By John M. Evans,
Former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia (2004-06)
We Americans are understandably focused on the multiple and interlocking tragedies that have taken place in the last month from Louisiana to Minnesota and most notably in Dallas. But half a world away a human tragedy of a different sort has been unfolding in the unrecognized Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which in Soviet times enjoyed an autonomous status, but, as the USSR was collapsing, voted for independence and fought a terrible war with post-Soviet Azerbaijan that claimed some 30,000 dead on both sides. A fragile cease-fire was signed in 1994 under Russian sponsorship, but the “frozen” conflict has in recent years seen more violations of the Line of Contact, and more victims.
The “four-day war” initiated by Azerbaijan on April 2, 2016 (no close observer of the conflict lays the blame anywhere else) was the largest escalation of military conflict between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh since the cease-fire was signed in 1994. Over ninety Armenians were killed, and more than 120, including civilians and children, were wounded. As the Armenian Ambassador to the United States said to me, on a per capita basis, this was equivalent to the U.S. losing 10,000 of its citizens. Thousands of people from the affected villages, mostly children, women and the elderly, were evacuated to the comparative safety of Stepanakert or neighboring communities, or to Armenia proper. I visited Karabakh in late June with Dr. Garo Armen of the Children of Armenia Fund in order to help him determine what COAF might do to ease the suffering of civilians that resulted from the fighting.
The Azerbaijani shelling, much of which was unleashed after the initial attack had already faltered, was most destructive to the border communities of Talish, Madaghis, Mardakert, Hadrout and Martuni. Talish has been entirely abandoned because of the risk of shelling; in fact, further shelling did occur there on June 30 when Azeri soldiers attacked three farmers in the fields. Many families, some of them grieving over their losses, are now internally displaced, still terrified from what they experienced and fearful of the future. Five hotels in Stepanakert were commandeered to house families and individuals who had no other place to go.
Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, the Yerevan office of the Children of Armenia Fund deployed two teams to Karabakh to assess the situation and, in some cases, to provide immediate assistance. The local authorities had attempted to mobilize limited resources to address the most pressing needs, and NGOs and some governmental structures from Armenia also joined in the effort to assist; however, what COAF discovered was that, while some of the emergency needs of the IDPs were partially met, psychological support for the affected people was sorely needed and there was no local capacity to address this issue.
While some efforts were made to address the needs of soldiers with psychosomatic conditions, the majority of the IDPs in the five hotels and elsewhere exhibited signs of trauma, behaving as “ghetto groups,” lost between a terrifying past and an uncertain future, closed inside their shells and praying for God’s help. Children who were enrolled to attend nearby schools feared to venture out to “life-threatening places where shooting and shelling cause death and injuries.” Images of the elderly Talish couple whose ears were cut off by the attackers, of the Yezidi soldier who was decapitated, and of other soldiers tortured and/or mutilated have not helped calm these people down. Some of the atrocities committed by the Azeris clearly were in the category of war crimes and played on the Armenians’ well-founded fear of genocide.
While we Americans have much to do to “fix our own country”, one of the responsibilities of great-power status is to prevent the world from becoming a jungle. Together with Russia and France, the United States has been attempting to mediate the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute through the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In my view and that of many others, it is high time for the Karabakh authorities, unrecognized as they may be under international law, to be brought into the peace process. The Armenians of Karabakh, or, as they call it, Artsakh, are there to stay and deserve to live in peace in their towns, cities and mountains.
John Evans was recalled from his post as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia in 2006 for publicly breaking with the Bush Administration over the Armenian Genocide. He recently published Truth Held Hostage: America and the Armenian Genocide–What Then? What Now? London: Gomidas Institute, 2016.
This article originally appeared in the California Courier and is reproduced with the expressed written consent of the author.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Earlier this year, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) held its annual members meeting in Boca Raton, Florida. Organized by the Assembly’s South Florida Regional Council (SFRC) Chair Arsine Kaloustian and Assembly Board of Trustees Member and Life Trustee Lu Ann Ohanian, the annual members weekend in March included a three-day program of meetings, receptions, and events.
The success of the Assembly’s annual members weekend was ensured thanks to the generosity of Gold Sponsors Carolyn Mugar, Joyce Stein, Lu Ann & Bruce Ohanian, and Peter Vosbikian; Silver Sponsors Michael Haratunian and Annie Totah; Bronze Sponsors Marta Batmasian, James Kalustian, and Harry & Edna Keleshian; and Donors Ara Jabrayan, Ed Shooshanian, Hagop & Arlys Koushakjian, and Nevart Talanian.
The weekend kicked off with a “Pints and Professionals” reception at Tap 42 restaurant, organized by Florida Chair Arsine Kaloustian. Over 100 guests from Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties gathered in downtown Boca Raton to enjoy complimentary cocktails and appetizers in a business casual atmosphere throughout the evening.
“The Assembly is looking towards the future with fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking to build up new membership as well as engage the active member base we already have. The three events we hosted in Florida reflected that aim. Our networking event, ‘Pints and Professionals,’ was particularly successful. Over 100 young Armenian professionals in attendance were anxious to learn more about the Assembly and excited for other upcoming events,” Kaloustian said. “The South Florida Regional Council plans to continue this renewed energy and encouraging momentum for the duration of 2016,” she added.
On Saturday morning, Assembly members and friends gathered at the Boca Raton Marriott for the Members and Board of Trustees meeting. The meeting featured reports from Board of Trustees Co-Chairmen Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian, Board President Carolyn Mugar, and other board members and staff. Members also approved the Assembly’s annual budget and amended by-laws. The Board of Trustees meeting will hereafter convene every two years, rather than annually, to review the organization’s budget, endowment fund, and audit reports.
