Art by Vivian Hsia
Editor’s Note: The writer, Tanya Yarian, is an active member of the Armenian Student Association at Pepperdine. She joined the organization in August 2020.
In 1915, the Armenian Genocide — which the Ottoman Empire carried out — resulted in the death of almost 1.5 million Armenians. In 2020, more than 5,000 soldiers and 143 civilians died in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. In 2022, more than 200 soldiers have died in the Armenia and Azerbaijan border conflict.
The history of conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has placed soldiers and civilians at the forefront of the fighting, according to Amnesty International. Dispute over land is not new to the two countries, but the 2022 fighting at the border of Armenia has brought attention to what this means for Armenians.
In the past, Pepperdine’s Armenian Student Association has created petitions over the years in order for Pepperdine to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide. In 2018, SGA passed a resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide, but the University took no action, according to Graphic reporting. The 2022 conflict has reignited the call for acknowledgment.
Siran Iskanian, sophomore and vice president of Pepperdine’s Armenian Student Association, said she has family who lives in Armenia and she is scared for them and of the war spreading further throughout Armenia.
“My uncle has years of military experience there, so worse come to worse and there’s a draft, they’re gonna take him,” Iskanian said. “My cousins, my family, they’re all in danger. Their lives are in danger.”
In 2020, fighting began in the Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which sits between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia claims this land — Artsakh — but the disagreement led to war, according to BBC News. The fighting caused the deaths of thousands of people and the displacement of thousands more. Protests broke out over the country with both sides claiming the land as their own.
In Los Angeles, residents started fundraisers to send money and aid back to Armenia. The hashtag #ArtsakhStrong was trending over social media apps. The Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region raised awareness on their website with call-to-action information.
Pepperdine’s ASA took action on social media in October 2020. They posted a statement on the war and in-depth information on what was happening. ASA hosted a forum Nov. 4, 2020 on the Artsakh War and had guest speakers such as Glendale City Mayor Ardashes Kassakhian and Business Professor Zarik Boghossian. The Graphic explained the importance of bringing awareness to this conflict in a Staff Ed on Oct. 20, 2020.
A six-week long war eventually ended with Russia prompting a ceasefire, according to BBC News. But now, almost two years later, the fighting between the two countries has begun once again. This time, the attack occurred along the border of Armenia.
“There’s a lot of conflict in the world, obviously, and we have a tendency to shut a lot of it out and I don’t think we should,” said Robert Williams, dean of social sciences.
Armenia’s Ministry of Defense stated in a tweet Azerbaijan was at fault for the fighting. He wrote they used artillery and large-caliber firearms against Armenian settlements — Goris, Sotk and Jermuk. Azerbaijan’s military agreed to the initial attacks but said Armenia planted mines to impact supply routes and Yerevan denied this, according to the Washington Post.
Alexander Badoyan, SGA freshman senator and ASA member, said Armenia has received a fraction of the media attention Ukraine got.
ASA President, senior Arthur Akopyan, said history is repeating itself, and the more people care about an issue, the more will be done.
“My hope is that media sources, at the very least, will take the facts, pictures, and videos of lives being affected and remain neutral in presenting these rather than supporting the actions of aggressive nations,” Akopyan said.
Akopyan said he wants people to know about this issue. Iskanian said this year, ASA plans to organize another Armenian Heritage Week, which will focus on bringing awareness to Armenian culture and the Armenian Genocide.
“As a Christian University, I’m very surprised that Pepperdine does not acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, because we were the first Christian country,” Iskanian said. “There’s a big group of Armenians here, and it’s hurtful that they refuse to acknowledge an event that happened that a lot of other campuses do recognize.”
The first Christian country, Armenia, adopted Christianity in 301 AD, according to BBC News. There are churches and various historical sites that date back to this time period in Armenia that prove this.
The Graphic reached out to IMC and there was no response to the request for comment.
Badoyan said as an SGA senator, he is drafting a bill for Pepperdine to formally recognize the Armenian Genocide.
“I think that’s the most baseline thing the school can do to help us out, because the UC system has formally recognized it,” Badoyan said.
Badoyan said it would be great if Pepperdine students spread the word about the conflict.
“Unfortunately, if you’re not in the scene where the aggression is happening, you can’t really do much outside of spreading the word, donating and just simply bringing it up in conversation,” Badoyan said.
“This refers to those situations where there is a group of people belonging by culture, by nationality, to a state that they’re not in, and that’s exactly the situation that exists of course between Armenia and Azerbaijan and has for a long time,” Williams said.
Williams said when there is a mix of populations who feel strongly about a territorial basis for their identities — such is the instance with enclaves with an Armenian population surrounded by Azerbaijan and vice versa — it may be a tough situation to solve.
“It seems to me that this is not going to be solved overnight, it’s not going to be easy,” Williams said. “But what we know is that it always gets more difficult every time the shooting starts, every time people start dying along the borders.”
Williams said he thinks the U.S. and the United Nations should take action in trying to help people on both sides of the conflict feel secure. He said peacekeeping can stabilize the situation until diplomats can take action, but it can take a long period of time — more than 15 years. Peace building is a long-term process, according to the UN.
Congressman Adam B. Schiff serves the 28th District of California, one of the districts with the largest Armenian-American population. Congressman Schiff introduced the House Resolution on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide that the House eventually passed. President Biden formally recognized the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2021. He is the first U.S. President to recognize the Armenian Genocide, according to The Guardian.
On Sept. 13, Congressman Schiff introduced legislation to the House of Representatives condemning Azerbaijan’s unprovoked attack on Armenia. Akopyan said U.S. involvement in this issue is very important.
“As a world power, whatever the U.S. decides has a huge impact on the opinions of the rest of the world [and] the actions of the rest of the world,” Akopyan said. “If the United States decides to stop funding Azerbaijan, that funding is potentially being used to attack Armenia by military weapons, then it can make a big difference.”
Williams said both Turkey and Russia have a strong interest in this region, as Turkey is interested in the identification with Azeri population of Azerbaijan and Russia has a historical interest. Turkey has armed Azerbaijan and Russia has armed both sides, Williams said.
“They’ve been making conflict when it breaks out worse, more destructive,” Williams said. “So it seems to me that there’s a need to kind of de-escalate and that starts with convincing Russia and Turkey to, not know that we can get them to back off necessarily, but at least to stop pouring gasoline on the fire.”
Badoyan participated in the Rising Leaders Program for ANCA in 2022, and said ANCA has a tool people can utilize — entering in your name, address and more and ANCA will send a message to the local Congressman.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, visited Armenia on Sept. 17, and met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and other officials. Since Armenia’s independence, Pelosi is the first U.S. official to visit Armenia, according to Pelosi’s staff’s press release.
Iskanian said she is happy Pelosi did not cancel her visit because of the war and that Pelosi was not afraid to address the aggression toward Armenia.
Pelosi and the Congressional delegation to Armenia held a press conference in Yerevan, Armenia and Pelosi stated, “We strongly condemn the attacks, we and our delegation, on behalf of the Congress, which threatens prospects for much needed peace.”
Leaders from both Armenia and Azerbaijan met Oct. 6, as the tension between the two countries continues as this conflict is developing, according to AP News.
“I think one of the most important things is that this has been a conflict that has destroyed civilians’ lives and property and has resulted in a lot of human suffering,” Williams said. “So whether by accident or by design, every time the conflict flares up, there’s civilians being killed.”
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