L.A. protests continue against violence in Nagorno-Karabakh; Armenian Americans show solidarity with Artsakh

Nation/world

As violence continues and tensions rise in the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, Armenian Americans in Los Angeles continued to demonstrate Sunday.

People carried Armenian flags as they walked onto the 170 Freeway in North Hollywood blocking both lanes of traffic in a plea for a stop to the bloodshed in the region. Demonstrators in L.A. have decried the escalating violence as a massacre against Armenians and are calling for some sort of international intervention or U.S. recognition.

Many have called out a lack of media coverage on the conflict with marches through Hollywood over the weekend. Demonstrators stopped outside the CNN and KTLA buildings along Sunset Boulevard Saturday and Sunday night. Some raised Armenian flags and chanted “CNN tell the truth.”

The Los Angeles area is home to more Armenians than any other place aside from the country.

“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,” Natalie Samargian, one protester, told KTLA on Saturday night.

The clashes erupted on Sept. 27 and have left dozens dead, marking the biggest escalation in the decades-old conflict over the region, which lies within Azerbaijan but is controlled by local ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia.

The fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces continued Sunday, with Azerbaijan accusing Armenia of targeting the country’s cities that are far beyond the conflict zone.

Hikmet Hajiyev, aide to Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev, said Sunday that Armenia targeted large cities Ganja and Mingachevir with missile strikes. Ganja, home to several hundred thousand residents and the country’s second-largest city, is located roughly 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) away from Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s capital, and so is Mingachevir.

The Republic of Artsakh largely governs the region, which has been inhabited by mostly Christian Armenians for centuries but is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. The region, which has faced widespread devastation in recent days, has a population of 95% ethnic Armenians.

Artsakh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has described the fighting as “accompanied by serious violations of the norms of international humanitarian law.” The agency said Azerbaijani-Turkish forces are “deliberately shelling cities, villages and civilian objects of Artsakh with the aim of terrorizing and destroying the civilian population.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called on co-chairing countries within the OSCE Minsk Group and “the international community as a whole” to assist in de-escalating the conflict.

The bloodshed has led to a swift, united response from L.A.’s Armenian American community. Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted support of Armenians on Sunday and called on Washington to intervene through diplomacy efforts. “Turkey must disengage,” he wrote.

Hajiyev, aide to Azerbaijan’s president, on Sunday tweeted a video depicting damaged buildings, and called it the result of “Armenia’s massive missile attacks against dense residential areas” in Ganja. It wasn’t immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the video.

Hajiyev said in another tweet on Sunday evening that Armenian forces also hit Mingachevir, which “hosts a water reservoir and key electricity plant,” with a missile strike.

Armenia’s Defense Ministry vehemently denied the claims. The ministry’s spokeswoman Shushan Stepanian wrote on Facebook that “no fire was opened from Armenia in the direction of Azerbaijan” and called the accusations “desperate convulsions of the Azerbaijani side.”

Nagorno-Karabakh’s leader, Arayik Harutyunyan, said on Facebook that he ordered “rocket attacks to neutralize military objects” in Ganja, but later told his forces to stop firing to avoid civilian casualties. His spokesman Vahram Poghosyan told Armenian media on Sunday evening there was no reason for Nagorno-Karabakh forces to target Mingachevir.

Azerbaijani officials denied that any military objects had been hit in Ganja, but said the attack caused damage to civilian infrastructure. One civilian has been killed, and 32 others sustained injuries, authorities said.

“Opening fire on the territory of Azerbaijan from the territory of Armenia is clearly provocative and expands the zone of hostilities,” Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov said in a statement Sunday.

According to Hajiyev, no serious damage was inflicted on the infrastructure in Mingachevir, but “civilians (have been) wounded.”

As the fighting resumed Sunday morning, Armenian officials accused Azerbaijan of carrying out strikes on Stepanakert and targeting the civilian population there. Nagorno-Karabakh’s leader Harutyunyan said that in response, his forces would target “military facilities permanently located in major cities of Azerbaijan.”

In a statement issued later on Sunday, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry rejected accusations of targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Aliyev, the Azerbaijani president, tweeted Sunday that the country’s troops “liberated from occupation the city of Jabrayil and several surrounding villages.” Nagorno-Karabakh’s officials rejected the claim as untrue, saying the territory’s army “is controlling the situation in all directions.”

Nagorno-Karabakh officials have said nearly 200 servicemen on their side have died in the clashes so far. Eighteen civilians have been killed and more than 90 others wounded. Azerbaijani authorities haven’t given details on their military casualties, but said 24 civilians were killed and 111 others were wounded on their side.

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 Jabrayil, the town Azerbaijan claimed to have taken on Sunday.

This week’s fighting has prompted calls for a cease-fire from around the world. On Thursday, leaders of Russia, France and the United States — co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group, which was set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1992 to resolve the conflict — issued a joint statement calling for an immediate cease-fire and “resuming substantive negotiations … under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.”

Azerbaijani President Aliyev repeatedly said that Armenia’s withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh is the sole condition to end the fighting.

Armenian officials allege that Turkey is involved in the conflict and is sending fighters from Syria to the region. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said earlier this week that “a cease-fire can be established only if Turkey is removed from the South Caucasus.”

Spokesman of Nagorno-Karabakh’s leader Vahram Poghosyan said on Facebook Sunday evening that since Azeribaijan has involved “terrorist mercenaries” in the region, “this means that the current situation gives us a legitimate right to move our operations to the entire territory of Azerbaijan to clear it of terrorist groups.”

Ankara has denied sending arms or foreign fighters, while publicly siding with Azerbaijan in the dispute.

On Sunday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack on Ganja, saying it was proof of Armenia’s disregard for the law. Ankara accused Armenia of attacking civilian residential areas, and claimed that Armenia could commit crimes against humanity.

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