A Cry Into The Rain. #ArtsakhStrong

Armenian-Americans, young and old, stood out in the rain to protest violence in a part of the world you’ve probably never heard of. Care to learn why?

Malcolm Johnson
7 min readApr 11, 2016

On Saturday, April 8th 2016, I stood out in the rain (more like drizzle) with a couple thousand of my Armenian-American friends, neighbors and family to protest what’s been going on in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

Yes, that was me in the Chocolate Brown Rain Coat, pointing my camera every which way, and taking as many photos as I could. I could have been mistaken for Press (I probably was now that I think about it), but no…I was one of the protesters. This was my Greater Armenian Family, and I standing was with them on this rainy Friday Afternoon.

At the climax of the protest, the Protest crossed away from the Consulate, and onto Wilshire Blvd. The chants and cries continued for a few minutes, and then, all of the sudden…

…the protesters had themselves a seat.

That’s right, they sat down…right in the middle of Wilshire Blvd. Right in the heart of Brentwood. Stopping traffic in both directions.

At that moment, I down and away from the main body of the Protest, I could see the small (and I stress…very small) buildup of traffic in front of the sit-in. There was a red Car at the front of the line. I wasn’t a part of the protest, and I have to imagine, just someone caught in the tumult, wondering what the @#$% was going on.

I thought about that person, and felt bad for the person in that car. They were probably cursing the lot of us out. “Yeah, yeah. I’m sure what…well…whatever is happening is important…but what does it have to do with me? Why are you doing this to me, now?”

I felt a little bad that that driver would be caught unawares like that. If I were in her shoes (yeah, I think it was a her), I might be mad as hell too.

But there was a reason for this. There was a reason Armenians had to stand forth and cry out into the rain. At the end of the day, you still may not agree with why they protested, but I think you’ll understand why.

“We Are Our Mountains” (1967) by Sargis Baghdasaryan.

I think this is a good place to start.

If you have any friends who are Armenian-Americans, you’ve been seeing a lot of this image. It is a statue called “We Are Our Mountains”, and it was completed in 1967. It is made out of volcanic rock and depicts an old man and woman representing the mountain people of Karabakh. It is a symbol of not only the country of Nagorno-Karabakh but of the conflict that permeates the region.

The borders of the world were not drawn by God, or by nature. They were drawn by man, and not always the wisest men among us. There is a country called Armenia, and there is a country called Azerbaijan. They sit opposite each other in the Caucasus region between Asia and Europe.

There is a population of Armenians in Azerbaijan, and they want their independence. That is the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (the splash of red in the map below). The reason you hear the name Artsakh used (in hashtags like #ArtsakhStrong) is that Artsakh was the name of the region when it was the 10th Province of the Ancient Kingdom of Armenia. Armenians use the name to this day.

Even though the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has declared its independence, it is still part of Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan does not want to let them go, and is using force in order to bring them to heel.

Now that is a very simplified retelling of the story of Artsakh. There are far better people out there who can better explain, better expand on the who, what, where and when of what’s been happening there. (The Council of Foreign Relations has a good explanation, as does the Washington Post.)

One of the sad truths about living as a Hyphenated American (African-American, Mexican-American, Armenian-Armenian) is that somewhere in your collective past is a tragedy that has shaped your community, and shaped the way you see the world. “Never again” may be the unofficial vow of the worldwide Jewish community, but each community has followed through on their own version of Never Again.

African-Americans will never knuckle under as people try to take away their right to vote. If it means standing out in the rain for hours on end, African-Americans will stand in the rain for hours on end to vote. Period.

Japanese-Americans, a mere seventy years after being forced into Concentration Camps on American Soil, will never again watch another community be subjected to that kind across-the-board treatment.

LGBT-Americans, after Stonewall, will not let themselves be hunted, shamed or beaten over who they are and who they love.

Which brings us to our Armenian-American neighbors.

Now, I’m sure the temptation is to look at this as a small community protesting something that’s happening in an even tinier part of the world, thousands and miles away. But in this case, we’re talking about a wound still open, and a vow of Never Again still fresh in the minds of not only the Great-Grandparents to who survived it, but to their Great-Grandchildren who carry on the legacy.

It was those very same Great-Grandchildren in the streets of Los Angeles on April 8th.

Armenian Youth Federation Protesters locking arms on Wilshire Blvd.

Like with so many things Armenian, it goes back to 1915. There were about 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Historical record estimates that somewhere between 800,000 and 1.5 million Armenians died in the Genocide.

Mathematically…that’s somewhere between 40% and 75% of the population.

The term “decimation” is from the Latin. It literally translates as “removal of a tenth”. It was a punishment used by the Romans to discipline large groups of men.

Here we’re talking something that was at bare minimum four times worse.

The flag of the Republic of Armenia.

Needless to say, after 1917…Armenian lives…already precious things…became even more precious. There weren’t many left.

Still, the worldwide Armenian Community survived the blow. A 101 years have passed since the genocide. It is estimated that there are 11 million Armenians out there in the world today. Turkey’s failure is pretty much complete (though imagine what the Armenian population would have been without their unspeakable crime).

But Armenians see their lives are no less precious, and there’s no way there ever going to let any Armenians face an existential threat like that ever again.

Thus, we turn back to Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, to Artsakh.

There has been fighting in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, fights between Soldiers…one against the other. Unfortunately, there have been civilian victims of this onslaught, like an elderly couple shot to death in their own home. Their crime? Being Armenian was enough.

Imagine the terror of that moment, to be living in your own home, living your own life, and then to be targeted. To have your life taken in your own home. When you are alone, and there is no one to help you. They cried out…

That cry was answered on Friday.

One might be forgiven for seeing this in the same light as the Balkans in the 1990s. The same passions, same blackening, corrosive violence being unleashed. The Azerbaijanis have bragged about how their Arms spending is 20 times greater than that Armenia’s entire budget.

Still, the Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has no where else to run to. This is their home. To Armenians around the world, those are their countrymen being slaughtered. Armenian lives are precious and besides…

…never again.

This is why Wilshire Blvd was blocked off for a hour in the middle of Los Angeles. This is why you saw protests against this violence around the world.

When the crime is merely being Armenian, what choice do Armenians have?

They have to cry out.

I hope one day, you can join them. Like I did on that rainy Friday afternoon.

The flag of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

If you want to help, there are two things you can do.

One, you can engage with the Humanitarian Relief Effort. Just click here for more information, or to donate: https://fundly.com/ars-support-for-artsakh

Two, the Armenian National Committee of America is trying to engage Congress about what’s going on in the region, trying to get any and all aid pulled from Azerbaijan. You can write a letter to your Congressman by clicking here: anca.org/stopaliyev