LA's huge Armenian diaspora mobilizes for Karabakh

No sooner had the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh escalated last month than the huge Armenian community in Los Angeles began to mobilize to send food, medical equipment and other relief supplies home.
"The second it started we said, 'What do we do now?' and we got to work straight away, "said Sosse Krikorian, who spoke to AFP near Los Angeles this week as she sorted aid to the tiny enclave at the heart of the fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The area - known by Armenians as the Republic of Artsakh - is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but its population is predominantly Armenian ethnic groups.
For the Armenian community in Los Angeles - one of the largest in the world - the decades-old conflict thousands of miles away is very personal, and the recent escalation of violence has generated a lot of support.
"We are all very attached to our homeland. Armenia is sacred to us," said Nora Hovsepian, Chair of the Armenian National Committee of the Americas West Region (ANCA-WR).
Hovsepian estimated the number of Armenians in the United States at 1.5 to two million, with about a million people living in California alone, most of them in the Los Angeles area.
"Every Armenian you speak to these days wants to do something, whether it's donating money, donating goods, calling the media or calling members of Congress," added Hovsepian, who was born in the US and whose ancestors fled the Armenian genocide .

- 'Armenia is my home' -
The solidarity of the community in LA can be seen across the city, especially in the Armenian-majority suburb of Glendale or in Little Armenia, where many shops proudly display the Armenian flag or have collection boxes set up.
Celebrities with roots in Armenia, such as singer Cher and reality TV star Kim Kardashian, have also tried to put the deadly conflict on social media into the limelight.
Others like the 21-year-old Krikorian help by collecting relief supplies for the fighters at the front.
"We have already sent over 1,000 boxes of medical supplies ... and another flight is coming soon," says her father Joe Krikorian, who runs a non-profit organization that offers extensive first aid training in Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
"They are running out of many things," he added. "We get calls every day, 'we're out of stitches, we need tourniquets' and we're trying to get them there as soon as possible."
Lebanon-born Krikorian said dozens of volunteers and family members proved helpful at his company while other organizations in the LA area collected clothes or groceries.
"I only have American citizenship, but Armenia is my home - it's my blood, it's my roots, my grandparents were part of the genocide," said the 48-year-old.
Armenians say up to 1.5 million people were killed by Ottoman Turks in World War I in genocide, a claim supported by around 30 countries. Turkey rejects the genocide label, saying that the Turks also died in the civil war.
Raffi Sarkissian, an ANCA board member who leads a small team of volunteers who plan to travel to the enclave in the coming days, said the biggest challenge is solving logistical issues to make sure aid reaches the enclave.
He said much of the aid was bogged down because of the heavy fighting in Europe or the US, and his goal was to set up a supply chain to ensure medical equipment and other relief supplies reach Armenia and eventually the front lines.
"At the moment we have to be over there because of the logistics," he said. "That way we can judge whatever is needed with the local government."
ban / jz / bfm

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