PROVIDENCE, RI—On Friday October 9, a crowd of over 400 Armenians and friends gathered in front of the Rhode Island State House to protest the unprovoked attacks by Azerbaijan on the historic Armenian lands of present-day Artsakh.
By now, we all know that September 27 saw Azerbaijani forces once again breaking the ceasefire that had been in place in the region since 1994 by shelling and attacking along the length of the border and continuing further with targeted strikes on civilian structures and historic religious sites. It was clear that these attacks were not just an effort to claim land, but also a deliberate effort to continue what their Ottoman forefathers had started and with the assistance of Turkey.
The RI Armenian community, unable to stay silent in light of these unprovoked attacks, planned a rally at the State House. Organized by the Providence Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) “Kristapor” Gomideh with the support of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), there was a strong community and youth presence including supporters from Amnesty International and the local Kurdish community. The goal was to call on the RI, national and international communities and draw their attention to the tense situation in the area and urge sanctions against Azerbaijan and Turkey. The event was emceed by ARF member Garo Tashian who stressed the unity of Artsakh, Armenia and the Diaspora. He assured those assembled that the Armenian community here and around the world would do whatever it takes to ensure that these historic lands are protected at all costs.
ARF members Dalita Getzoyan and Raffi Rachdouni opened the event with stirring renditions of the Star Spangled Banner and Mer Hairenik. The local Armenian clergy, including pastor emeritus Archpriest Fr. Gomidas Baghsarian and Rev. Fr. Kapriel Nazarian of Sts. Vartanantz Church, Rev. Fr. Shnork Souin of Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Church and pastor emeritus of the Armenian Evangelical Church Hagop Manjelikian, along with pastor of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church Rev. Fr. Andrew George, joined together in solemn and heartfelt prayer for Armenia and Artsakh.
US Senator Jack Reed, US Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin demonstrated their solidarity and stayed with the community throughout the rally, along with several local politicians including State Representative Katherine Kazarian. Rep. Kazarian said that the Diaspora will continue to speak out, educate and demand that these atrocities not go unnoticed by the international community to ensure the preservation of our heritage.
In his remarks, Senator Reed drew attention to the part the United States plays in this conflict stating, “We have to recognize that we cannot allow our equipment, our military equipment to be used by the Azeris to take unwarranted attacks against the people of Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia.”
“The US must restrain Azerbaijan by serving as an active mediator and suspending security assistance until Azerbaijan agrees to a ceasefire,” added Congressman Langevin to enthusiastic applause, further insisting that the senseless aggression by Azerbaijan must stop immediately and its partner Turkey must “stop fanning the flames with its rhetoric, military support and recruitment of Syrian mercenaries.”
Continuing the RI federal delegations’ comments, Congressman Cicilline called for an immediate ceasefire for Azerbaijan to resume negotiations with Armenia and Artsakh. “Artsakh must be a party in any negotiations,” he insisted to thunderous applause, noting that RI was the first state in the country to recognize the independence of the Republic of Artsakh. The Congressman then stressed Artsakh’s need for immediate assistance from the international community. “The people of Artsakh should not have to live in fear, but should be able to live peacefully on their ancestral lands,” he concluded, again urging immediate U.S. recognition of the free and independent Artsakh.
While thanking the federal delegation for their continued and unwavering support and fight for the people of Artsakh and Armenia, Chairman of the ARF “Kristapor” Gomideh Paulie Haroian noted that the rest of the congressional administration has to follow suit, to sanction Azerbaijan and Turkey and condemn their actions. Persisting with the demands of the community, chairman of the Providence “Varantian” AYF chapter Nareg Mkrtschjan urged protesters to continue their relentless fight for Artsakh and Armenia until the whole world realizes the crimes against humanity that Azerbaijan and Turkey are committing and stops them.
Throughout the rally, the crowd was energized with chants including “Artakh is Armenia,” “Azeri Youth Learn the Truth” “Armenia Wants Peace” and “Take Your Hands Off Our Lands.” At one point, in demonstration of Armenians surviving and thriving, some of those gathered joined in dance to traditional music, encouraged by Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston member and Brown University student Levon Brunson. In the end, the crowd left hopeful and with renewed energy to continue their fight for human rights and the preservation of their historic homeland in Artsakh.
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