“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
You will often see Armenians post this quote from Desmond Tutu on social media or write it on their posters as a tool of advocacy for official U.S. recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide. Armenians are a small, mostly Christian ethnic minority that has existed for more than 4,000 years. Through past colonization and territorial aggression, Armenia has lost much of its land, and millions of Armenians have lost their lives. Despite these losses, Armenians in Armenia, and those part of the larger diaspora, have gained a sense of ethnic identity and love for their culture.
It has been more than three weeks since conflicts arose between Armenia and its neighboring country Azerbaijan, with tensions between the countries now escalating into a full-scale war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, known in Armenian as Artsakh. This territory has historically been populated by ethnic Armenians and continues to be. Not only are Indigenous Armenians a religious minority in the Middle East, but they lack strong allyship in the region, making them vulnerable.
Recently, Azerbaijani drones were reported flying near Armenia’s capital of Yerevan, which would suggest that the dispute has expanded into Armenia proper. What is especially worrying to see is Turkey’s involvement in the conflict on the side of Azerbaijan, as well as its anti-Armenian rhetoric. Our country is outnumbered and up against two wealthy and militarily powerful countries.
We also cannot forget the United States’ military ties with Turkey, which is a NATO ally and stores U.S. nuclear weapons. This might explain why the United States has never federally recognized the 1915 Armenian genocide and continues to remain neutral about the present conflict. Azerbaijan is backed by the Turkish government and Israeli weapons, and both Turkey and Israel have significant military funding and influence in the region. To make matters more complicated, Turkey has recruited Syrian rebel fighters as mercenaries in the conflict, making this an increasingly dangerous, globalized dispute.
Today, Turkey and Azerbaijan continue to threaten Armenia. Our soldiers are on the front lines, and ethnic Armenian officials report that more than 1,000 have died. They are our brothers, fathers, cousins and grandfathers. According to human rights organizations, civilians have also been targets of Azeri missiles through the bombing of infrastructure, which goes against international humanitarian law.
After enduring the intergenerational trauma of the 1915 genocide and the recurrence of similar attacks today, the members of our community cannot take any more. This is a humanitarian crisis impacting the lives of Armenians — and UC Berkeley students — around the world.
In addition to attacks in Armenia, Armenians all over the world have been victims of hate crimes, and many of our cultural centers and churches have been destroyed. We consider this issue to be one of Indigenous rights and the right to self-determination.
Our community in San Francisco has fallen victim to violent hate crimes, such as the burning of the cherished St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church’s community center. This is one of three hate crimes recorded in San Francisco since September alone. Armenian schools in San Francisco have also been vandalized with anti-Armenian graffiti. Armenians in San Francisco have reported their doors being marked with red X’s. However, rather than frightening us, these acts have brought the Armenian community closer together. We are more united and are working harder than ever before to make our voices heard.
Armenians desire nothing but peace, and we as a diaspora are trying to help our people from a distance. We have been protesting around the nation and have gained the support of thousands. People from campuses across California have spoken up, including UCLA, Loyola Marymount University, Occidental College and Cal State Northridge. It is disheartening to see our own school stay silent on the matter.
The city of Berkeley is known for its social justice activism and has been the epicenter of amplifying the voices of the unheard. Historically, UC Berkeley has spearheaded human rights movements — and this issue deserves nothing less than the support of its students. Ask any Armenian about what is going on, and you will feel our pain. Now, more than ever, we ask for your solidarity. We ask that you march with us, spread awareness on your social media accounts and sign petitions.
We hope to see UC Berkeley, a community we love, stand with us and with Armenians everywhere.
Ani Gevorkian and Sosse Krikorian are seniors at UC Berkeley and executive board members of the Armenian Students’ Association on campus.