Bombs falling, families fleeing, civilians in danger: Not Israel or Gaza, but Armenia | Opinion

Oct 20 2023
at 8:25 PM

Imagine waiting for your children to arrive home from school, just as they did every day. Imagine you going about your day like it was no different than any other. Then imagine hearing bombs overhead and seeing buildings being destroyed in your neighborhood. Left with no choice, imagine fleeing your home, leaving everything behind. No, I am not talking about Ukraine, Israel or Gaza.

I am talking about the ethnic cleansing campaign ordered by Azerbaijani oil-rich dictator Ilham Aliyev against the indigenous Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh-Artsakh. You probably didn’t see much about this topic on the news channels. You probably also didn’t hear that there was a blockade by the Aliyev regime of the only road leading to this territory, causing a medieval style humanitarian crisis, which included hunger, malnutrition and even starvation of an innocent group of people.

Using weapons purchased from Turkey, Pakistan and Israel, Azeri dictator Ilham Aliyev, who once won his election before Azerbaijanis even voted (Washington Post reported …Azerbaijan’s election authorities released vote results – a full day before voting had started), pounded the self-autonomous region of Nagorno-Karabakh-Artsakh where Armenians had been living over 2,000 years. Several ancient Armenian churches tell a story of a civilization that had deep roots in the area. The Azerbaijani regime has already called for the re-purposing of several of these churches and the destruction of others.

Within a span of less than a week, 100,000 to 120,000 ethnic Armenians left their homes and fled to Armenia through the Armenian city Goris, a town of approximately 20,000. The latest numbers suggest that 30,000 of those who fled were children.

I had an opportunity to speak to Ruzanna Torozyan, executive director of Winnet Goris Development Foundation. Torozyan’s organization has been working in Goris for 15 years to support economic and political empowerment of women in Armenia through establishment and development of women’s resource centers. She had never seen anything like this.

Refugees had been driving for days to get to Goris, a ride that usually took a few hours. People arrived scared, exhausted, malnourished and psychologically crushed. Most of those arriving were women, children and the elderly. Men had stayed back to help refugees evacuate.


Torozyan, who witnessed firsthand several dead bodies covered with blankets in vehicles of refugees who died in transit, told me hotels were full and kindergartens, schools and churches became shelters to house people. Winnet Goris is still helping several families of refugees, but because Goris doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to accommodate most of the refugees, almost all left to bigger cities.

In the northern Armenian city of Vanadzor, far from the southern border where refugees were crossing, Armine Hovannisian, acting director of Orran, told me that although Orran’s mission is to help the children in need in Armenia, when Aliyev first attacked in 2020, they knew they had to expand their mission. When they began witnessing the refugees crossing, Orran began preparing emergency help of food baskets, blankets, sleeping bags and clothing.

It took refugees a few days but some made it to northern Armenia and to Orran. In an email, Hovannisian told me that the women and some of the children could not stop crying — some because they told their stories, others because they were either grateful or could not believe that now they were at the mercy of assistance. The current needs of Orran and the refugees include: food, bedding, winter heating, help with rent, winter shoes, clothing, baby milk, diapers and hygienic supplies. In November, Orran will host a fundraiser in Southern California to help fund the needs of the refugees.

Although no one individual or organization can speak to exactly the horrors of what the 120,000 people witnessed, one thing is for certain, what Azerbaijan has done is a violation of international law, according to many experts. On Oct. 5, the European Parliament approved a resolution saying the current situation implemented by Azerbaijan amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Locally, the bipartisan congressional delegation of Jim Costa (D-Fresno), David Valadao (R-Hanford) and Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) have urged the Biden administration to work with the United Nations Security Council in establishing a peacekeeping mission to protect the Armenian population. Many members of the Congress have condemned Azerbaijan.

One of the saddest parts about this situation is that hundreds of millions of United States dollars have gone to Azerbaijan for “security and defense aid” in the past years. In 2018-19 for example, $100 million of our tax dollars were sent to Azerbaijan. Is it a coincidence that Aliyev ordered a major offensive against the Armenians in 2020? I wonder how much of the “security and defense aid” we sent went to kill innocent Armenian men, women and children.

Sevag Tateosian of Fresno is host or producer of San Joaquin Spotlight on CMAC Comcast 93 and Att 99 and TalkRadio 1550 KXEX.