Armenian Student Association organizes to support Armenia

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Photo courtesy of Armenian Student Association

The Armenian Student Association has been a source of comfort for members as they grapple with the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict abroad.

Davis Giangiulio, Assistant Campus Editor

When Northwestern students created the Armenian Student Association last year, the organization was supposed to be a culturally focused club.

“It wasn’t meant to be a political presence on campus,” Weinberg junior and ASA co-founder Nick Shehigian said. 

But that focus changed when the decades-old conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalated Sept. 13. The dispute has been over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region home to a large Armenian population. A vote by the region’s parliament in the 1980s to join Armenia started an armed conflict, and since, the region has remained under Armenian separatist control despite being recognized as part of Azerbaijan.  

Thousands of miles away, ASA works to raise awareness about the violence and encourage NU community members to support Armenia.

ASA member and Pritzker second-year Lisabelle Panossian said the conflict is devastating. She’s a descendant of survivors of the Armenian Genocide and fears part of her culture could disappear.

“Seeing this government and its forces invading our country again brought up a lot of trauma within me,” she said. “It was hard to focus on work (and) everyday activities.”

But Panossian said she also didn’t want to feel helpless and instead decided to take action. 

Just days after the conflict reignited, ASA partnered with similar organizations across U.S. universities. The organizations wrote an open letter calling for the universities’ students and educators to condemn Azerbaijan’s actions and spread awareness about the conflict.

Weinberg sophomore Isabel Toghramadjian, co-founder and president of ASA, said the letter was important in demonstrating U.S. solidarity with Armenia.

“It’s very heartening to be able to have that unity with other students around the country,” Toghramadjian said. “To collaborate with them was really encouraging and kind of reassuring, because you feel helpless in a sense as an individual or organization, but (the group of organizations) adds a lot of credibility.”

Shehigian said ASA is encouraging NU students to sign an open letter denouncing Azerbaijan’s aggression. He also said ASA seeks to work with other small affinity groups, like the Balkan Student Association, on joint advocacy work.

Panossian is co-president of Pritzker’s Middle Eastern Law Students Association. She said the association hosted Karnig Kerkonian, a human rights lawyer representing Armenia in its case against Azerbaijan in the International Court of Justice, to discuss how terminology affects perception of events. 

Panossian said terms like “border clash” make the situation seem more two-sided than she thinks it is. She added that she plans to use MELSA’s monthly emails to provide updates on the conflict.

One of ASA’s goals right now is spreading awareness of the conflict amid a lack of consistent and prominent media coverage, Shehigian said. 

“It seems no one else really knows — it almost feels like reading the news is reading a fiction book, because it’s so removed from the reality that we’re in,” Shehigian said. 

He said ASA has been making an effort to spread accurate information about the violence and describing how people can help.

ASA is encouraging people to contact their representatives to support a resolution in Congress urging the president to end current military aid to Azerbaijan and donate to nonprofits aiding wounded soldiers and documenting atrocities. 

Most importantly, Toghramadjian said, ASA provides an outlet for Armenians to feel connected with one another at this time. 

“Over the past couple weeks since the situation has escalated, we’ve each been going through it alone,” Toghramadjian said. “To be able to now have a space to lean on one another, I think, is very meaningful.”

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Twitter: @GiangiulioDavis

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