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UCLA, USC Armenian Students’ Associations co-host Nagorno-Karabakh vigil

Pictured is a board made by the UCLA Armenian Students’ Association and displayed at the vigil. (Photo by Rita Keushkerian, courtesy of Mary Keushkerian)

By Dylan Winward

Sept. 30, 2023 4:04 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 1 at 11:05 p.m.

The UCLA Armenian Students’ Association hosted a vigil outside Royce Hall on Wednesday evening to commemorate the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and recent events in the region.

The vigil, which was hosted in collaboration with the association’s branch at the University of Southern California – included speeches from members of the organization and a USC writing lecturer. During the event, there were songs and prayers led by a local priest from the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church. The vigil also included an opportunity to donate to civilians impacted by the recent events by buying candles and roses to lay during the vigil.

The vigil follows an Azerbaijani military intervention that began Sept. 19 and resulted in a surrender by defending forces Sept. 20 in the internationally unrecognized Republic of Artsakh, also called Nagorno-Karabakh, according to CNN. Sovereignty of the region, which is 95% ethnically Armenian, is contested. While the government of Azerbaijan described the operation as counterterrorism, Armenian representatives claimed it was an illegal intervention, according to a press release from the U.N. Security Council.

Mary Keushkerian, a fourth-year psychobiology student and president of the Armenian Students’ Association at UCLA, said the associations decided to host the vigil on the anniversary of the start of the 2020 war in the region. She added that her immediate reaction to recent events, including the news that fighters for the Republic of Artsakh had surrendered, was one of shock.

“I just woke up to a text from one of our board members, Lusin, and she said, ‘They took Artsakh,’” she said. “I was in shock, … and I immediately looked at the wall, and I just prayed.”

Keushkerian also said the event was particularly personal to her because she volunteers to teach students in the region virtually, adding that those relationships were another reason the day was emotional for her.

Daniel Chaderjian, a USC alumnus who attended the event, said he thought the vigil was important for bringing attention to recent events that could otherwise get lost in the noise of day-to-day life. He added that many members of the Armenian diaspora have direct relatives who were survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

“I think that when we’re this far removed geographically, we can often become focused on our own lives, and I’m guilty of that,” Chaderjian said. “I think that having things like this reminds us of how much suffering there is back in Armenia, how much difficult things they’re enduring.”

Greg Mazmanian, a second-year electrical engineering student who attended the vigil, said he felt it was important to amplify the voices of Armenian students, especially since he feels many at UCLA are not aware of the recent conflict.

Mazmanian added that he thought the speakers at the event shared important thoughts and feelings about recent events. Speakers at the event shared about topics including their feelings of guilt at not being able to do more for civilians in the region, their worry for people they knew there and their memories of visiting it.

Alex Pakarian, a first-year student at USC, also said the event’s joint hosting by members of both universities shows the unity of his community.

“I think we had a great turnout from ASAs from different schools such as USC and UCLA, and I like that collaboration between clubs that exist in different schools, and how we’re coming together and uniting us as Armenians,” he said.

Pakarian also said that although he wished Armenians did not have to have a vigil, he felt events like it were important in allowing the community to remember those who died. The event also contained a moment of silence for people who had recently died.

According to the Associated Press, over 97,000 people had emigrated from the region to Armenia as of Friday. AP also reported that there were more than 200 injuries in a single explosion.

Mischa Gureghian Hall, the political affairs chair of the UCLA Armenian Students’ Association, said he thought the event was important because UCLA has the largest Armenian student association in the country. He added that for him, the turnout at the event – nearly 150 people – was a heartwarming show.

Keushkerian also said she believes the vigil is also important to demonstrate the unity of her community and educate non-Armenians about current events.

“I think right now, our unity will give us power, it will allow us to brainstorm new ideas and it will give us an opportunity to converse with each other and come to terms with everything going on,” she said. “I think it’s a great event for us to inform non-Armenians about what’s going on in Artsakh.”

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Dylan Winward | Features and student life editor
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year statistics and english literature student.
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year statistics and english literature student.
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