On October 18, as Azerbaijan was launching attacks violating the most recent ceasefire, Chicago Armenians were gathering to support their family, friends and fellow Armenians in Artsakh. The demonstration was over 300 people strong and brought in Armenians from Wisconsin, Indiana and other outlying areas. The demonstration also brought some media coverage and support from non-Armenian allies, including members from local Assyrian, Palestinian, Greek and Jewish communities.
“We will keep fighting,” said Emily Terian, president of the Chicago “Ararat” AYF Chapter. “We will keep protesting, and we will keep calling on the international community to be on the right side of history. We will not stop until there is an end to the crimes that are being committed, until Artsakh is recognized as an independent democratic, sovereign republic that it is and has every right to be.”
This was the second protest in Chicago, as Armenia and its diaspora move into what has become a long-term struggle. As the attacks continue with no end in sight, I have seen many Armenians in the diaspora start to lose hope and feel more and more helpless. Sometimes it seems that we can never do enough from so far away, that no one will listen to us, or that we are each too small and insignificant to do anything.
But if we are going to win this fight, we must use the power of our collective passion and action. While Azerbaijan has oil money and large PR firms, we rely on the strength of our people and our communities. While for some, the initial shock of the war has worn off, our soldiers and civilians are still under fire every day and are now dealing with a massive second wave of COVID-19. As our brothers and sisters in Armenia keep their fighting spirit despite the constant threat of extermination, we cannot afford to lose hope. Armenians are raising their voices all over the world, and in smaller communities like Chicago, we are learning, by necessity, how to make a difference with small actions.
In addition to the larger protests, Chicago area Armenians have organized a suburban protest in Naperville, a demonstration outside the local ABC News, an overpass demonstration headed by the Armenian National Committee of Illinois, and several other informational and activist campaigns. These may not feel as impressive as demonstrations that have shut down highways in New York or Los Angeles, but their part in the struggle is just as vital. In a grassroots movement, change comes through a million small actions that may seem insignificant when they are done, but add up to a larger whole. As Armenians know well, there is not just strength in numbers, but there is even more strength in people. Armenians as far away as Alaska are mobilizing to save the homeland, exemplifying that small contributions add up to victory.
The fight is not just in protests and demonstrations. In this time of need, we need to think about creative ways we can help. In Chicago alone, individuals and groups are gathering medical supplies to donate, selling art, food and merchandise to raise money, calling elected officials, writing to local media outlets, organizing small and large demonstrations, posting flyers, creating informational materials, hosting events and spreading awareness in their groups and communities. There is truly something that every single person can do, and we owe it to the Armenians sacrificing their lives in Artsakh to do it.
We do not just have to believe in our small efforts, but we can actually see them in action. Politicians in several states and the US House of Representatives are calling for the recognition of Artsakh, and little by little, the media is starting to take notice. We are also seeing the effects of our small actions on the ground. As a writer for Kooyrigs, I have watched the organization grow from a small feminist Instagram page to one of the main providers of essential aid to Artsakh. As I work with Armenians on the ground and in the diaspora, I am constantly in awe of the way that our individual efforts are literally saving lives. The messaging, graphics, videos and other content made by our team help to engage and build a tight knit community. Individuals in this community have donated, as well as fundraised by selling art, presenting performances, cooking, offering classes and using their skills. These efforts have generated enough funds to not only provide essential medicine, but feed soldiers, provide medical aid for journalists, and help displaced people taking refuge in Armenia. Every time that medicine saves a soldier’s life, it is thanks to our collective effort. That is what inspires me to wake up and work every day, because it shows that none of us is too small to make a difference. This is an attack on every Armenian, and we all must find our own ways to join the fight for survival.
In the words of Hagop Soulakian, who spoke at the protest on behalf of the Chicago ARF “Christapor” Gomideh, “Our story is continuing to be written. We have to make sure that the Armenians are the ones writing it. So then we continue to ask you to give your money, your time.”
We want accurate media coverage.
We want sanctions on Azerbaijan and Turkey.
We want an end to military aid for Turkey and Azerbaijan.
We want peace.
We want the recognition of an independent Artsakh.