Armenian Americans and their allies gathered outside the buildings of news outlets in Hollywood Saturday night — an emotional call for media coverage and recognition of the escalating violence in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Los Angeles community is drawing attention to the devastation being felt in the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh as heavy fighting continues. Azerbaijan’s president said late Saturday that his troops had taken a town and several villages while Armenian officials claimed their troops inflicted heavy casualties.
Fighting broke out on Sept. 27 in the region, which is located within Azerbaijan and under the control of local ethnic Armenian forces. It is some of the worst in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas since the end of a war in 1994.
In the days since, thousands of Armenian Americans have come together for multiple demonstrations in hopes of getting the international community to intervene. Los Angeles is home to the largest Armenian community outside the country.
People marched outside KTLA on Sunset Boulevard following a demonstration outside the nearby CNN building. Protesters began gathering in Hollywood beginning at 4 p.m. and marches continued for hours. Around 10 p.m., they blocked traffic on a nearby stretch of the 101 Freeway in Hollywood.
Online, some have flooded the comments sections of outlets’ social media threads — calling for more coverage of the conflict Armenian government officials describe as an “aggressive war” waged by Turkey and terrorist organizations against the Republic of Artsakh. Protesters in Hollywood raised Armenian flags and chanted “CNN tell the truth.”
“Azerbaijan and Turkey has started a completely unprovoked war… This is, again, a genocide because when you have civilians involved, when you have human life, when they are not fighters and they are not soldiers, you are discussing a massacre,” said protester Natalie Samargian, who said she was concerned about her brothers and sisters in Armenia.
The Republic of Artsakh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement: “In particular, the Azerbaijani-Turkish armed formations are deliberately shelling cities, villages and civilian objects of Artsakh with the aim of terrorizing and destroying the civilian population.”
Nagorno-Karabakh is made up of 95% Christian Armenians who have been inhabiting the region for centuries. The recent violence has been described by many political experts as a show of Turkey backing Azerbaijan heavily against the Armenian people of the region.
“The fighting comes as Turkey increasingly flexes its muscles in the Middle East and North Africa, adding to the dangers of regional escalation in what had been a mostly local, if venomous, ethnic conflict,” the New York Times reports. “And, distracted by the coronavirus pandemic, international mediators missed warning signs as tensions mounted in Nagorno-Karabakh over the summer, analysts say.”
Azerbaijan denies allegations of criminal actions and international humanitarian law violations. Amid widespread demonstrations in L.A., the local Consul General for Azerbaijan released a video-recorded statement saying some Azerbaijani civilians were killed and claiming an illegal military occupation.
Meanwhile, the Republic of Artsakh is calling for recognition of its independence.
“We call on the international community to recognize the independence of the Republic of Artsakh in order to ensure the rights of the citizens of Artsakh to life and peaceful development,” reads a statement from the ministry. “In the current situation, the international recognition of Artsakh is the only effective mechanism to restore peace and security in the region.”
Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian said intensive fighting was “taking place place along the entire front line” on Saturday and that Armenian forces had shot down three planes.
Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry denied any planes being shot down and said Armenian personnel had shelled civilian territory. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said his country’s army “raised the flag” in the town of Madagiz and taken seven villages.
Nagorno-Karabakh officials have said more than 150 servicemen on their side have died so far. Azerbaijani authorities haven’t given details on their military casualties but said 19 civilians were killed and 55 more wounded.
Vahram Poghosyan, a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh’s president, claimed Saturday on Facebook that intelligence data showed some 3,000 Azerbaijanis have died in the fighting. Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Ovannisian said later that 2,300 Azerbaijan troops were killed, about 400 of them in the last day.
With Azerbaijan not commenting on troop casualties, the statements could not be verified.
Nagorno-Karabakh was a designated autonomous region within Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. It claimed independence from Azerbaijan in 1991, about three months before the Soviet Union’s collapse. A full-scale war that broke out in 1992 killed an estimated 30,000 people.
By the time the war ended in 1994, Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself but substantial areas outside the territory’s formal borders, including Madagiz, the village Azerbaijan claimed to have taken Saturday.
Several United Nations Security Council resolutions have called for withdrawal from those areas, which the Armenian forces have disregarded.
Aliyev said in a television interview the Armenians must withdraw from those areas before the latest fighting can stop.
In the interview with Al Jazeera, a transcript of which was distributed Saturday by the presidential press office, Aliyev criticized the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has tried to mediate a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.
One reason behind the current fighting is that “the mediators do not insist or exert pressure to start implementing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council,” he said.
“We have no time to wait another 30 years. The conflict must be resolved now.” Aliyev said.
Armenia has repeatedly claimed over the past week that Turkey sent Syrian fighters to Azerbaijan and that the Turkish military is aiding Azerbaijan’s.
“Turkey and Azerbaijan are pursuing not only military-political goals,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said Saturday in an address to his nation. “Their goal is Armenia, their goal is continuation of the genocide of Armenians.”
Some 1.5 million Armenians died in mass killings in Ottoman Turkey beginning in 1915, which Armenia and many other countries have labeled a genocide. Turkey firmly rejects that term, contends the total number of victims is inflated and says the deaths were the consequence of civil war.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry released a statement Saturday alleging that thousands of ethnic Armenians from abroad were being deployed or recruited to fight for Armenia.
“Armenia and Armenian disapora organizations bear international legal liability for organizing these terrorist activities,” the statement said.