An estimated 100,000 people marched through the streets of Los Angeles over the weekend to call for an end to the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh territory that has displaced thousands from their homes and killed hundreds.
Demonstrators marched from Pan Pacific Park to the Turkish Consulate General in Beverly Hills. Los Angeles has one of the nation’s largest populations of Armenian immigrants.
“We stand with our brothers and sisters in Armenia & Artsakh, & the diaspora in L.A.,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted. “We need our national leadership to step up & help bring peace to the region. Turkey must disengage.”
According to the Armenian National Committee of America, demonstrators were there to protest against Turkey and Azerbaijan's campaign of aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is recognized internationally as territory controlled by Muslim-majority Azerbaijan but has been run for years by ethnic Armenians, most of which are Christian.
The decades-long conflict over the region reignited in late September with both sides accusing each other of targeting civilian communities.
In a statement announcing the march turnout, the Armenian National Committee of America stated that Azerbaijan began a “full-scale invasion” of Nagorno-Karabakh on Sept. 27, calling it the “most significant violation of the ceasefire since the ceasefire was established in 1994.”
Although a temporary ceasefire agreement was reached last Saturday, both sides have accused each other of breaking that ceasefire by attacking each other’s cities and villages.
“The coordinated military assault by Azerbaijan under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic comes only months after Azerbaijan’s aggression against the Republic of Armenia in July, and after joint live-fire military exercises with Turkey in August,” the Armenian National Committee of America stated.
The committee accused Azerbaijan of carrying out aerial and missile assaults and deliberately targeting civilian populations, journalists and cultural sites.
Officials within the Nagorno-Karabakh military have disclosed that 532 of their service members have been killed since Sept. 27. Azerbaijan has not yet disclosed the deaths in its military ranks since fighting escalated, according to the Associated Press.
The Armenian National Committee of America claims as many as 150,000 people attended the march in California Sunday. The Los Angeles Police Department estimates the crowd to have been around 100,000.
The march comes as there have been two weeks of demonstrations across the U.S. calling for an end to the violence, with Armenian activists calling for sanctions to be issued against Azerbaijan as well as NATO ally Turkey, which has reportedly aided Azerbaijan with Syrian mercenaries. But Turkey has denied having any involvement in the affair.
Among the speakers featured at the march were elected officials such as House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Brad Sherman, D-Calif. Local and state officials also gave statements against the military action.
On Oct. 8, Schiff spoke with Armenian Ambassador Varuzhan Nersesyan about the ongoing military campaign that is being “aided and abetted by Turkey and the foreign fighters it is bringing in from Syria.” They also discussed the “deliberate bombing of a historic Armenian Church, the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, in the city of Shushi.”
During the protest, Schiff reportedly vowed that “not one dime more” of U.S. aid will be sent to Azerbaijan or Turkey.
“For decades, through the OSCE Minsk Group, the United States has supported a peaceful, democratic, and negotiated resolution to the dispute surrounding Nagorno Karabakh. We have persisted in this policy even as Azerbaijan launched countless assaults and as their leadership frequently threatened war to redraw the line of contact by force,” Schiff said in a statement.
“Today, it appears that Azerbaijan and Turkey are determined to make good on those threats, and our policy must adjust accordingly. I believe the United States should make clear to Azerbaijan and Turkey that if they persist in this violence instead of embracing a peaceful settlement of the conflict, we are prepared to recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent nation, and to work with the International Community to achieve the same.”
Last week, Sherman called for Global Magnitsky Act sanctions to be applied to Azerbaijani government officials responsible for authorizing the military campaign in Nagorno-Karabakh. He also called on the U.S. to halt military aid to Azerbaijan.
In late September, the L.A. City Council passed a resolution condemning Azerbaijan’s actions in Nagorno-Karabakh.
On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on both Azerbaijan and Armenia to "implement their commitments to a ceasefire as agreed and cease targeting civilian areas."
"We deplore the loss of human life and remain committed to a peaceful settlement," he wrote.
Ambassador Armen Baibourtian, the consul general of Armenia in Los Angeles, told CBS Los Angeles there is “not any evidence or proof or confirmed reports that Armenian forces, Artsakh forces, commit war crimes or even violate international laws.”
On Saturday, Kim Kardashian West announced that she donated $1 million to the Armenia Fund, which was established in Los Angeles in 1994 to “help the people of Armenia and Karabagh through humanitarian and infrastructure development.”
Armenian Fund President Maria Mehranian told City News Service that amid the pro-Armenian protests, the Armenian community has raised millions to send back to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh for humanitarian aid.