A long-simmering battle between historic rivals Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed formerly Soviet-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region has galvanized Armenians throughout the nation and world. Locally, thousands of Armenian Americans jammed Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles Tuesday demanding compliance with cease-fire talks, and demonstrations have twice closed down the 101 Freeway in Hollywood in the last week.
For Vahan Papazian, owner of the Good Food Market in Pasadena, the battle has hit home.
Papazian has joined merchants and business owners locally and nationally in supporting his homeland in the conflict. This week, he is donating 100 percent of his store’s profits from October 13 to October 15 to the Armenia Fund, to support Armenians in the small Christian nation in the Caucasus region.
“We want to send whatever we can to our brave brothers and sisters in Armenia because they need our help,” he said Tuesday, sitting in his upstairs office above the busy and popular neighborhood grocery store, located on a stretch of Armenian American businesses and restaurants along Washington Boulevard flourishing between Hill and Allen Avenues.
Papazian, who said he joined more than 100,000 demonstrators in Hollywood last week, said, “We want to show people what is happening in Armenia.”
According to an Associated Press report, Nagorno-Karabakh, which is populated mostly by Armenians, was an autonomous region inside Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. Historic tensions between Christian Armenians and mostly Muslim Azerbaijanis exploded in the final years of the Soviet Union before its collapse in 1991.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region originally sought to join Armenia in 1988, which set off hostilities which eventually morphed into an all-out war. By the time a 1994 cease-fire ended the fighting, an estimated 30,000 people had been killed and up to 1 million were displaced.
Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself but also seized substantial chunks of land outside the territory’s borders. Since the battles, essentially won by Armenia, numerous cease fire treaties and agreements have failed to settle the region.
Azerbaijan, an oil wealthy nation backed by Turkey, has since modernized its military and now argues that it has the right to reclaim its land by force after nearly three decades of failed international mediation.
The latest round of cease fire talks ostensibly negotiated by Russia, broke down last week with both sides blaming the other.
“We are a peaceful nation,” said Papazian, who bought the market in 2016, after working as an employee there for many years. “There are Armenians all over the world, in Russia, in Asia, all over the Middle East, and all we want is peace. We don’t want to fight.”
Papazian also insinuated that Azerbaijan was bullying the much smaller Armenia.
“They are a nation of 30 million people,” he said, “and we are two million. What can we do? It’s just like in 2015 and the Armenian genocide. We don’t have any power, and we don’t have any connections.”
Papazian continued, “We are all humans. In every culture there are good people and there are bad people. But it’s like bad things are happening all over again.”
Good Food Market is joining hundreds of Armenian markets, restaurants and businesses throughout Southern California who are currently collecting funds for the region they know as “Artsakh.”
“Armenians are always unified,” said Papazian, “all over the world, and especially now.”
Good Food Market is at 1864 East Washington Boulevard, Pasadena, CA. Donations to the Armenia fund may be made at www.Armeniafund.org.