USC

Armenian students condemn Azerbaijani incursion as clashes between the two countries see an all-time high

Armenian students appeal to an American audience on behalf of those under attack back home.

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Armenian American students across the U.S. penned an open letter to students and faculty September 20, calling for action, awareness and aid to the Armenian community.

Since the letter’s release, almost 500 people have signed, and the numbers are still growing.

“On September 13, 2022, Azerbaijan’s autocratic leader Ilham Aliyev launched an unprovoked and unjustified invasion,” the letter reads, before going on to explain the horrors faced by Armenians, citing an example of the mutilation of an Armenian servicewoman.

A student collective from different Armenian student associations (ASAs) at universities such as USC, UCLA, Harvard, Brown, Princeton, University of Michigan, University of Chicago and Northwestern drafted and sent out the letter. The collective aims to uphold the democratic values and human rights that this community cares for, while also denouncing authoritarianism.

“We urge our peers and educators to join us in condemning Azerbaijan’s assault on humanity and stand in solidarity,” the letter states.

The letter asks people to sign in solidarity and suggests ways that people can help raise awareness, such as donating to trusted organizations like the Center for Truth and Justice, Armenian Wounded Heroes Fund, 1000 plus.am, Miaseen, and AllforArmenia.

“The stakes are higher,” said Yeghishe Kirakosyoan, the adviser to the Prime Minister of Armenia and the Representative of Armenia before the European Court of Human Rights. Kirakosyan delivered a lecture at the USC Gould School of Law on September 26, 2022. He said that the Armenian community is “quite emotional” when describing the reason behind the unprecedented solidarity Armenians are receiving at this time.

The Armenian community at USC is now waiting for a response and acknowledgment from the administration and the greater American “intellectual community,” according to Berikyan. They hope that the USC administration will issue an official statement in support of the Armenian community, and offer resources such as mental health care for students on campus struggling to cope with the situation.

“The letter is a way to appeal to the American intellectual community through their foundational values of democracy, diplomacy and peace,” said Mane Berikyan, a USC Armenian Student Association representative majoring in international relations.

While Armenian students at USC are attempting to actively raise awareness with other Armenian student associations across America, USC’s Undergraduate Student Government met on the evening of the letter’s release and passed a resolution in light of these events.

“The resolution calls for senior [USC] administration to acknowledge the recent Azerbaijani invasion of Armenia and recognize the Armenian student population on campus by releasing a press statement of support,” according to Eduard Ghazaryan, a sophomore who authored the resolution and is an international relations major.

According to Hayk Yegibaryan, a freshman studying politics at Princeton University and co-president of the Princeton Armenian Student Society, the open letter aims to “spread awareness” about the war in Armenia. He said there are only about a dozen Armenians at Princeton and that “there’s many people at the school who have never heard of Armenia.”

Azerbaijani troops’ invasion of Armenia and their attack on Armenian positions near major towns like Vardenis, Goris, Sotk and Jermuk has prompted a response from different countries, including the U.S. Speaker of the U.S House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Armenia just days after Azerbaijan’s attack for a two-day diplomatic mission.

Ghazaryan, who also serves as the philanthropy chair for the Armenian Student Association at USC, described the situation on the ground as “extremely tense.”

He added, “[It’s] been historically the case that Armenian issues haven’t been really getting much press attention.”

Berikyan, who is also a student employee at the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, called Azerbaijan’s attack a “war of choice.” She shared with Annenberg Media that her aunt’s family was among the many Armenians who are currently displaced due to shelling in the southeastern region of Azerbaijan. As a student with family in the Vardenis town of Armenia whom she says are severely impacted by recent attacks, she thinks that “Armenian voices need to be heard.”

“I cannot help but feel a lack of support and solidarity provided for my people,” said Christine Almadjian, a USC senior studying law, history and culture. “We deserve to feel heard and supported by other communities of people.”