BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Bako Sahakyan, President of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh), just completed his third visit to Los Angeles. Unlike his previous two visits, he was received last week by prominent political figures as a Head of State, even though his country is not officially recognized by the international community.
Pres. Sahakyan was in California for 10 days on the occasion of Armenia Fund’s annual Thanksgiving Day telethon that raised over $20 million to provide humanitarian assistance to the villages of Artsakh.
In addition to visiting the local Armenian community and meeting benefactors, for the first time Pres. Sahakyan was welcomed by the City Councils of Los Angeles and Montebello, asked to speak before the World Affairs Council of Orange County, and invited to a State Luncheon held in his honor by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The Los Angeles City Council received Pres. Sahakyan and his entourage on November 19 and honored him with a proclamation and city resolution, highlighting his commitment to the independence of the Republic of Artsakh. Council member Paul Krekorian warmly saluted the President: “It is my distinct and proud honor to recognize Pres. Sahakyan, a true champion of freedom, justice, and liberty. He is a warrior who fought and paid in blood for the freedom and independence of his homeland and his countrymen.” The President was officially welcomed to Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States, by Eric Garcetti, President of the City Council. Pres. Sahakyan thanked the Council members for the honor and invited them to visit the Republic of Artsakh. Several other Council Members also made welcoming remarks. It was heartwarming to see the flag of the Republic of Artsakh for the first time alongside the U.S. flag in the City Council Chambers during this special ceremony.
Later that evening, Pres. Sahakyan addressed the World Affairs Council of Orange County, during a banquet in his honor at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach. This unprecedented event took place without a hitch, despite demands for its cancellation by Elin Suleymanov, the Consul General of Azerbaijan, the US Azeris Network, and a handful of Azeri and Turkish demonstrators.
Pres. Sahakyan was next honored by Mayor William Molinari and the City Council of Montebello on Nov. 22. The Mayor welcomed the President and presented him a Proclamation. In response, Pres. Sahakyan expressed his gratitude for the sister-city relationship between Montebello and Stepanakert, the Capital of Artsakh. Later that evening, the President attended a reception in his honor organized by the local community at the Montebello Armenian Center.
The following day, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave a State Luncheon at the Getty House for the President of the Republic of Artsakh — a special honor for visiting Heads of State. Before the luncheon, the Mayor met privately with Pres. Sahakyan and discussed bilateral relations between the Republic of Artsakh and Los Angeles, a sister city with Yerevan. In expressing his gratitude, the President invited the Mayor to visit Artsakh and Armenia. The luncheon was attended by the President’s delegation, Consul General of Armenia Grigor Hovhannissian, Councilman Paul Krekorian, City Council President Eric Garcetti, and Armenian community leaders.
In a gracious gesture, Mayor Villaraigosa made an appearance on Thanksgiving Day at the telethon broadcast live on November 25, and urged viewers worldwide to contribute generously to the Armenia Fund’s humanitarian project of providing drinking and irrigation water to 200 villages in Artsakh.
On November 24, Pres. Sahakyan met with a group of young professionals who made a commitment to support the opening of a special office to represent Artsakh in Los Angeles. The President welcomed the group’s initiative, stating that a formal announcement would be made shortly.
Overall, Pres. Sahakyan’s visit to California was a resounding success, not only in raising a substantial amount of money for Artsakh’s humanitarian needs, but also in establishing valuable political ties with the cities of Los Angeles and Montebello, and the Orange County World Affairs Council, thereby strengthening Artsakh’s prospects for recognition by the international community as an independent state.
While the Consulate of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on high-powered lobbyists to carry out anti-Artsakh propaganda, Pres. Sahakyan, with the assistance of the Armenian community, succeeded in effectively countering the Azeri campaign, without spending a single dollar!