Several California leaders demand US action in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict


LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — Several lawmakers and politicians in Southern California are demanding U.S. action to halt Azerbaijan’s attacks against Armenia and the disputed separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff was among the elected officials who gathered at Los Angeles City Hall Monday, calling on Azerbaijan to “cease the hostilities or there will be consequences.”

Schiff also had strong words for Turkey, which has publicly sided with Azerbaijan after a decades-old conflict was reignited last month in the autonomous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. The mountainous region that lies inside Azerbaijan has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist war in 1994.

Officials have reported that hundreds have been killed since the fighting began in September, though the exact number of casualties remains unknown.

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, about 220 of their servicemen have died in clashes since then. The state-run Armenian Unified Infocenter said that 21 civilians have been killed in the region and 82 others wounded. Azerbaijani authorities haven’t given details about military casualties but said 25 civilians were killed and 127 wounded.

Turkey has denied involvement in the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, and has dismissed accusations that it sent mercenaries to the area.

But this week, Rep. Schiff said he and other politicians “have a strong bipartisan message” for the country and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

“You’re a member of NATO. Start acting like one,” Schiff said during the press conference.

The fighting is considered the biggest escalation in the decades-old conflict over the autonomy of the region, also known Artsakh. It’s home to about 150,000 people — about 95% of whom are ethnic Armenians, according to a 2015 census. Across Los Angeles in recent days, cars flying the Armenian flag and bearing messages of support for Artsakh could be seen driving on streets and freeways.

Los Angeles, home to the largest Armenian population outside of the country itself, has seen several demonstrations over the last week, with thousands of Armenian Americans and their allies calling for international intervention in the conflict.

Over the weekend, thousands of protesters gathered outside the buildings of news outlets in Hollywood in an emotional call for media coverage and recognition of the escalating violence in the region, according to NewsNation affiliate KTLA. Demonstrators carrying Armenian flags also walked onto freeways, blocking traffic as a form of protest and a plea for a stop to bloodshed in the region.

“Americans should never tolerate the use of cluster bombs against civilian targets and other war crimes that carry with them the echoes of the Armenian Genocide,” L.A. City Councilman Paul Krekorian said Monday. “Americans should never tolerate fascist Turkish expansionism in this part of the world.”

The Armenian American community in L.A. has decried the escalating violence as a massacre against Armenians and is calling for international intervention.

“For our Armenian brothers and sisters, nothing can truly ease the pain and the worry that you’re feeling right now, the echoes of history,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “Lives have been lost to acts of unnecessary violence and unwarranted assaults on innocent families in an invasion of Artsakh’s cities and communities.”

The mayor said the city will use its status as a “global crossroads” to facilitate international dialogue and to call for immediate peace. He also called on the Trump administration to conduct the diplomacy necessary to bring peace to the region by denouncing Azerbaijan’s actions and by calling for Turkey to disengage from the conflict.

Schiff and Rep. Jackie Speier of San Mateo proposed Resolution 1165, calling for the U.S. to condemn Azerbaijan’s military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh and to denounce Turkish interference in the conflict.

Other elected officials who were present in solidarity with the Armenian community Monday included state Sen. Maria Durazo, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, state Assembly members Adrin Nazarian, Chris Holden, Richard Bloom, Tom Lackey, Jesse Gabriel, L.A. City Council members Mitch O’Farrell, Nury Martinez, Monica Rodriguez, David Ryu, Paul Koretz, John Lee, and L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer.

Nazarian called for the federal government to “step up” and he equated the current violence to that of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, saying, “If we really mean what we say by saying, ‘Never again,’ this this is the time to act.”

Amid widespread demonstrations in L.A. over the weekend, the consul general for Azerbaijan in L.A. released a video-recorded statement saying, “peace can only be achieved when Armenia leaves the occupied regions.”

NewsNation affiliate KTLA, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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