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'We want more': Armenians in America push Trump administration to support homeland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hasmik Burushyan has not lived in Armenia, but like many young Armenian-Americans in her California city, she feels a strong connection to her ancestral land and a deep concern for what could happen next in an escalating conflict with Azerbaijan.

Hasmik Burushyan, organizer of a protest by Armenian Youth Federation against what they call an Azerbaijan's aggression against Armenia and the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, poses for a photograph outside the Azerbaijani Consulate General in Los Angeles, California, U.S., September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The 22-year-old is among those mobilizing to demand stronger action from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to support Armenia in a battle over breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh - part of Azerbaijan but run by its mostly ethnic Armenian inhabitants.

She worries for family and friends and nervously checks the lists of dead Armenian soldiers for familiar names.

Burushyan belongs to the Armenian Youth Federation, which organized a protest outside the Azerbaijani consulate in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening. The thousands of protesters waved Armenian flags and held up signs that read “Defend Armenia!” and “We want peace, they want war.”

“Right now, we want more from our president,” said Burushyan. Southern California, and particularly the Los Angeles bedroom community of Glendale where Burushyan is from, comprises the largest diaspora Armenian community in the United States.

“We want more from those who claim to represent us, and we want more from those who claim liberty and justice, because right now, those who are staunch supporters of those concepts are not standing up,” she said.

Dozens have been reported killed and hundreds wounded in fighting since Sunday that has spread well beyond the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave’s boundaries, threatening to spill over into all-out war between the two former Soviet republics.

Activist groups, some lawmakers and arguably the most famous Armenian-American - reality TV star Kim Kardashian West - have been calling for the United States to take a stronger stance by blaming Azerbaijan for the hostilities and cutting U.S. military assistance to the country.

According to Foreignassistance.gov, a U.S. government website, the United States has already drastically reduced security assistance spending to Azerbaijan, dropping it to $247,550 in 2020 from $3.67 million in 2019.

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Washington so far has sought to remain neutral, calling for an immediate ceasefire and a return to negotiations.

“There is no military solution to this dispute. This violence must stop now, before more lives are unnecessarily lost,” a senior administration official told Reuters.

TAKING ON TURKEY

The re-eruption of one of the “frozen conflicts” dating back to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union has raised concerns about stability in the South Caucasus and fears of drawing in regional powers Russia, which has a military base in majority Christian Armenia, and Turkey, a close ally of mainly Muslim Azerbaijan.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday rejected joint U.S., French, and Russian peace efforts, saying a lasting ceasefire could only be achieved if “Armenian occupiers” withdrew from Nagorno-Karabakh.

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, a top Democratic lawmaker whose district includes Glendale, said he had heard from constituents, many of whom still have family in Armenia.

“The administration needs to call on Azerbaijan to cease hostilities and call on President Erdogan to back off - his actions are just inflaming the situation,” Schiff told Reuters.

The U.S. State Department, asked to comment, referred to a statement this week that included a warning that “external parties” should refrain from participating in the violence.

Activists are planning more protests in U.S. cities, including New York and Washington.

Armenian-Americans won a major political victory in 2019, when the U.S. Congress recognized as genocide the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire a century ago, a resolution the Trump administration refrained from endorsing.

But it took them decades to get that far, stymied by concerns about U.S. relations with Turkey.

“Our community is literally tired. We’re tired of constantly having to organize,” Burushyan said, adding “but we’re not going to give up.”

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Additional reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sonya Hepinstall

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