The Assembly’s current Board of Trustees include Anthony Barsamian, Co-Chairman; Van Krikorian, Co-Chairman; Hirair Hovnanian, Chairman Emeritus; Carolyn Mugar, President; Robert A. Kaloosdian, Vice Chairman and Counselor; Edele Hovnanian, Vice President; Bianka Kadian-Dodov, Treasurer; Oscar Tatosian, Secretary; Lisa Kalustian, Assistant Secretary; Aram Gavoor; Alex Karapetian; Raffi Kassarjian; Lu Ann Ohanian; Toros Sahakian; Joyce Stein; Annie Totah; and Talin Yacoubian. Mark Momjian will continue to serve as Solicitor.
During the meeting, the Assembly thanked Michael and Marie Haratunian, who became life trustees after years of dedication with the Assembly. Former Chairman of the Board Michael Haratunian participated in the Airlie House conferences that established the Armenian Assembly of America in 1972 and served as a member of the Board of Directors for many years. He also participated in the Assembly’s Mission Trips to Armenia in 1993, 1994, and 1997.
“The Armenian Assembly, the Armenian American community, and Armenians around the world are grateful to Michael and Marie Haratunian for their hard work over the years, preparing a new generation of leaders,” Assembly Board of Trustees Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian said. “The value they place on the Assembly’s core philosophy to approach important issues in Washington in a professional and on a non-partisan basis yielded a remarkable record of success, promoted four decades of interns, and helped Armenians everywhere.”
Krikorian and Barsamian also recognized several Assembly members and other prominent Armenian American leaders who passed away over the last year, honoring them with a moment of silence. Assembly members spoke in memory of the departed: Harry Keleshian; Gregory Adamian; George Kay; Hirant Candan; George Yacoubian, Sr.; former Washington Post Editor Ben Bagdikian; and former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Harry Gilmore. While speaking about Ambassador Gilmore, the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) shared about the tree planting on October 14 at the Memorial Park in Parakar Village, west of Yerevan, which was done in his honor.
During the meeting, the Board of Trustees reviewed the Armenian Genocide centennial anniversary year and presented updates on Assembly activities from around the world, including Vatican City, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Yerevan, and more. The Assembly members reviewed the events in 2015 and additions to the Assembly’s staff, with new positions filled in California, Washington, D.C., and Armenia.
Krikorian spoke about the new, young leadership and the updated by-laws, aimed at charting the Assembly’s path toward a successful future. The board announced the now-mobile friendly Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA) website as an example, and showcased the virtual museum. AGMA is now easily accessible on mobile and tablet devices.
Reflecting on the situation on the front line of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, prior to the four-day war, Krikorian displayed the Assembly-created Artsakh Cease-Fire Map, depicting violations by Azerbaijan on the Line of Contact. As feared, Azerbaijani aggression reached new heights in the weeks following the Assembly’s Annual Trustees Meeting, further endangering the region for Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, as well as refugees being forced to escape persecution in Syria and Iraq.
Barsamian discussed recent meetings he had with various officials, including President Serzh Sargsyan in Armenia as well as OSCE Minsk Group U.S. Ambassador James Warlick in Washington, D.C. He mentioned exciting new projects in store for Armenia, including the Smithsonian Armenia spotlight on the National Mall Discovery Center to be opened in 2018, where the Armenia Tree Project plans to play a significant role.
Assembly President Carolyn Mugar presented on the Assembly and ATP’s tree planting projects. She focused on last April’s commemoration dedicated to the memory of U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau in Armenia, where ten members of the extended Morgenthau family, including eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren of Ambassador Morgenthau, participated in several ATP events.
On Saturday evening, Assembly members and friends gathered for a reception where guests discussed the new energy and planned initiatives of the Assembly. Attendees enjoyed the rest of the night dancing with live music provided by Dick Barsamian (Oud), John Arzigian (Accordion), and Mike Gregian (Dumbeg).
The Assembly’s Annual Members Meeting weekend concluded on Sunday with a book presentation at St. David’s Church where renowned Armenian American photojournalist Scout Tufankjian presented her book There is Only the Earth: Images from the Armenian Diaspora Project. Released in April 2015, the publication culminates six years dedicated to documenting Armenian communities in over 20 countries. Tufankjian is best known for her photography during the Barack Obama campaigns and her work in the Middle East reporting on the Egyptian Revolution.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.
Florida Armenians joins the Armenian Assembly of America in urging Armenian Americans in Florida and all human rights activists to TAKE ACTION to denounce Azerbaijan’s latest attacks on Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh and to urge Members of Congress to defend the self-determination and freedom of Nagorno Karabakh, as well as its right to self-defense.
So far, the latest Azeri cease-fire violations have resulted in over 20 reported deaths, including a 12-year-old boy, and over 70 wounded. In addition, Azerbaijan continues to target villagers in the Tavush region of Armenia, including a kindergarten. This is unacceptable and Azerbaijan must be held accountable for these gross violations of human rights and international law. Further, the United States should stand with the citizens of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic in their struggle for self-determination as they defend themselves from another genocidal act.
We cannot stand on the sidelines as one of the most corrupt dictators in the world continues to blatantly violate the 1994 OSCE brokered cease-fire and takes aim at our brothers and sisters in Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
The United States has an important role to play and must stand in solidarity with the people of Artsakh and their right to defend themselves.