A panoramic view of the demonstrators before the State House (photo Ken Martin)

United Boston Armenian Community Calls for Ending Artsakh Blockade

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BOSTON —Approximately two hundred members of the Boston Armenian community assembled in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston on Thursday, February 16 to call for an end to the Azerbaijani blockade of Artsakh, humanitarian aid to the besieged Armenians and US sanctions on Azerbaijan. Representatives of several organizations of the community spoke before the gathered crowd, plus the large numbers of passersby in cars and on foot. The event was briefly reported on NBC10 Boston.

State Rep. David Muradian and profile of State Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian to his right (photo Ken Martin)

Massachusetts State Representative David Muradian, Jr. served as the master of ceremonies, while fellow state representatives Kate Lipper-Garabedian, Steve Owens and Simon Cataldo as well as State Senator Will Brownsberger attended to show their support of the event. State Rep. F. Jay Barrows sent legislative aide Alex Movsesian to represent him.

Four Armenian clergymen of the Boston area, Fr. Arakel Aljalian of St. James Armenian Church in Watertown, Fr. Vart Gyozalyan of Hye Pointe Church in Haverhill, Fr. Khachatur Kesablyan of Sts. Vartanantz Armenian Church in Chelmsford, and Fr. Vasken Kouzouian of Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge, began the event with prayers in Armenian and English.

Herman Purutyan (photo Ken Martin)

Herman Purutyan, board member and state chair of the Armenian Assembly of America, was the first speaker. Recalling Martin Luther King’s statement that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Purutyan pointed to the blatant injustice of the 67-day blockade of the 120,000 people of the Republic of Artsakh by Azerbaijan. He said that this was a 21st century ethnic cleansing taking place in front of our eyes.

A direct challenge to the United States, this blockade violates Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act of the US Congress. Consequently, Purutyan called for its implementation, requiring the end of US aid to the despotic regime of Azerbaijan. He asked that everyone make their voices heard by their representatives in the federal government, and ask them to push back against the bully President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan and end the blockade.

Meghri Dervartanian (photo Ken Martin)

Meghri Dervartanian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation of Boston observed that the highlanders of the Republic of Artsakh were determined to live on their soil in peace and dignity, with self-rule. She deplored the fact that some 30,000 children in Artsakh were deprived of education thanks to the Azerbaijani government’s blockade and cutting off of energy supplies, making schools unusable during the harsh wintertime.

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Dervartanian said that the protests of so-called eco-activists which were closing down the Lachin corridor connecting Artsakh to Armenia were not genuine, as no protests occur in Azerbaijan unless authorized by the authoritarian government. The blockade, she said, should be understood within the larger context of a genocidal pattern of acts by the Azerbaijani regime against Armenians and the Republic of Armenia, separating Artsakh from the latter.

The statements of governments like the US, France and many European governments condemning the blockade have not been followed by actions. She urged Congress to back House Resolution No. 180 to stop all US assistance to Azerbaijan and issue sanctions until it lifts the blockade. She called on the US State Department and its ambassadors in Yerevan and Baku to travel to Artsakh, Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, to organize an international airlift of supplies there, and all citizens to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Armenians of Artsakh, not leaving them alone.

Aram Arkun (photo Ken Martin)

Aram Arkun, Managing Editor of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator and Executive Director of the Tekeyan Cultural Association of the United States and Canada, declared that everyone had gathered at the State House to deliver the same message in a united fashion. “The world is a cruel place, full of natural tragedies like earthquakes and manmade ones like wars, which claim untold numbers of victims,” he said. When one learns of such tragedies, he continued, most people are moved. Yet, he said, “When we have the ability to help but do not, we bear a certain degree of complicity in the outcome. … and the people of Artsakh have called out to us and to the world, asking for help under the difficult conditions of the blockade.”

The entire population of Artsakh, whose ancestors had lived on its lands for some two thousand years, has been rendered defenseless, he noted, and is being slowly suffocated in pursuit of a political aim. Azerbaijan wants to take over this land without its Armenian inhabitants, and if the latter does not flee due to the pressure, Azerbaijan might even resort to genocidal violence.

Americans must call on their federal representatives to break the blockade and sanction Azerbaijan, he exclaimed, making it understand that it will pay a price for inhumane actions.

Garo Sakaian (photo Ken Martin)

Garo Sakaian, representing the Armenian General Benevolent Union’s New England District and chairman of the AGBU Young Professionals of Boston, defined ethnic cleansing and indicated that what was happening in Artsakh fell into this category. He quoted Nelson Mandela, who said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity” and asked those present to become an important voice by engaging with their governmental representatives. The United States must be a leader in protecting humanity, Sakaian declared. When we say never again, we must mean it, he concluded, as human lives are at stake.

Jeanmarie Papelian (photo Ken Martin)

Jeanmarie Papelian, the executive director of the Armenia Tree Project, spoke about the work of her organization in Artsakh and Armenia and proclaimed it ironic that the Azerbaijani blockade was allegedly motivated out of concern for the environment. During the 44 day war in 2020, Azerbaijani forces used white phosphorus, deadly to all living things, to burn almost 5,000 acres of forest in Artsakh. Papelian said that a country which uses white phosphorus in this fashion does not care about the environment. It is trying to weaponize the environment through false claims while it causes true environmental and humanitarian crises.

From 1994 to the present, available satellite imagery indicates that the Artsakh Armenians did not cause an environmental crisis since the forest cover remained the same, and possibly even grew a bit. Now, the blockade itself is forcing Armenians to cut down trees to heat their homes and stay warm, Papelian said. She asked that those listening continue to raise their voices so that the Artsakh Armenians know they are not alone.

Dr. Shant Parseghian of the Pan Armenian Council of New England explained that the council was formed in October 2022 to unify the Boston area Armenian community as a reaction to the Azerbaijani war on Armenia and Artsakh, and this demonstration was its first major project. The Boston community has many resources and significantly is the second largest community in the US. He asked that people call their federal representatives, post on social media and raise awareness about the plight of the 120,000 Armenians of Artaskh, especially in non-Armenian circles.

At this point, Rep. Muradian acknowledged the presence of Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League New England Regional Director, FayeRuth Fisher, senior director of Public Affairs of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, and Jim Kaufman, the former president of the American Jewish Committee Boston. In his closing words, Muradian called for action, declaring that we need to make sure that the federal delegation knows how much this means to us. They are the ones, he emphasized, that can put pressure through Congress on the president to get something done.

Rev. Laura Everett speaking, with Fr. Vasken Kouzouian to her right (photo Bella Ishanyan)

Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, of which the Armenian Church is a part, concluded the event with a brief talk and followed by a prayer. She suggested for those who are not Armenian to imagine that the population of Cambridge was under siege and Memorial Drive was blocked. “We would not stand for such a thing in Massachusetts so we cannot stand for such a thing across the nation [nor] across the world,” she declaimed. “Help your friends understand the depths of this even if they do not have the same view and the same love of Armenia that you do. Because we want to stand with you. This is what solidarity looks like….We show up for one another even when it is not about us.”

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