BY TALAR MALAKIAN
IRIVINE—On Thursday, November 15, more than a hundred community members and University of California- Irvine students attended the lecture entitled “The Karabakh Conflict From Ceasefire to Safarov: Analysis Via Television News Coverage: 1990s to 2012” hosted by the Armenian Studies Program at UC-Irvine. The lecturer for the evening was Dr. Levon Marashlian, a professor of History at Glendale Community College and a guest lecturer at California State University Northridge, the University of California- Irvine, and the University of California- Los Angeles.
The moderator for the evening was Professor Touraj Daryaee, a professor of Persian Studies and a major contributor to the UCI Armenian Studies Program. The informative lecture concluded with a Question and Answer session in which several Azerbaijani students made political claims that were misquoted and negligent of the information presented during the lecture.
The lecture began at 7:30 p.m. following a reception hosted by the program. Professor Marashlian showed news coverage of the various events in the Karabakh struggle, that began in February 1988, when the Supreme Soviet rule of Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast, voted to unite with Armenia, with between a 76% and 94% majority of Armenians. By the summer of 1989 the Armenian-populated areas of the NKAO were under blockade by Azerbaijan. On July 12 the Nagorno-Karabakh Supreme Soviet voted to secede from Azerbaijan, which was rejected, and in 1991, the oblast was back under Azerbaijani control. Marashlian, in discussing the series of events chronologically, began by stating, “both sides suffered greatly” during the time of war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, with great losses on both ends. Video coverage included images of Azerbaijani and Armenian losses during the war.
Professor Marashlian discussed the various requirements of the Madrid Principles adopted by Armenia for ceasefire in 2007, which is constantly being breached on both ends in a tense deadlock but which grants Armenians some sort of autonomy in Azerbaijan until both countries agree to let the region take a vote on its independence. He concluded with several points drawn from his historical analysis of the situation: Armenia needed Nagorno-Karabakh because Karabakh is a current source of food and revenue for Armenia given that Armenia is blockaded by both Turkey and Azerbaijan, leaving it “isolated” due to “poor diplomacy.”
He pointed out that Azerbaijan did not need Nagorno-Karabakh geographically, because the oil running through Azerbaijan brings in roughly $13 billion. Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan only makes their oil susceptible to damage by internal conflict in the region. He concluded his lecture by stating that President Aliyev’s act of freeing and promoting axe-murderer Ramil Safarov only a few months ago is a message to the rest of the world and to Nagorno-Karabakh’s future: it is acceptable to murder defenseless Armenians in their sleep, and autonomy in Azerbaijan means Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh may be on the verge of facing another genocide.
Azerbaijani students, present at the event, attacked the professor in the Question-and-answer session. Professor Marashlian was asked to draw a contrast between Ramil Safarov and Varoujan Garabedian, a man convicted for the 1983 ASALA bombing of the Turkish Airlines office in Paris. The Azeri student claimed that the two situations were the same. Professor Marashlian answered in stating that the two situations were different since Garabedian had completed his sentence in France and then was deported from France, but was not pardoned and promoted in Armenia, nor was he treated as a hero. He had simply been given citizenship by Armenia. The students insisted the two cases were the same, but then continued on to several other issues.
In a subsequent question, an Azerbaijani attendee asked the professor, why he had not explicitly mentioned the 1992 Khojaly Massacre, the killing of civilians during the early Karabakh conflict. Marashlian insisted that he showed the photos from Khojaly, and did mention that both sides of this war had experienced many losses. The Azerbaijani students insisted on continuing the discussion by bringing up Markar Melkonian’s “My Brother’s Road” – the diary of Armenia’s National Hero and Armenian-American, Monte (Avo) Melkonian. Professor Marashlian responded again that both sides suffered losses and that the Sumgait riots during which 26 Armenians and 6 Azerbaijanis were killed was a triggering event for the conflict that led to war. Marashlian also mentioned the Azerbaijani photographer who had concluded, based on photographic evidence, that many of the bodies found at Khojaly were moved there, and that after publishing his findings he was executed by Azerbaijani forces.
Another Azerbaijani student yelled that she had been born and raised in Nagorno-Karabakh and that the professor’s claim to there being no Azerbaijani people in Karabakh was wrong, and that the 800,000 Azerbaijani refugees had a right to go back to their homes. Professor Marashlian reiterated that the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh was approximately 175,000 before the war, and that the majority were Armenian. He also emphasized that the Armenian government was prepared to return the regions jus outside the borders of the Republic to Azerbaijan as part of the Madrid principles, thus allowing the majority too return to their homes. He also pointed out that those regions were held merely for security reasons and were a staging ground for Azerbaijani acts of aggression, just as the current sniper fire continues.
Because of the tense atmosphere of the lecture, Professor Daryaee asked Professor Marashlian to conclude with a statement. Professor Marashlian concluded with attention to the severity of the case: Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are facing a deadlock that can erupt in war and genocide at any moment. Without activism to keep Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia itself will eventually disappear.
Talar Malakian is the Chairperson of the Armenian National Committee of America Orange County Chapter, which defends the rights, advances the interests, and promotes the well being of the county’s Armenian American community and promotes increased civic participation at the grassroots and public policy levels.