Demonstrators gather outside Azerbaijani consulate in L.A. to condemn attacks on Armenia

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Hundreds gathered in front of the Azerbaijani consulate in Los Angeles Tuesday to protest against recent tension along the country’s border with Armenia.

The demonstration, entitled “Protest Azeri Aggression,” garnered large crowds, as well as a smaller group of counter-protesters, outside the Consulate General of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Wilshire Boulevard.

The event, hosted by the Armenian Youth Federation, was aimed against “Azerbaijani aggression and its brazen attack on the Republic of Armenia,” and called on the U.S. and the international community to condemn Azerbaijan for its military attacks on military and civilian targets in Armenia, according to organizers.

Sky5 was overhead in L.A. — home to the largest Armenian community outside of Armenia itself — as demonstrators, mostly donning face coverings chanted, “Armenia demands justice.”

The Los Angeles Police Department lined up between the Armenian demonstrators and the Azeri counter-protesters. A police officer was taken to the hospital and was in stable condition, and one person was arrested, according to LAPD, but it was not yet clear what happened or which side the arrestee was on.

The demonstration comes after fighting erupted July 12 in the Tavush province, along the border region of Armenia and Azerbaijan, the New York Times reported.

“[Azerbaijan] began by shelling civilian populations, targeting civilian communities at the border with heavy artillery, tanks and combat drones,” said Alex Galitsky of the Armenian National Committee of America. “They damaged a number of civilian properties, including kindergartens, and also targeted a PPE mask facility, which is incredibly egregious given the fact that Armenia has been one of the worst countries in the world hit by the COVID-19 crisis.”

Azerbaijan claims Armenia ignited the fighting. But local and national leaders have condemned the violence by Azerbaijan’s military.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti expressed his support to the Armenian community, saying “Azerbaijan must end its provocative and dangerous threats to strike Armenia’s civilian nuclear power plant, and must admit international monitors.”

In a statement to KTLA, the Azerbaijani consul general said, “In general, anyone who has some conscience should think twice before supporting Armenia.” The consulate also issued a tweet thanking LAPD for “protecting” their community.

Rep. Linda Sánchez — who represents parts of eastern Los Angeles County and northern Orange County — called on President Trump to “condemn the Azerbaijani military’s aggression and work with our allies to de-escalate tensions in the area.”

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment calling for greater Congressional oversight over a U.S. military aid program under which Azerbaijan has received over $120 million in U.S. defense assistance.

The Pallone Amendment comes in response to research published by the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, which demonstrated that $100 million in security assistance was allocated from the U.S. to Azerbaijan in a one-year period, from 2018 to 2019.

“Less support for militarization anywhere is a step closer to reliance on negotiations,” said Salpi Ghazarian, director of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies. “After nearly three decades of a self-monitored ceasefire, it is clear to scholars as well as mediators that there is no path to lasting peace except through negotiations. This is a shared neighborhood, and just as in the US today, there, too, everyone will have to get a better understanding of history in order to move towards a just and lasting peace.”

Armenian National Committee of America chairman Raffi Hamparian said he was proud to be a part of the gathering Tuesday in solidarity with the people of Armenia. 

“The right to peaceably assemble — which is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution — has been a cornerstone of Armenian American activism over many decades,” Hamparian said. “Today, thousands of Armenian Americans stood for peace and urged Azerbaijan — especially its leader Ilham Aliyev — to end its campaign of war and hate against the Armenian people.”

A century of tension

The tension between the two countries is over a dispute on the autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh, also called Artsakh — a mountainous region in the Caucasus, bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan. About 150,000 people live in the enclave, just 200 miles east of the capital of Armenia.

In 1921, under Joseph Stalin’s orders, Nagorno-Karabakh was placed under Azerbaijan’s rule, which granted it autonomy. But in 1988, after the Soviet Union collapsed, 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 Nagorno-Karabakh War.

The war ended in a 1994 ceasefire but occasional fighting erupts at the border, with the deadliest confrontation being the Four Day War in 2016.

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