Hundreds of protesters took to Washington, D.C.’s streets on Friday, Sept. 1 to kick off the Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s (ARF) “SOS Artsakh” global call to action to demand government intervention to end Azerbaijan’s nearly nine-month blockade of Artsakh.
Marchers of all ages gathered in front of the Renaissance Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel, the headquarters of the annual AYF Olympics, at 1:30 p.m., to walk to Lafayette Park across from the White House nearly a mile away.
“We are approaching nine months since Azerbaijan began its genocidal blockade of Artsakh. Food shortages across Artsakh, a reported death by starvation, fainting episodes due to waiting for hours in bread lines, water supplies being cut, miscarriages due to bad nutrition, electricity being cut,” said AYF-YOARF Central Executive member Areni Margossian, before leading the marchers toward Lafayette Park.
“For nine months, the international community and the United States along with it have remained largely indifferent, so we gather here today to send an SOS, to make our voices heard, to show our support for Artsakh, show that they are not alone and that we will stop at nothing to fight for the freedom of Artsakh and its security,” Margossian continued.
Protesters carrying signs, banners, and Artsakh and Armenia flags walked down the middle of New York Avenue chanting slogans aimed at U.S. President Joe Biden including, “Biden: Stop the second Armenian Genocide,” “Biden: Break the blockade” and “Biden: End U.S. aid to Azerbaijan.”
Gevik Atakhanian of Cresskill, New Jersey was motivated to march to end the consequences of the ongoing blockade. “We are still suffering, and nobody is doing anything about it,” Atakhanian said. “We have to get our message across somehow. I don’t know how long those people are going to suffer.”
The day before the march, the U.S. State Department issued a press statement on the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. The five-sentence statement conveyed the department’s deep “concern about the deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Nagorno-Karabakh resulting from the continued blockage of food, medicine and other goods essential to a dignified existence.” It included a “call to immediately re-open the Lachin corridor to humanitarian, commercial and passenger traffic.”
“Officials from Baku and representatives from Stepanakert should convene without delay to agree on the means of transporting critical provisions to the men, women and children of Nagorno-Karabakh – including additional supply routes – and resume discussions on all outstanding issues,” the statement reads. “Additional supply routes” likely refers to Azerbaijan’s proposal to deliver supplies to Artsakh through Aghdam. Artsakh authorities have rejected this offer, stating that it would normalize the continued blockade of the Berdzor (Lachin) Corridor.
ARF Eastern Region Central Committee chair Ani Tchaghlasian responded to the statement’s implication that Artsakh can negotiate with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s regime to end the ongoing blockade.
“We do not accept this,” Tchaghlasian said. “President Biden, we are here to tell you – you can stop this genocide. You must stop this genocide. We are here to tell you that we will hold your administration personally responsible for this genocide.”
“Your so-called interests in the South Caucasus do not trump our right to live. They do not trump the right of 30,000 children to live in liberty in their millennia-old homeland. We are here to tell you, this is enough!” Tchaghlasian continued during her speech in front of the White House.
ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian said that Biden must stop “both-siding genocide.”
“There is the victim and the aggressor, and Azerbaijan is the guilty party. That’s why our president and State Department are so hell-bent for ‘peace’ that would integrate Artsakh into Azerbaijan, which we all know is a death sentence for the Artsakh population. A genocide. A second genocide. President Biden knows it. Ilham Aliyev knows it. The world sees it, and it is up to us to stop it,” Hamparian said.
AYF-YOARF Central Executive member Alec Soghomonian also chided the Biden administration for its inaction “at the expense of Armenian lives.” He said the U.S. has “aided and abetted Baku by sending military aid and refusing to enforce Section 907,” referring to the provision in the United States Freedom Support Act which bans direct U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan.
In 2022, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that while the State Department has provided certified presidential waivers of Section 907 annually to Congress, it has failed “to provide Congress with all required information – such as the impact of aid on the military balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”
Soghomonian rallied the crowd, beseeching, “Act now! Wake up from your complacency! This blockade cannot become the new normal. We have all grown accustomed to chanting, ‘1915 never again!’ Unfortunately, 1915 is here. It is up to us to stop it.”
Speaking on behalf of the Armenian Relief Society, Eastern United States, Karine Shamlian said that schools should have opened for the fall in Artsakh, among them the ARS Sosseh kindergartens which have been closed due to the blockade. “Today, on September 1st, the ARS would have once again opened its doors and welcomed a new generation of students in its kindergartens, as the first day of school would have begun,” Shamlian said. “Unfortunately, kindergartens will have to remain closed, and due to this blockade, we are unable to provide the necessary back-to-school items or even give the access to education, depriving students of a basic human right.”
“It is our moral duty to stand up and advocate for the rights of those who cannot speak for themselves,” Shamlian said. “We must insist that the world does not turn a blind eye to the suffering of the innocent, for silence in the face of injustice is complicity.”
Hamazkayin Eastern United States representative Dr. Aline Baghdassarian also focused on the 30,000 children living under blockade in Artsakh and subjected to the genocide-by-starvation. She expressed hope that “our children will firmly stand on the shoulders of the people who have thrived for millennia.”
“Our children will remain deeply rooted in our faith, our culture, history and struggle for existence and independence. Only then can we build our future on solid ground,” Dr. Baghdassarian said.
The protest included the participation of Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Diocese of the Eastern Armenian Apostolic Church of America, as well as Rev. Asadour Minassian of St. Mark Catholic Church, Wynnewood, Penn. and Rev. Hovsep Karapetian of St. Mary Armenian Church, Washington, D.C. After leading the crowd in the Hayr Mer, or the Our Father, Archbishop Aykazian turned his attention to the president of the United States.
“Mr. Biden, do you hear me? I’m sure you hear me. You are the first president of the United States to recognize the Armenian Genocide, for which we are grateful. Mr. President, we beseech you. Please do not foresee the second genocide of the Armenian people, because we will not forget. We will never forget,” Archbishop Aykazian said.
“You have to know that every single Christian church in this country has been standing up and sending letters to the White House, the State Department and many other people,” he added. “They are with us. We are not alone.”