Los Angeles City Hall has no jurisdiction over a long-contested mountainous area in the South Caucasus, but it was still the subject of the attention of Mayor Karen Bass and City Council President Paul Krekorian this week.
The disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh – called Artsakh by Armenians – has been the scene of conflict between Armenia and neighboring Azerbaijan for decades. The predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave of the territory lies within the borders of Azerbaijan and is controlled by pro-Armenian separatists.
Tensions flared further last month with the blockade of the Lachin corridor, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia and is the only supply route to the separatist region.
According to the Associated Press, which also reported that Azerbaijan’s UN ambassador has denied that the government or protesting activists blocked the road, crowds from Azerbaijan have blocked the supply route since December 12.
Bass and Krekorian sent a letter to President Biden on Wednesday, who condemned the blockade as a “developing humanitarian catastrophe” and called on the US to “clearly demonstrate its commitment to democracy and global stability by coming to the aid of the people of Artsakh.”
The longstanding regional dispute has far-reaching humanitarian and geopolitical implications, but it also has local political implications: the Los Angeles area is home to the largest concentration of Armenians outside of Armenia, a diaspora deeply rooted in the city.
It’s not uncommon for individual city council members to make statements about developments in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave less than half the size of Los Angeles County and more than 7,000 miles away.
The city council has also passed a number of resolutions on the region in recent years, including one in 2013 recognizing the “independent and sovereign Republic of Artsakh” and calling on the international community to also recognize the enclave as an independent state. (Since the independence of Armenia and Azerbaijan from the fallen Soviet Union, the region has been internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.)
“The Armenian community has been an active part of LA’s political structure for decades,” said Areen Ibranossian, a Los Angeles political adviser and former chief of staff to Krekorian, the council’s first Armenian-American president.
Though the city’s politicians have little say in US foreign policy, Ibranossian said local actions like Bass and Krekorian’s letter create “an incentive structure for action” at higher levels of government.
“Los Angeles is a global city that’s home to hundreds of thousands of members of the Armenian diaspora,” Bass spokesperson Zach Seidl said when asked why she chose to serve as mayor of LA, including the more than 10-year span that she has been in where she served as a senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights, and during her time in Sacramento.”
The letter was released a day after several dozen protesters gathered outside Getty House, Bass’s official residence, to draw attention to the blockade. Bass spoke to Krekorian about signing the letter the week before, Seidl said.
“The people of Los Angeles, whether Armenian or not, care about human rights, about peace and stability, and about the rule of law. The current situation in Artsakh is a threat to all of these things,” Krekorian said Thursday, describing the region’s population as “the threat of starvation and possible genocide.”
Bass and Krekorian’s letter includes a number of specific demands for a US response, including providing “direct US humanitarian assistance to Artsakh,” insisting that Russian troops in the region be replaced with international peacekeeping forces, and demanding following US diplomatic engagement to facilitate negotiations between Azerbaijani and ethnic Armenian leaders in the separatist region.
Salpi Ghazarian, director of the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, described the Lachin corridor as “a lifeline” for the region.
“When you block this one corridor, which Azerbaijan has been doing for almost a month now, you are effectively saying no food can come in, no medical aid can come in, nobody for any purpose including medical, and so you are allowed to leave you are choking a population” said Ghazarian.
The struggle for territory is the longest-running conflict in post-Soviet Eurasia, according to the nonpartisan think tank International Crisis Group.
Battle New edition in autumn 2020with a Six Week War which left more than 6,700 dead and drew international attention to Nagorno-Karabakh.
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The 2020 war was particularly looming in the Los Angeles area, where thousands of Armenian-Americans took to the streets to protest, elected officials rallied in solidarity at City Hall, and a number of local Armenian-Americans even uprooted their lives to join the fight land to join in their home.
Los Angeles County has been home to a sizable Armenian population for more than a century, with global events prompting successive waves of migration.
Ghazarian said many Armenians in the Los Angeles area are “deeply connected” to Artsakh through a range of cultural, collaborative and relief programs that help support the region.
“The other kind of connection is that Armenians in LA, especially the immigrants of the last 20 or 30 years, have relatives in Armenia who are also on the frontlines,” Ghazarian said. “In the last two or three years people have lost brothers, sons, uncles and cousins. It’s a really direct emotional and familial connection.”
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-01-05/bass-krekorian-call-on-biden-to-act-nagorno-karabakh-blockade Bass, Krekorian urge Biden to act on Nagorno-Karabakh blockade