Washington, D.C. AYF “Ani” chapter member Matt Girardi delivers powerful remarks to the crowd
Remarks delivered at the AYF Washington, D.C. protest at the White House on September 20, 2023.
Yesterday, September 19, 2023, the government of Azerbaijan ruthlessly and shamelessly escalated its attack on the people of Artsakh and struck at the soul of an ancient nation.
Women, children and young men alike lay dead, and many more wounded. Civilians have been relocated. The Artsakh Defense Forces have agreed to set down their arms. Today is a sad day, but it did not start nor does it end here. Nine months ago, the Aliyev regime, aided and abetted by enablers across the globe, set up an illegal checkpoint on the Lachin [Berdzor] Corridor—the only road connecting the indigenous people of Artsakh to the outside world. In defiance of the ceasefire agreement of 2020, in a mockery of international law, and devoid of basic human decency, the government of Azerbaijan weaponized food, medicine and energy for months on end, waging a slow campaign of extermination.
Time and time again, the people of Artsakh, the Armenian community around the world, and people of conscience both near and far implored the international community to act. We implored our government—our president—to use the awesome power entrusted to him to put an end to the suffering. We watched in horror as sham environmental protestors, waving dead
pigeons painted white as doves for peace and dressed in fur coats, were allowed to stop tens of thousands of tons of supplies from reaching the coldest of villages in the depths of winter. Our stomachs turned as Azeri soldiers openly erected a barricade across that same road, and we saw images of women and children—sentenced to starve for the crime of being Armenian—faint in breadlines. And yesterday, our hearts broke as Azerbaijan’s slow campaign of starvation became a wanton and unequivocal strike of barbarity. Let us be clear: this is genocide. It has been, and it continues to be. It is the echo of 1915 that should haunt the world. Moreover, it is a tragedy.
Let us be clear: this is genocide. It has been, and it continues to be. It is the echo of 1915 that should haunt the world.
You see, tragedy, my friends, is not simply heartbreak. It is a catastrophe that could have been prevented. It is a willing and eager hubris, unmoored from the responsibilities of one’s time. It is, and it has been, the story of America’s Artsakh policy. When this administration treats Azerbaijan and its chief enabler, Turkey, as if they can be reliable partners, it either deludes itself or sacrifices the moral foundation upon which America has built its global leadership. When Erdogan and Aliyev deny the occurrence of the Armenian Genocide while proudly exalting its architects, we know that these are men of neither dignity nor morality. After all, we have seen the fate of Armenian lands being placed under domination of tyrants and of genocidal mad men. Nakhichevan—with its storied and ancient Armenian roots—has been emptied of 99-percent of its Armenian heritage, according to Cornell University.
Moreover, we have seen escalations of violence that are sickening to the core: torture of POWs, mutilation and sexual assault of women, mass murders and beheadings all unrepentantly filmed by Azerbaijan’s armed forces and allowed to circulate as a campaign of psychological terrorism on the Armenian people.
When all these went without recourse, when Azerbaijan’s invasion of sovereign Armenian territory last year went without consequence, when each stage of this blockade was met with silence by the international community, that silence broadcast a point deafeningly: that
Azerbaijan would not act in good faith if the United States sat on its hands and continued to treat a campaign of annihilation as a simple quarrel between two misunderstanding parties. Statements of both-sideisms, rushed and coerced peace talks, and toothless diplomacy have failed America, and they have failed the people of Artsakh. They have allowed genocide.
Going forward, we need our government to act. We need it to protect the people of Artsakh’s sacred right to self-determination. We need a U.N. mandate for international administration to immediately protect the population of Artsakh. We need this administration to finally hold Aliyev and all his goons accountable for the war crimes and genocide they have promulgated. We need immediate deliverance of humanitarian, development and reconstruction assistance and to secure the safe return of all those indigenous Armenians displaced by Azerbaijan’s campaign of aggression. We need the Biden administration to act tomorrow, at the United Nations, like justice, freedom and human rights are on the line—because they are.
Today, however, we gather neither to mourn Artsakh nor to understate the danger of the moment. For Artsakh is not dead and we will not allow it to die, because above all, Artsakh is not just Armenia. Armenia is Artsakh. How we respond to the call of our brothers and sisters in Artsakh is indicative of who we truly are and who we will be. Will we devolve into factionalism, division and cowardice, or will we choose action? Will we choose to blacklist fellow Armenians from their own homeland, or will we write, do we lobby, do we protest, do we come together to call the eyes of the world to injustice and not let it look away for even a moment?
My friends, we have been handed a legacy that has been passed down from generation to generation that is hardy, proud and unyielding. It is a beautiful dance set to the heartbeat of lions and that follows the steps of heroes. It is a sacred hymn that has echoed through mountains, which defeated countless armies but bound a people through millennia. For we are survivors. We are our mountains. We are immovable. We are Armenians. And like our ancestors before us, we stand upon the shoulders of giants below us and now hold the weight of destiny above. Now is not the time for half-measures, half-truths, and half-heartedness in the face of calamity. It is a time for a solidarity that will ring across oceans and continents that says we will never leave our brethren behind, for ours is a singular struggle for a common good and a shared destiny. It is a time for determination to stand in proud defiance of a world that believes we are a people whose battles have all been fought and lost, whose history is over, and whose time is past to rise and laugh and love once more.
But most of all, it is a time for that strangest of all manners: courage. You see, courage is not a reckless charge headlong. It is not fearlessness, especially when there is much to be feared. But it is pushing forward in the face of fear. It is putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that there is danger around the corner and with ice running through our veins, because it is the right thing to do. It is Armen Garo and Vahan Cardashian. It is Zabel. It is Andranik. It is Tatoul. It is Monte. It is the mother in Stepanakert holding her child as the air raids sound above, and it is the serviceman defending his homeland, and it must be us. Let us remember how futures are built. Let us remember who we are. And let us never stop fighting for a truly free, independent and united Armenia.