Armenian students demand solidarity

In an email, Armenian students Ani Sarkisyan and Ani Matevosyan, along with the Armenian Student Association, urged USC administrators to affirm the rights of the Armenian people amid violent conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Daily Trojan | Sarah Hendartono)

After several weeks of activism by Armenian students, President Carol Folt addressed the ongoing deadly conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in a series of tweets on Monday saying that USC would provide support to those affected.

“The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh is weighing heavily on the minds of many at USC and across L.A., home to the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia,” Folt wrote. 

Her posts also encouraged students to take advantage of mental health resources, attend educational events presented by the USC Institute of Armenian Studies and highlighted efforts from the Keck School of Medicine to provide medical resources to the region. 

The four tweets came after Armenian students, led by Ani Sarkisyan and Ani Matevosyan, along with the Armenian Student Association, ran an email-writing campaign urging USC administrators to take action. 

Armenian students said they were disappointed with the University’s lack of response since the resurgence of conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, where tensions have been rocky since a truce in 1994. 

Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, is located to the east of Turkey and is internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan even though its government is backed by Armenia. The hostility between the two nations foments as a result of religious, cultural and political divisions.

In 1988, the national assembly of Nagorno-Karabakh, an area populated mostly by ethnic Armenians, voted to join neighboring Armenia. Azerbaijan, the former Soviet province that had controlled the area previously, launched a series of attacks against Armenia when the Soviet Union collapsed. After several years of war, a ceasefire between the two nations temporarily eased tensions. 

In recent years, ceasefires between the two nations have been violated. Most recently, Azerbaijan, along with the support of Turkey, has launched offensive attacks to strengthen its control of the disputed territory. As the situation escalates, Armenians fear another attempt by Turkey and Azerbaijan to systemically target the Armenian people. 

“Whole towns in the region are being shelled with missiles, towns are being evacuated and intense fighting is going on between the border of Karabakh and Azerbaijan,” said Syuzanna Petrosyan, associate director of the Institute of Armenian Studies. 

For the approximately 1,000 Armenian students at USC, Armenian Student Association President Aureen Aghajanian said the reignited conflict has fueled worry for family and friends in the country. 

“For most of us, we all have family involved in this conflict,” said Matevosyan, a senior working at the Institute of Armenian studies. “For me, my dad went to Armenia a day before all this started. So I’m constantly checking in with him.”

Matevosyan’s family has been directly affected by the clashes. She, like many other Armenian students, is living under the perpetual fear of losing her loved ones to the violence. 

“My own cousins are fighting on the front lines,” she said, “and so every time there’s a list of soldiers who have passed away in the conflicts, I’m constantly checking up with that, making sure they’re not on that list.”

Sarkisyan said the conflict has affected her mental health, making it difficult to concentrate in classes. 

“It’s really hard to want to focus on the already straining Zoom semester,” Sarkisyan said. “I constantly find myself glued to my phone as much as I try not to be within my classes; I’m always constantly checking on the news.”

Sarkisyan said that Folt’s tweets were a starting point to address the conflict, but she hopes to see a schoolwide email pointing students, faculty and staff to resources and educating people on the conflict. 

“L.A. is an area with a very large Armenian population,” Sarkisyan said. “I think as a USC student, as someone who identifies with USC in their identity, it should be your responsibility to educate yourself on this, and USC should state that in their letter. That’s the main thing I would want to see added.”

Aghajanian said Folt’s statements on Twitter lacked nuance. 

“It’s better than nothing, but it’s definitely disappointing,” Aghajanian said. “We are demanding that she actually comes out with an official schoolwide email, not just an email sent out to everyone who sent her an email about this issue.” 

ASA has been working with local companies to fundraise for the Armenians in Karabakh. Aghajanian said that students have raised nearly $20,000. The IMX Auto Group in Burbank matched the donation by $15,000 and Focus on Children Now, an Armenian nonprofit, added an additional $35,000 bringing the total to $70,000. According to Aghajanian, all the proceeds will be donated to the Armenia Fund.

On Oct. 8, the Undergraduate Student Government also released a statement in conjunction with ASA affirming their support of the Armenian cause.

“C​hoosing to disregard this issue endangers the lives of ​our Armenian students and friends, their families, their nation, their past, and their future,” the statement read. “The members of ASA and USG stand in solidarity with our local Armenian community, both on and off campus, and implore our student body, professors, and the administration to do the same.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated IMS Auto Group as the local company that donated to the Armenian Student Association when it was instead made by the IMX Auto Group. Donations raised by ASA were also not updated day of publication. The Daily Trojan regrets these errors.