BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
If anyone thinks that the sacrifice of thousands of men and women who gave their lives for the liberation of Artsakh and propelled an entire nation to advance the cause of justice and self-determination for its people, can, 30 years later, become “an accomplishment” bullet point on a candidate’s campaign literature for the Glendale City Council race, they are wrong.
The liberation movement, which changed the course of our history, cannot be diminished and used as the “Artsakh card” by candidates vying for office in Glendale or in any other city, state or federal races.
The more than 30-minute discussion that transpired Tuesday during the Glendale City Council meeting about the potential donation of playground equipment to a school in Artsakh was nothing short of an insult that diminished the ideals on which the Artsakh liberation struggle was built. In fact, it was a farce.
Watching five grown adults who are elected representatives of the people of Glendale jockey for position to demonstrate who has done more for Artsakh was teeth-grinding painful. Both Mayor Ara Najarian and Councilmember Vartan Gharpetian declared that over the summer they visited Artsakh and met with its president Bako Sahakian. They went on to say that their “on the ground experience” showed that sending used playground equipment to a school in Kashatagh, Artsakh would be an insult to locals and an embarrassment for Glendale and called for securing new gear manufactured in Armenia to boost the local economy.
Both Najarian and Gharpetian told me during separate phone interviews on Wednesday that Sahakian emphasized the need for the international recognition of the Republic of Artsakh, and the strengthening of its safety and security as paramount priorities for the people there, enlisting the Glendale leaders to advance those issues upon their return.
Najarian said that Sahakian told him that “greater recognition and familiarity with Artsakh for the people of Glendale and Los Angeles,” was critically important for Artsakh.
Gharpetian told me that Sahakian said that Artsakh’s priorities were the safety and security of its border and “how do we reopen our airport? How do we put international pressure on Azerbaijan to not shoot down planes?” as it has threatened on several occasions.
Devine also told me on Wednesday during a similar telephone interview that she knows “what the Armenian community does for [their] homeland. I respect that and I want to be a part of that.” She added: “This is the Diaspora and I am supporting the Diaspora.”
It is worth noting that the Diaspora communities that are helping Armenia and Artsakh are doing so based on local needs in order to advance the socio-economic and (geo)political imperatives.
The leadership of Artsakh in no uncertain terms has spelled out the priorities and the steps that can be taken to strengthen its statehood. It would have been preferable—and logical—for the city councilmembers, two of whom—Devine and Gharpetian—are running for reelection in March, to have had an honest needs assessment conversation about Artsakh based on Najarian’s and Gharpetian’s discussions with Sahakian, and targeted any assistance from Glendale to Artsakh based on those priorities. But, I guess that would be asking too much of our elected leaders.
Glendale’s city leaders have a great opportunity to educate the population about Artsakh—it’s culture, history, the current realities—since they went the extra mile to rename a portion of Maryland Avenue Artsakh Street—a move welcomed by their Armenian constituents. Why not stage events that would educate the public about the critical importance of Artsakh on Artsakh Street? This way, those who are unfamiliar with the basis of the renaming would be engaged participants—stakeholders—in any assistance that the city will send to Artsakh.
A motion by the city councilmembers on exploring the possibility of establishing a friendship city with one of the myriad municipalities in Artsakh would have been a welcome and positive approach to the issue. Through a Friendship City program, the Glendale City Council can send as many playground equipment (old or new) as it wants to that designated city and will bolster the lives of the people there.
As we celebrate Labor Day on Monday, the people of Artsakh and Armenians around the world will mark the 28th anniversary of Artsakh’s Declaration of Independence from the Soviet Union.
The Artsakh Liberation Movement is not about playground equipment, but rather the same inalienable rights that are etched in the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution that guarantee life, liberty justice and the right to self-determination.
There are plenty of pressing local issues that the candidates running for office in Glendale can campaign on. So, unless they are going to pledge that Glendale officially recognize Artsakh’s independence and its people’s right to self-determination, or advance the establishment of a Friendship City with Artsakh, they have no right to use the “Artsakh card” for their political gains.