By Jose Ivan Cazares
MONTEBELLO — City and county officials condemned the country of Azerbaijan’s aggression towards Armenia over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh at an Oct. 7 press conference in front the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument, a few days before fresh fighting jeopardized a negotiated ceasefire.
Montebello Mayor Salvador Melendez joined City Councilman Jack Hajinian, county Supervisor Hilda Solis and state Sen. Bob Archuleta, D-Pico Rivera, in calling for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“On behalf of all of our Armenian citizens, those living in our sister city and all of those who have loved ones being impacted by this violence, we are asking the forces involved to stop and negotiate peacefully,” Melendez said.
Montebello is home to one of the oldest Armenian communities in Los Angeles County and has a sister-city relationship with Stepaakert, the de facto capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. The press conference was a show of support for this community.
Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but a majority of its population is ethnically Armenian and the Armenian community controls the local government there. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bloody war over the region, which claimed an estimated 30,000 lives until a ceasefire in 1994. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan claim the other side broke a ceasefire in September by firing rockets into their territory.
Both sides agreed to a ceasefire after hours of negotiation in Moscow led by Russia, France and the United States diplomats. Minutes after the ceasefire went into effect, Armenia’s defense ministry accused Azeri forces of launching an attack on Armenian forces and civilians.
The U.S. previously drew criticism for being slow to call for ceasefire talks, while the local Armenian communities in Los Angeles criticized American media for not covering the conflict. Representatives of Montebello’s Armenian community sought to raise awareness.
“What’s happening isn’t right,” said Sonia Funkkian, oresident of the Armenian Relief Society’s Montebello chapter. “There are people’s homes being shelled. We’re mostly a cultural organization, but when we see our brothers and sisters being killed like they are now we’re also a humanitarian organization.”
In addition to a robust Armenian diaspora, the city of Montebello is home to the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument, to commemorate the ethnic cleansing perpetratred by the Turkish government against its Armenian population from 1915 to 1921, resulting in an estimated 1.5 million Armenian deaths.
The monument was completed in 1968 despite opposition from the Turkish government, local Turkish national groups and domestic political pressure, who deny that the genocide happened.
Demonstrators have protested in Hollywood and called for more media attention toward the conflict, and for the U.S. to condemn Azerian aggression.
Jose Ivan Cazares is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers Lynwood, Montebello, Monterey Park, Alhambra, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs and Whittier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.