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Local Armenians worry about loved ones stranded by blockade overseas

Posted at 11:35 PM, Jan 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-06 23:35:32-05

(WXYZ) — Fear and concern are brewing in Armenia communities across metro Detroit. The region of Artsakh, which is primarily populated by Armenians, is facing a humanitarian crisis.

Protestors from the neighboring country, Azerbaijan, have blocked access to the only road connecting Artsakh to Armenia and the rest of the world.

Metro Detroit's Armenian community is the fourth-largest population in the U.S. Many of them gathered Friday at Saint Sarkis Armenian Apostolic Church in Dearborn to celebrate Armenian Christmas.

"The main concern I have is not seeing them again," Dzovinar Hamakorzian said.

Hamakorzian says her three goddaughters have been stranded for 27 days.

They live in the region of Artsahk, which is connected to Armenia through the Lachin Corridor.

The road, now blocked by Azerbaijani protestors, is no longer a viable passage to transport resources.

"Unfortunately, this is too familiar for us," Hamakorzian said. "Our grandparents are survivors of the Armenian genocide and we know this is the beginning of the ethnic cleansing."

It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1.2 million Armenians died during the genocide. President Joe Biden officially acknowledged the atrocities in 2021, marking April 24 as National Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.

While Artsakh is its own state and has its own elected officials, the territory has long been disputed. In 2020, Azerbaijan fought a six-week war with Armenia, ultimately gaining control of the land.

"Part of Azerbaijan's campaign is to make us let go of that grasp of those rights — the right to statehood, the right to self-determination and all the human rights that come along with that," said Gev Iskejyan, the Artsakh director for the Armenian National Committee of America.

Iskejyan has boots on the ground in Artsakh. He says the situation is dire.

"There is concern for everybody," Iskejyan said."I am concerned for the 120,000 people we have living here."

Grocery store shelves in Artsahk are near empty, pharmacies are running low on life-saving medications and the clock is ticking for critical patients in area hospitals. It's a helpless situation for local Armenians who feel like no one seems to care.

"Azerbaijan is a petro-rich country and unfortunately, the world needs oil and we don't have anything like that give," Hamakorzian said.

She says every night, she goes to bed worried sick about what's to come.

"How are we supposed to help them thousands of miles away when there is nothing we can do," she said. "No in and no out."

Hamakorzian says she's personally called local and state legislators for help.

Sen. Gary Peters tweeted his support, calling on the U.S. to "hold Azerbaijan accountable."

"We feel like a genocide is unfolding in front of us and again, just like 1915," Hamakorzian said.

Local Armenians are asking the public for monetary donations, so that when road does reopen, they can rush in supplies. Those donations can be made at ars1910.org/artsakhstrong/ and acaainc.org/artsakh/.