As a fragile cease-fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan shattered Sunday, hundreds of Armenian Americans marched through Boston to the Rose Kennedy Greenway to urge US diplomats to help bring the conflict to a peaceful end.
“[I am] very worried," said Stepan Chiloyan, 55, of Watertown, who said he has not been able to reach cousins in Armenia since fighting began in late September. “I’m especially worried in the US, that the country that leads most powerfully is not able to do anything, not even officially condemning the situation.”
After two weeks of fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region — internationally recognized as a de facto part of Azerbaijan, but home to an ethnically Armenian population that calls it Artsakh — the two nations agreed to a Russian-brokered cease-fire starting Saturday afternoon.
But by Sunday, Azerbaijani authorities had accused Armenian-led forces in Nagorno-Karabakh of launching missiles into residential areas. Nagorno-Karabakh’s military denied launching the attacks and accused Azerbaijani forces of shelling the region’s capital overnight, in violation of the truce.
The conflict, which has claimed hundreds of lives in the mountainous region, is the most violent escalation in the area since the end of a separatist war in 1994. Armenians have worried that Azerbaijan has found a powerful ally in Turkey, which has offered political support to Azerbaijan in its fight to maintain control of the region, including supplying them with weapons, drones, and rocket systems.
Boston-area Armenians said they have woken up every day since Sept. 27 to mounting death tolls and scant communication from loved ones. It’s been frustrating and terrifying to watch from afar, they said.
“You feel powerless,” said Dikran Kaligian of Watertown, one of the rally’s organizers and a member of the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts.
Kaligian said he wants to see the US government take a bolder stance in denouncing violence against Armenia.
“America has to do something," he said. "The silence of the Trump administration is offensive, quite honestly. We know that President Trump has a predilection toward autocrats such as [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan.”
The recent attacks caused grave concerns for Armenians still fighting for recognition of the Armenian Genocide, during which the Ottoman Empire killed about 1.5 million Armenians from 1915 to 1923. The US Congress voted to recognize the genocide 10 months ago, over objections from Turkey and the Trump administration.
Sunday’s crowd grew as mask-wearing protesters marched from the Turkish consulate on St. James Avenue to Armenian Heritage Park, the landscaped labyrinth commemorating victims of the genocide on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, holding American flags alongside red, blue, and orange Armenian flags.
Marchers chanted “silence is violence” and “Turkey out of NATO,” and carried signs calling for peace. A caravan of drivers made their way through downtown too, honking their horns and waving Armenian flags.
Archpriest Antranig Baljian from St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church of Watertown reminded the crowd of the Armenian people’s history as early Christians. He led them in an Armenian-language prayer.
“Prayer is an important weapon in our armory, through which we can bring about change,” Baljian said. “We can fight, yes. We can donate, yes. We can do political action, yes. But we must also pray."
Darban Vardanyan, 35, who lives in Medford, said he came to the march because he felt he owed his support to his family in Armenia.
“Since I’m super far from my home country, this is the least that I can do,” Vardanyan said. “I have a family there, so I can’t take care of them, I have cousins who are on the front lines, just trying to keep the country borders as neutral as possible.”
Protesters said they were worried, but also that they felt ignored. Amid an ongoing pandemic, a civil rights struggle, an economic collapse, and a tumultuous presidential election cycle, some felt news of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has been downplayed or outright dismissed.
“I think the world needs to know the injustices that are being perpetrated currently over there," said Hovig Chitioian of Cambridge. “I know there are a lot of other distractions right now, but I think it’s very important that a country filled with peaceful people, a country that has pursued democracy at every turn, is being actively threatened.”
Standing in front of the Turkish consulate and watching the crowd of supporters gather around her, Tatevik Zohrabyan said she did not feel as hopeful as she wanted to. Thoughts of the conflict were too overwhelming, she said.
She hoped to see more empathy for Armenians, even as other nations face their own crises.
“It doesn’t feel good to be here. I wish we weren’t here," Zohrabyan said. “It feels that the world is, at this point, kind of indifferent.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.