenia and Azerbaijan are at war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an area right between the two countries that has been long contested by both. But many LMU students still find themselves asking — what's going on? Part of this is because Armenian history is not often taught in our history classes. And part of it is because it's complicated. And the Armenian Azerbaijani conflict goes back decades. 

LMU Armenian Student Association member Araz Merguerian explains the complex history between the two countries in the fight for the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh and how it's progressed to the present day.

Araz Merguerian (AM): So there's really two sides of this issue that everybody should understand. The first side of the issue starts with Azerbaijan. So Armenians have been in the region of, which we call Artsakh for over 2,000 years. Azerbaijan has really never had any type of sovereignty in that region. The first time they gained their sovereignty was in 1918.

And that's not even the Nagorno-Karabakh region. That's modern-day Azerbaijan. However, shortly after 1918, the Soviet Union took over the whole region: Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Now fast forward to 1991, when the Soviet Union collapses, Stalin handed over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh to the Azerbaijanis.

And why was this very problematic at that time? It's because the majority of the population in Artsakh was Armenian and it's historically been Armenian. Since you can go all the way back to the second century BC and today, the population is actually in fact over 99% Armenian. So from 1991 to 1994, a short war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan for that region and Azerbaijan ended up surrendering in 1994 and they agreed to a ceasefire agreement. Ever since then, Azerbaijan has violated the cease-fire countless times with the most brutal one being on Sep. 27. And of course, as you know, it's still going on today. They are not only attacking our military. They are shelling civilian populations, houses, churches and schools. One of those schools was even a kindergarten. 

RY: The New York Times reported that the violence currently taking place along the lines of Nagorno-Karabakh is the worst fighting the area has seen since the ethnic war that broke out in the 1990s over the region.

Most recently, Armenia and Azerbaijan called a truce on Oct. 17th, but it has since been broken the way it has been several times over. Many Armenian activist organizations often use the phrase "this is not a ceasefire" on social media to keep folks vigilant as the violence continues to this day, claiming thousands of lives and wounding many. The Global News reported that Mikayel Zolyan, an Armenian member of Parliament, said that the conflict has the potential to escalate into a "global catastrophe," and even lead to a third World War. 

But Azerbaijan is not the only aggressor in this fight. Nor have they ever been. 

AM: Now the second side of the issue has to do with Turkey. And as you know, in 1915, Turkey was responsible for the Armenian Genocide, where they massacred 1.5 million Armenians and forced Armenians out of their ethnic Western Armenian lands.

As a result, over 2,500 acres of our Western Armenia are now a part of Turkey and much more, if you include Mount Ararat and that whole region. Turkey is not only assisting Azerbaijan with modes of weapons, but they are also assisting with attacking Armenian lands. This is, of course, a problem because they tried to do the exact same thing in 1915 and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even stated in Turkey, when the war just started, that he wants to finish the job of his ancestors.

And what is this job, of course? It is the Armenian Genocide. They don't want to only wipe away Armenians from the region, but by attacking our churches, it is also obvious that they want to wipe Christianity away from the region. 

RY: On Oct. 24, the Public Radio of Armenia reported that the Genocide Watch has officially declared the conflict a genocide emergency, meaning that they believe that the second Armenian genocide has actually escalated beyond its preliminary stages and is now underway.

While many world powers have taken sides in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, the United States has remained noticeably silent on the issue, leaving Armenian Americans frustrated as they watch this humanitarian crisis unfold in their homeland. 

Fellow Armenian Student Association member Lynette Aslanian explains some actions that have been taken by legislators in the United States to respond and what the results have been.

Lynette Aslanian (LA): With responses from other people outside of Armenia and Azerbaijan and Turkey, the Biden-Harris campaign released a statement on Artsakh on Oct. 13, stating: 

"The Trump administration must tell Azerbaijan that it will not tolerate its efforts to impose a military solution. It must make clear to Armenia that region surrounding cannot be occupied indefinitely and that credible negotiations on a lasting resolution of the conflict must commence immediately once a ceasefire is concluded."

Which did not help the Armenians at all. Especially because as Araz said, over 99% of the population of Artsakh is Armenians and Armenians have been living in Artsakh before Azerbaijan was even a country. So, in the past few days, the Michigan House of Representatives adopted a resolution condemning Azerbaijan's attacks on Artsakh, the Library of Congress corrects "The Armenian Massacres" subject heading to "The Armenian Genocide."

Which is super good for Armenians too. And Congressmen Grace Napolitano submits a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize Artsakh. President Aliyev recently—Aliyev is the president of Azerbaijan— recently made the statement that Azerbaijan is ready to negotiate with Armenia in Moscow or in any other place.

Even though this isn't the most credible statement, because they've violated truces and cease-fires, but this can be a step in the right direction. 

RY: Armenians around the world have taken action to respond where their governments will not, staging demonstrations, protests and rallies to show their solidarity with Armenians on the front lines, the hashtags #ArtsakhStrong, #WithOurSoldiers and #StopAliyev have gone viral on social media, spreading information about what's happening. And on Oct. 11, Lynette and Araz joined nearly 200,000 people that took the streets by storm in Los Angeles, home to the largest Armenian population in the world outside of Armenia. 

The March entitled "Artsakh Under Attack March for Victory" was planned by several Armenian organizers, drawing massive crowds to march from Pan Pacific Park on Beverly Blvd. to LA's Turkish Consulate on Wilshire. Helicopter footage of the protest posted by the Armenian Youth Federation of the Western United States shows protesters holding the Armenian flag high, creating a sea of red, orange and blue as they chanted, "Artsakh is Armenia," in one of the largest protests in California's history.

