July 22 “die-in” (photo Vrej Ashjian)

Azerbaijanis Attempt to Counter Two Boston Armenian Demonstrations

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BOSTON – Two successive Armenian public events to raise awareness of the recent attacks on the Armenian border by Azerbaijan were disrupted in the Boston area by Azerbaijanis or their supporters last week.

On July 22, the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF-YOARF) Greater Boston Nejdeh Chapter organized a “die-in” protest at the Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Federal Building in Boston. According to Meghri Dervartanian, a member of the chapter, it took place from 4:30 p.m. to roughly 7 p.m. She said, “Most of us lay on the ground or sidewalk with signs stating ‘Stop Azeri aggression,’ ‘Armenia pro-peace, Azerbaijan wants war,’ and ‘Armenia wants peace.’ It is not something you see every day, so that got a lot of attention.” Armenians standing around would explain to passersby what was going on in more detail.

Armenians at the Federal Building protest in Boston July 22 (photo Vrej Ashjian)

Azerbaijanis drove by and threw water bottles from their cars. She guessed that they found out about the event accidentally. Then, Dervartanian said, some parked their cars and came out. They were yelling in Azerbaijani so the Armenians could only roughly guess at what they were saying. Dervartanian thought it meant that Karabakh is Azerbaijan. When the Armenians chanted “Azeri youth learn the truth,” the newcomers yelled back “Armenians learn the truth,” and they flipped around all of the other slogans of the Armenians too.

Armenians at the Federal Building protest in Boston July 22 (photo Vrej Ashjian)

There were around 50 Armenians participating in this protest, while around 20 Azerbaijanis had come. Dervartanian said they seemed older than the Armenians, with the exception of a few who might be in their 20s.

A second Armenian event was held at Harvard Square in Cambridge on Saturday, July 25 from 6:30 p.m. to sometime past 7. It was a dance flash mob organized by the Armenian General Athletic Union and Scouts Boston chapter (otherwise known as Homenetmen by the names of its Armenian initials), a sports group like the AYF affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The event was supposed to take place Thursday, July 23 but was postponed to Saturday because of a forecast of rain.

Meghri Dervartanian, middle, at Cambridge dance flash mob (photo Vrej Ashjian)

Dervartanian is also a leader of the Homenetmen chapter. She said that the second event was advertised as open to the entire Armenian community. They had decided on several dances before the event and prepared a big sign stating “Azerbaijan wants war, Armenia wants peace.” The goal through dancing, a universal language, she said, was to show Americans that Armenians are in favor of peace.

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Among the dances, however, was the traditional Yarkhusta. Dervartanian explained its symbolism as follows: “It definitely is a war dance, but with the recent attacks of Azerbaijan, not only on Artsakh but now on Tavush and various villages in Armenia, our soldiers in Armenia can’t just lie back. They have to prepare themselves and defend our people. It comes to a point where, yes, Armenians do want peace, but when our country is under attack, and our people are under attack, we must be ready to fight back and defend ourselves…by performing a dance like the Yarkhusta, we are showing that we are with our men in Armenia.”

Nayiri Krafian, a participant in this second event, and an AYF member, said that the goal was to raise awareness as to what was happening in Armenia in a positive way, through Armenian dance, which people might be interested in and engage with. There were some 25 Armenian participants, and a small number of non-Armenians present in the square joined in the dancing at one point.

Knar Krafian at the Cambridge flash mob (photo Vrej Ashjian)

Even before the Armenians had arrived at Harvard Square, there was a group of Azerbaijani counter-protestors present, Dervartanian said, who roughly were the same number as the Armenians. Krafian estimated that there were around 30 Azerbaijanis, somewhat outnumbering the Armenians, and they were mostly in their 30s or middle aged, while the Armenians except for one parent were fairly young—in high school, college or just graduated young professionals, all under 30.

Azerbaijanis at the Harvard Square Armenian dance flash mob were mostly males, but there also were some women wearing Azerbaijani flags (photo Vrej Ashjian)

Dervartanian said, “Many of the Azerbaijanis at Harvard Square were the same ones as were there at the Federal Building a couple of days before. It seems they were much more prepared this time. They came with their flags and their group was a bigger one.”

Krafian noted that while the Armenians were dancing, the Azerbaijanis, with Azerbaijani flags, “were just walking around us, staring and holding up the Grey Wolf [Turkish extreme nationalist] symbol. Most of the boys were not dancing. They were trying to stay between the girls that were dancing and the Azerbaijani men to make sure nothing happened.” (see video below courtesy of Vrej Ashjian)

The Armenians all had masks on, Krafian said, for health reasons, while the Azerbaijanis did not, which was a concern. The Azerbaijanis did not seem to know much English and did not talk much, she added.

The Armenians danced with two songs but the Azerbaijanis, she related, were going to the speaker and pulling out the cord to stop the music. Eventually the Armenians decided to walk around 100 feet away to another open area and stayed there. Krafian said, “They just kept coming closer to us. We didn’t want a confrontation, so we said, let’s just go.”

The Azerbaijanis stayed in their original spot until after they left and did not follow the Armenians. While dancing, the Armenians did not say anything and did not have bullhorns. At the new location, Krafian said they chanted “Armenia, Armenia” but when they began dancing again stopped singing or chanting. Some of the Armenians had Armenian flags.

At Harvard Square (photo Vrej Ashjian)

At the new spot, exhausted from the dancing, Krafian elected to walk around to explain to people watching the dancers what the Armenians were doing. She concluded, “We knew that they were there to push our buttons, and we know that any retaliation on our part is ammunition for them to say we are the aggressors, so I am proud of our group that stayed calm and taught some people about our culture.”

Dervartanian remarked, “When we have had protests for the Armenian Genocide or other protests in the past, we never have had a group of Turks [or Azerbaijanis] show up and protest against us. We had been seeing it on the news, happening in different states and different countries, but did not think something like this would happen in Boston. The first time around, we were caught off guard a bit, but then we were prepared. We did not want to start a fight, but only wanted to get our point across and spread awareness.”

She felt they indeed succeeded, with many passersby asking questions and taking videos of the dancing.

Afterwards, according to some hitherto unsubstantiated social media reports, a small group of Armenians who arrived late, after the event was over, was attacked by Azerbaijanis while returning to its cars, and one Armenian ended up having to get stitches in a local hospital. Homenetmen stated that those said to be attacked were not members of its organization.

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