Friday, June 14, 2024

An Armenian Trucker Convoy Halts the Mayoral Honeymoon

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Earlier this week, a cordon of truckers fighting to bring awareness and attention to a brewing humanitarian crisis in Armenia paralyzed the streets around the official residence of Los Angeles mayor Karen Bass in Windsor Square.

Armenia has been at war, or on the brink of war, with the neighboring state of Azerbaijan since the twilight of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, decades of intermittent violence have driven tens of thousands of Armenians from the South Caucasus to seek safe haven in L.A. Their growing population has made Armenians an increasingly powerful force in the city’s political scene.

If you were in L.A. in the fall of 2020, chances are good you saw at least one convoy of new-model SUVs draped in the Armenian tricolor grind traffic to a halt in support of their homeland. During six weeks of heavy fighting that started in September of that year, the Azerbaijani military forced Armenia to surrender a large swath of the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, a majority ethnic-Armenian territory that became part of Azerbaijan under a subsequent Russian-brokered peace deal.

Organized by the Armenian National Association, the convoy at Karen Bass’s residence on Tuesday was bigger and more confrontational than its predecessors. The truckers’ patience was wearing thin with the apparent reticence of the new mayor to address recent moves by Azerbaijan to shut down the Lachin corridor—the east-west artery connecting Armenia with Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority ethnic-Armenian territory isolated inside the borders of Azerbaijan.

The move prompted several days of riots and civil disobedience as thousands of ethnic-Armenians in the Azerbaijan outpost faced the prospect of a slow death by freezing, starvation or lack of medical care. Vladimir Putin, whose troops from the Russian Federation patrol Nagorno-Karabakh, has come under special criticism for turning a blind eye to the aggression of its oil-rich Azerbaijan ally.

The demonstration follows another held last week, in which dozens gathered outside the Azerbaijani consulate west of the 405 on Wilshire Blvd.

“No one can go in, no one can come out,” said Vic Gerami, an L.A.-based Armenian American journalist who helped organize the consulate protest. “For five days [Azerbaijan] cut off gas supplies so there was no heat. Two days ago, they cut off electricity. One hundred and twenty thousand Armenians are being held hostage without access to food or medicine.”

Here in Los Angeles, truckers swore they would not reopen the neighborhood to traffic until Bass threw in her lot with Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, known to Armenians as Artsakh. A few hours later, Bass made a statement from her official Twitter account.

I stand with the Armenian community here in Los Angeles calling for an end to the blockade of the Lachin Corridor.

We must clearly demonstrate our commitment to freedom by helping the people of Artsakh.

This is a crisis and will only get worse with inaction. Lives are at stake.

— Mayor Karen Bass (@MayorOfLA) January 4, 2023

The standoff testifies to the increasing sway that 214,000 Armenian Americans have over politics in Los Angeles, which has become the largest Armenian American population in the United States. The president of the City Council, Paul Krekorian, is Armenian American. The L.A. congressman representing California’s 28th Congressional District, Rep. Adam Schiff, is a co-Chair of the House Armenian caucus. In 2020, Schiff denounced Azerbaijan leader Ilham Aliyev as an “autocrat” who has “for years launched unprovoked attacks on Nagorno-Karabakh, on Armenia, as a way of distracting from domestic problems within Azerbaijan.”

Less than two hours after Bass tweeted her support for the cause last night, Krekorian, the first Armenian American elected to citywide office, thanked the Mayor in a tweet of his own.

Thank you Mayor Bass for joining me in communicating to President Biden the urgent need for U.S. leadership to lift the blockade and bring humanitarian relief to the people of Artsakh.

— Paul Krekorian (@PaulKrekorian) January 4, 2023

Bass and Krekorian also co-wrote a letter to President Biden, urging the White House to take action on the Nagorno-Karabakh blockade.

In June, Biden angered some prominent Democrats when he waived section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, which bans most U.S. military assistance to the government of Azerbaijan until it takes demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Biden has yet to speak on the December 12th blockade of the Lachin corridor.

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