Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Azerbaijani consulate in Los Angeles Wednesday to protest the country’s attacks on Nagorno-Karabakh – an unrecognized state in the Caucasus.
The rally held on Wilshire Boulevard was organized by the Armenian Youth Federation and called on “all those who stand against Azeri aggression to voice their demands—to not just the Azeri government, but to the local, state, and federal governments of the United States and to the entire international community.”
The protest comes after Azerbaijan launched a military attack on Sept. 27 in the autonomous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, also called Artsakh — a mountainous region bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan. The tension between the two countries is over a dispute about the autonomy of the region, which is home to about 150,000 people — about 95% of whom are ethnic Armenians, according to a 2015 census — just 200 miles east of the capital of Armenia.
Armenia said one of its warplanes was shot down by a fighter jet from Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey, in what would be a major escalation of the violence.
Los Angeles, home to the largest Armenian community outside of the country itself, has seen a number of demonstrations since the fighting began four days ago. Community members held rallies in Glendale and Burbank, and the Glendale City Council passed a resolution Tuesday calling on the White House to cease military aid to Azerbaijan and promote peace in the region.
“In Los Angeles County and around the world, I am committed to standing up for our Armenian communities,” said L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “It is my hope that the United States will hold Azerbaijan and Turkey accountable for their attack on Artsakh, which killed innocent people.”
Sky5 was overhead Wednesday evening as hundreds gathered, waving Armenian flags and donning face coverings, which were required by organizers. A row of event monitors in white shirts could be seen lined up to contain the large group.
“As Armenians in the diaspora, we’re all too familiar with the pain of having been displaced from our ancestral homeland due to invasion and genocide,” said demonstrator Deeown Shaverdian, 26. “What we’re here to ensure today is that justice is delivered and the territorial integrity of our lands are honored. We’re a people whose history spans thousands of years and those lands our brave soldiers are defending today were always part of our story.”
The protest is the second in L.A. in recent months, with another demonstration held in July, after another flare-up along the border.
“The big question Armenians are asking is what does Azerbaijan want?” said Syuzanna Petrosyan, associate director of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies. “Yesterday, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that fighting will stop when Karabakh is re-incorporated into Azerbaijan. Does Azerbaijan want the territory of Karabakh with Armenians cleansed from it? If not, then why is it shelling the people that it believes to be its citizens?”
The dispute over the region sparked in 1921, when, under Joseph Stalin’s regime, it was placed under the rule of Azerbaijan, which granted it autonomy. But in 1988, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh began a movement for reunification with Armenia, prompting Azerbaijan to nullify the autonomous status and leading to a full-scale war.
The war ended in a 1994 ceasefire but occasional fighting still erupts at the border, with the deadliest confrontation being the Four Day War in 2016.
“This type of violence is exactly what prompted the Karabakh Armenians to want to live in an independent republic in 1980s, and we are seeing the same situation unfold today,” Petrosyan said.