AYF leads Washington, DC protest demanding justice for Sumgait and Baku pogroms; immediate end to Azerbaijan’s Artsakh blockade

WASHINGTON, DC — The Armenian Youth Federation – Youth Organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AYF-YOARF) Washington DC “Ani” Chapter led community members and pro-Artsakh allies in marking the 35th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s massacres of Armenians in Sumgait and the subsequent pogroms in Baku, Kirovabad and Maragha in a protest at the Azerbaijani Embassy on Sunday afternoon, demanding immediate international action to stop Azerbaijan’s over 75 day blockade of Artsakh.

From 1988 to 1992, the Armenian residents of Sumgait, Kirovabad, Maragha and Baku were targets of Azerbaijani state-sponsored violence. According to contemporary accounts, innocent Armenian civilians were mutilated and burned alive as Azerbaijanis paraded the streets and shouted, “Long live Baku without Armenians” and “Death to the Armenians.” Armenian women were publicly raped and sexually abused. Those who managed to escape death were forced to flee their homes and subjected to systematic deportation. An estimated 500,000 Armenian refugees and thousands more were killed.

Sadly, these atrocities marked only the beginning of a wave of anti-Armenian aggression over the past 35 years. This aggression has most recently manifested in a brutal blockade of the Lachin (Berdzor) Corridor by Azerbaijani authorities. For more than 75 days, the only road leading in and out of Artsakh has been cut off by agents of the government of Azerbaijan. As a result, the population of Artsakh has been left to ration food, energy, medicine and other essential goods. Effectively, the blockade has amounted to a slow starvation attempt of over 120,000 indigenous Armenians of Artsakh, with the aim of forcing them from their historic homeland.

The Washington DC “Ani” Chapter blocking the bus hired by the Azerbaijani Embassy from passing.

On Sunday, protesters stopped traffic in front of the Azerbaijani Embassy multiple times, blocking the passage of a Baku propaganda truck hired to spread disinformation and cover up Azerbaijani atrocities. Chants demanding justice for the Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad and Maragha massacres and the concrete action to lift the Artsakh blockade were heard throughout the neighborhood along with powerful remarks by AYF youth leaders rallying the community to action.

The protest was streamed live on the AYF Ani Chapter Facebook page.

AYF DC “Ani” Chapter novice member Hovsep Seferian, whose family survived Azerbaijan’s pogroms in Baku, shared the story of his grandmother, who “saw her closest Armenian friends and relatives tortured and killed by the genocidal Azeris and only narrowly escaped with her own life.” Seferian pointed to a gold chain his grandmother had gifted him – sewn in the lining of his mother’s clothes when she fled the Azerbaijani hordes to find safe-haven in Armenia. “I wear this chain around my neck every day as a reminder of what we as a people have been through and fight for. Its ice-cold links freeze through my collar when I see the 120,000 people being blockaded to death in Artsakh by Azerbaijan,” he said.

AYF Washington DC “Ani” Chapter novice member Hovsep Seferian speaking to the crowd.

Seferian stressed the need for the US and international community to be upstanders – not bystanders – in the face of Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade and aggression against the 120,000 indigenous Armenian population of Artsakh. Citing the Soviet troops’ inaction in the face of Azerbaijan’s pogroms in from 1988 to 1992, Seferian called on the US government to take concrete steps or be judged by history for its callous inaction. “Today, it is as an American citizen that I ask us: If we don’t take action today – if we don’t send emergency US assistance to the people of Artsakh, if we don’t stop arming Azerbaijan, what makes us any better than the bystanders who stood there and watched my ancestors be slaughtered?”

AYF-YOARF Eastern Region Artsakh Task Force member Matthew Girardi shared the brutal details of Azerbaijan’s Sumgait, Baku, Kirovabad and Maragha pogroms and explained the importance of the annual protest held at the Azerbaijani Embassy. “We have come to honor those lost, to seek restitution for those that survived and to fight for those under brutal siege today. We come for the people of Artsakh and for their continued future. We come for our brothers and sisters who are hungry and cold yet remain resolute and mighty. We come for the people of Azerbaijan, who have been told that malice will somehow make them whole. We come to this embassy and to this day not with hate in our hearts, but with hunger in our souls for justice, peace and healing before this government and before the eyes of the world.”

Girardi offered a powerful message to the US government and its responsibility to end Azerbaijan’s blockade strangling the Artsakh Armenian population. “To people in power in our government, I come to declare: weak vocal acknowledgements meet neither the immediacy nor gravity of today. They do not consider the long pattern of escalation we have seen by Azerbaijan and its dictator, Ilham Aliyev, over the past 35 years. They do not address in real time an attempt to ethnically-cleanse a people from their ancient homeland. They do not recognize the parallels to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. After months of waiting for Ilham Aliyev and his regime to simply do right, it is clear that words unsupported by concrete action have not, cannot and will not change the situation on the ground.”

AYF Washington DC “Ani” Chapter chair Nayiri Shahnazarian delivering her remarks.

AYF DC “Ani” Chapter chair Nayiri Shahnazarian was resolute in sharing the Armenian American community’s commitment to support the Artsakh people’s right to freedom and international recognition. “We will not sit idly by as our brothers and sisters are cut off from the rest of the world. We will gather together and raise our voices for as long as it takes to obtain justice. We will never stop fighting for freedom and the basic human rights that Azerbaijan continues to deny. Because there is no will stronger than the Armenian will, no voice louder than the Armenian voice and no love greater than an Armenian’s love for his homeland.”

Shahnazarian concluded the protest by urging attendees and online viewers across the US to visit the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) online portal to press the US government to stop all military aid to Azerbaijan and send humanitarian assistance to Artsakh.

The February 26th action at the Azerbaijani Embassy was the latest in a series of Washington, DC protests demanding US action to end Azerbaijan’s Artsakh blockade. On January 21st, the AYF led a White House protest demanding President Biden take immediate action to stop all military aid to Azerbaijan and send emergency aid to Artsakh in the face of Azerbaijan’s Artsakh blockade. On February 2nd, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Eastern United States (ARF Eastern US) led a Capitol Hill protest demanding Congress cut all aid to Azerbaijan and impose sanctions for war crimes. The protest coincided with pro-Artsakh advocacy days, organized by the ANCA Eastern Region, which brought hundreds of advocates from states east of the Mississippi River to demand passage of the anti-blockade resolution (H.Res.108). That legislation currently has over 70 cosponsors. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced shortly in the US Senate.

AYF DC "Ani" Chapter

AYF DC "Ani" Chapter

Founded in 1942, the AYF Washington DC “Ani” and “Sevan” chapters work to unite Armenian youth and organize activities in the DC, Maryland and Virginia area. The chapter has a Senior ("Ani") and Junior ("Sevan") chapter. The Washington DC “Ani” chapter sets out to achieve its goals and objectives throughout the year and hosts events like joint meetings between DMV juniors and juniors in Armenia, protests and other forms of political activism, an annual chapter anniversary dinner and fundraisers to benefit the homeland. The AYF-YOARF's five pillars (athletic, cultural educational, political, social) guide the chapter and help keep its membership active and at the forefront of the Armenian cause at all times.

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