AM: Imagine going to a beach and looking at the horizon. That's what it was like. You could just see endless amounts of people and you wouldn't see where it ended. It was an unbelievable scene. Most of the protestors were Armenian, but however, there were a few African-Americans. We saw a few Jewish people in the crowds, which was real, and a lot of Mexican Americans that came to support us.

And this was actually very exciting because these groups are also seeing that this is not just an Armenian issue. And as I said earlier, this is a human rights issue. For the Black Lives Matter movement where a lot of different communities showed up for that protest. We would also like to see these communities become activists again for our issue and not just focus on one issue, but there's multiple different levels to humanitarian issues around the world that people should see.

LA: At the protest, many ASA members went, it was nice to see like other people. I haven't really seen a lot of like LMU students specifically posting anything about it. I just think it's like, if they don't know about it or if they haven't. been exposed to the LA Armenian culture, it's like really hard for them to like start now. 

RY: The Armenian Student Association also took action to make the LMU community aware of the injustice taking place. In early October, they wrote to LMU administrators asking them to recognize Azerbaijan's attacks on Armenians, and on Oct. 12, LMU This Week published "A prayer for the Armenian community."

The prayer, written by the Administrative Coordinator of Student Success in the Office of Student Affairs Natalie Janji reads: 

"You're diaspora of Armenian children are suffering as they watch their Homeland be attacked by those who seek to eradicate them. Once more innocent, young lives have been taken homes and churches have been destroyed and civilians have been displaced. We pray for a global shift of mind and heart. That those who are indifferent become compassionate for their cause. May we become soldiers of the truth to protect this indigenous people and culture."

LA: Our social media chair actually drafted this email that we sent to basically all of the deans and all of the like administration of LMU and they ended up sending out that statement, which was really good and helps spread more awareness about our situation right now.

In my opinion, LMU is a Catholic institution and Armenians were the first Christian nation. But it's not only about Christianity. Catholicism stands for human rights and our human rights are really being violated in Artsakh. Currently, they are threatening us with another genocide, which in fact, in what many Armenians believe right now is the second genocide has already started. So, as a Catholic institution, I think it is very important to stand with human rights and Loyola Marymount has done that right now and many universities around the United States are also doing the same right now.

RY: While they were happy to have their people recognized this way by the University, Lynette and Araz want to see more of their fellow Lions speak up. 

LA: A lot of students that go to LMU don't even know what Armenia is. So it's kind of, we're just like spreading awareness as much as we can right now. And I have seen a few students that I know personally, like they've been, DM-ing me asking me, like, "what can I do to help? Like, can you tell me more about this?" People have been interested. I would like to see more people be interested, but it's just a process that takes time. 

AM: Armenia is again a very... it's not a very big country. The reason why a lot of people do not know about this, the history of Armenia, is because the United States doesn't recognize the Armenian Genocide on the executive level. So for that reason, it's not really taught in many schools. So yeah. Many Americans will not grow up learning about the Armenian Genocide or about any of the Armenian issues. Unless of course, you're from LA, which has one of the largest Armenian communities outside of Armenia. But other than that, that's why it's been sort of a struggle is because people here aren't really ... haven't really learned about these issues in school.

RY: But Araz and Lynette aren't just students or activists. They're Armenians first. Armenians of their widespread diaspora who are watching history repeat itself and carrying their pain heavily in their hearts no matter how far away they are from their homeland. 

LA: It's been really hard, honestly, because like the Armenians in the diaspora are feeling this thing called diaspora guilt where it's like, we can't be there, but we're completely there emotionally and mentally. Like, it's all I've been thinking about it. It's all my family has been thinking about. I know a bunch of like friends and family who actually have people out there on the front lines fighting and we've lost people on the frontline. So it's just been really difficult, just hearing about it. We're trying our hardest to like raise funding, raise money and, um, protest and raise more awareness. But there's only so much you can do. 

AM: I actually had to personally message a few of my professors, letting them know why I missed a couple of classes, letting them know what I'm feeling currently. And all of them were very supportive of how I'm feeling right now. I personally know a few people that are fighting on the front lines right now. And when it, wherever, whenever I go to a protest, or whenever I do social media posts, I ask myself: is this enough? When my friends are fighting on the front lines, they're always on our mind every single day, every single class. It's on top of our heads. 

RY: To support Armenia, you can sign the petition calling for the United States Congress to recognize the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and donate to the Armenia Fund, an organization working to provide humanitarian relief to Armenians on the front lines.

LA: We've been raising a lot of funds for Artsakh. We've donated, I think 21,000, over $21,000 to Armenia Fund, which sends over their money for humanitarian aid to Artsakh.

AM: I mean the most important part of all of this is really raising the funds. The Armenian military is not that big. If you compare our population with the population of Azerbaijan and Turkey, we have 2.8 million Armenians in Armenia versus over 80 million in both countries combined. So, as much money as we can send to our military in Armenia is very important. The Armenia Fund also does other types of fundraisers, but currently, its main focus is on the issue going on right now. But other than fundraisers, Armenians all over the diaspora have also been helping with humanitarian needs, such as food, clothing drives and stuff like that.

RY: More than anything though, Araz and Lynette want Armenians to be heard by their community right here at LMU. 

AM: For me personally, it's not only about donations. I rather my American friends understand the issue. I don't care if they don't donate. I just want them to know what's going on because the more awareness we have over this issue, the better it is. At the end of the day, it's not about donations only. It's about the world realizing who the true aggressors are, which is Azerbaijan.

RY: To stay up to date on developments regarding Azerbaijan's attacks on Armenia and how you can help, be sure to follow LMU Armenian student association @lmu_asa on Instagram and follow various news outlets covering the issue in-depth, such as  Zartonk Media and The Armenian Report.

I'm Raven Yamamoto. This is the Addendum.

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