The spirit of Artsakh lives in Washington

Posted on February. 15. 2023

BY STEPAN PILIGIAN | The Armenian Weekly

One of the most frustrating challenges for Armenians in the diaspora is how to support our brethren in Artsakh when we are scattered around the world. Our hearts may be in Artsakh, but our physical presence in Boston, Detroit or New York creates anxiety over what we can do. Our advocacy groups, such as the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and the Assembly have done an admirable job of engaging the Armenian public with a series of actions that can be taken to influence Congress, the White House and the State Department. In fact, advocacy organizations have been very active in a number of countries around the globe to urge action toward ending the blockade and sanctioning Azerbaijan. The work of our colleagues in Europe, South America, Australia and the Middle East creates a bond we call the diaspora. Thousands of individuals have participated in writing letters and public relations efforts to inform and impact the policies of their host countries. Cynics will say that it has little influence, but the truth is that the best way to assure failure is to be silent. If our intent is to be one with our people in Artsakh, then our thinking and actions should reflect their spirit. The citizens of Artsakh have been incredibly consistent in their messages to the Azerbaijani criminals, the world stage, Armenia and the diaspora: we choose to live free and will not back away from this fundamental right. Words are easy, but the people of Artsakh back it up every day with commitment and sacrifice. They have been doing this for generations. Their sense of independence and commitment to the land have been the hallmark of their survival. It is nothing short of inspiring for any functioning Armenian. We all understand at this point that the intent of the Aliyev blockade is to depopulate Artsakh of its indigenous Armenians. He has basically stated that a one-way exit out of Artsakh is the only alternative to accepting the Azeris’ unconditional terms. It is almost surreal that such brazen criminal behavior is tolerated in this world. Yet this is the same world that was unable to stop Pol Pot in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Even with their basic needs denied, the brave people of Artsakh remain committed. Who among us can compare to that level of sacrifice? It is this spirit that must be reflected in our actions in order to honor this cause. At this very moment, patriots from the US diaspora are gathering in Washington, DC to live in that spirit. The ANCA-Eastern Region is sponsoring “Advocacy Days,” a two-day public event dedicated to engaging the Congressional delegations and attracting much-needed public attention. The meetings with members of Congress and grassroot constituent activists will take place Wednesday and early Thursday. A major rally on Capitol Hill is planned for 1 p.m. on Thursday. This is not an event simply for the Washington Armenian community (which does a great job with sustained advocacy). It requires the presence of all Armenians who are able to attend. Participating will require some level of sacrifice. It is during the week for those employed or in school. It will require travel for many of us to be in Washington. It is winter, and the weather can be unpredictable. If we are to act in the spirit of Artsakh, then we must subordinate these inconveniences. I have often heard within our communities that activism for genocide recognition can be difficult to sustain and identify with because the objectives are long-term and non-binding. For those who subscribe to this thought process and consider themselves activists and patriots, you need to be in Washington. The Artsakh crisis is impacting lives today and the direction of our cause tomorrow. Our ability to break the blockade will save lives immediately. During the Armenian Genocide and its aftermath, many found personal identity in addressing the humanitarian crisis. Our responsibility is to prevent a catastrophe in the making. Please put the personal sacrifices required to participate in that context. The primary purpose of the activism, of course, is to make a difference in the desired outcome. But let’s not forget that our nation is reeling from the impact of over two years of losses. We need relief, and that can only come from our actions. When we contribute through our participation, it provides a small amount of healing to our soul by focusing on impacting the outcomes rather than being a prisoner of anxiety. We need each other to keep our collective efforts continuing. Despite the heartbreaking and at times overwhelming nature of this dilemma, we must focus on the incredible spirit of the people of Artsakh who will not give up. If they can endure such hardships and we claim to support their cause, then our sacrifices can be easily absorbed. In times of adversity, we always discover quiet heroes in our midst. They do the required ground level work with selfless motivation. They are guided by the spirit of justice and honor. Our communities are blessed to have many of these remarkable individuals. I met one such pillar this past week. Lauren DaSilva is an activist who works with the ANCA in the eastern Massachusetts area. She came to our church this past Sunday to gather letters addressed to our Congressional delegation and signatures for Advocacy Days. I have known her mother, Betty DaSilva, for decades and the wonderful Tutelian family. Lauren was humble and determined as she went about doing the grassroots work. When I see young activists, it inspires me to further understand not only the importance of our causes, but that the struggle will continue to be fueled by a new generation. For those of you who have devoted a substantial portion of your adult life to this mission, I am certain that this is very gratifying. The current humanitarian and sovereignty problems in the homeland are teaching us some new lessons. In our lifetime, we have not witnessed such a threat to the existence of our people in the homeland. This gives an expanded and very current meaning to Hai Tahd. For years, we have attempted to articulate the connection between a genocide unpunished and a continuation of the threat. Unfortunately, the Artsakh crisis has made the case very clear. Pan-Turkic expansionism that motivated the Ittihads over 100 years ago is an inspiration to Erdogan and Aliyev. Removing all Armenians from the Highlands has linked Talaat, Erdogan and Aliyev with other genocidal motivated despots. This is not about a long-term recognition campaign or reparations. Those will remain important, but the very existence of our homeland is at risk. That is why you should be in Washington this week and sustain your participation from your locale. The time is now! We must realize quickly that what we identify with as Armenians is not sustainable without a viable homeland. This is not only about justice or morality; it is about survival. Someone with evil intentions is attempting to take something away from you that is cherished: your identity. We should take this very personally because it will impact you and your family. When confronted with such a predicament, it is convenient to blame others for our inaction – the Armenian government, Russia or the passive Europeans. We must have enough self-discipline to do what we can control, either individually or collectively. The situation is not hopeless, and we are not weak. We simply need to apply our resources. This requires your commitment. Each of us has a gift to offer if we choose. Answer the ANCA’s invitation. Go to Washington, DC and join in the spirit of Artsakh. When we resist oppression, we retain our dignity. With our dignity intact, we will continue to survive. This is the story of Artsakh—a story of retaining dignity under incredible pressure. We have the opportunity to retain our dignity. I remember attending a demonstration in my teens to advocate for genocide recognition. During the rally, which was in New York, there were a few Turkish counter demonstrators. At one point, I was close enough to them to hear their rants. One man in particular seemed to almost look me in the eye and said, “No one cares about your lies. Soon you will forget also, and we will finish the work.” I was stunned by the comments, but they have been vividly retained. If we choose to forget or remain inactive, then we are enabling the Turks to complete their horrific intent. Others may choose to sit silently, but that luxury does not exist for Armenians. This is our responsibility. Our generation currently is the gatekeeper of the next chapter of the long volumes of Armenian history. It is ours to experience and to write before the baton is passed to another generation. If we turn our back for inconvenience, then we will also have to accept how this chapter is written. This was the lesson of Vartanantz, Sardarabad and now, Artsakh. Think about the children born in Artsakh today with no essentials or the brave parents who comfort their fearful children. Take a moment please and define what you can do for Artsakh. For those who are able, a good place to be present is this Wednesday and Thursday in Washington. Pray for the strength of Artsakh and the global Armenian nation.

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