The UCI Center for Armenian Studies and the Armenian Student Association (ASA), in collaboration with the Center for Truth and Justice, hosted “Armenian Rebirth: The Last Plight,” featuring Garo Paylan, at Humanities Gateway 1030 on Oct. 16.
Garo Paylan, a former Armenian member of the Turkish Parliament, served from 2015 to 2023 for two terms as a founding member of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party. Hewas subjected to an assassination plot in 2022 for uplifting Armenian genocide in the Ottoman Empire—present day Turkey— killing over 1.5 million Armenians during 1915.
“For more than 100 years, [ Armenians have] just been trying to heal our grandparents. So I struggled in Turkey,” Paylan said.
His visit comes during the aftermath of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War in the South Caucasus, a region in southwest Asia. The war resulted in the Azerbaijani invasion and the ethnic cleansing of over 120,000 Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, due to months of Azerbaijani military aggression and starvation tactics. Tensions around this region have been ongoing since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 as both countries make claims to this territory.
Paylan also touched on the indifference of larger countries toward both the Armenians and the Israeli bombings on Gaza, expressing frustration with the United States’ involvement in specific international affairs.
“Unfortunately, nobody cares about Armenians. After three generations, we suffered another genocide because Armenian lives do not matter.” Paylan said. “What Israel is doing is a hate crime, and Mr. Biden cares more about some countries.”
The Biden Administration committed over $3.3 billion in funds, including military aid, to Israel in 2022. According to an Aljazeera report, that same year during the time of the Nagorno-Karabakh War, Azerbaijan bought $295 million worth of arms from Israel, making it the second largest buyer of military weapons after India. More than 60% of Azerbaijan’s weapons are from Israel as the two countries maintain close relations.
He explained that Armenia lacked political leverage, unlike Turkey, who is close with Russia, and Azerbaijan who is also close with Russia and Turkey. Although Armenia is a member of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which guarantees support in military attacks, Paylan claimed that Russian favor had swayed to Azerbaijan while he served in office.
“We were told Russians were our allies, and if Turks were to attack Armenia, they would help us.” Paylan said. “Russians interests have changed and now they need to sell and launder their oil to Azerbaijan after the Russia-Ukraine war.”
Paylan urged the Armenian diaspora to unify in the midst of the ongoing crisis, looking to other discriminated groups in the Middle East who also face pressure from larger countries.
“If we don’t unite and if we don’t stand up against Turks and Azeris, they will attack. Because I know Turks. I know Azeris. Look at Kurds. Look at what’s happening to the Palestinians. There are three identities that are vulnerable in the Middle East and Caucasus. One is the Palestinians … and Kurds … of course, and Armenians, unfortunately,” Paylan said.
He then spoke on the ongoing conflict between Armenia and the Azerbaijani occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh. He talked about the possibility of peace through open borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, explaining that trade could help strengthen the political borders.
“If we open borders with Turkey, Turkish people will see that Armenians are not their enemies. They will be doing trade, tourism, whatever. Everybody will benefit from each other,” Paylan said. “So we need this. We need this time, this five to ten years in peace. You’ll see. We’ll be stronger. We’ll go to the point where we can defend our country.”
However, there was disagreement among some of the audience regarding the normalization between the Turkish and Armenian border. CSULong Beach geographic information systems master’s student Haig Minasian echoed the disagreement over Armenia opening its borders with Turkey.
“I think his presence is commendable,” Minasian said. “But what he said about peace and justice being achieved through power and strength did not make sense. He blamed Russia as the sole betrayer, but opening the borders will expose more untrustworthy allies.”
Minasian also stated that strengthening the Armenian economy through open borders and trade with Turkey and Azerbaijan would not benefit the majority of its citizens.
“This only benefits the rich, elite Armenians. Only Azerbaijan will have leverage, whether or not the [Armenian] economy grows,” Minasian added.
The Armenian Student Association gave an official statement in an email to the New University following Paylan’s talk.
“As Armenian students, we are united by a duty to use our diaspora privilege to help our homeland. In this, we follow Paylan’s example of leadership and initiative through this difficult time as our people endure and recover from ethnic cleansing,”
The statement also emphasizes the role of the diaspora within the Armenian community: to uplift each other.
After the event, professor of history and Meghrouni Family Presidential Chair in Armenian studies Houri Beberian resonated with Paylan’s call for unity.
“It was good to hear a new perspective. A perspective that seems common sense — that Armenians should unite in order to create solutions. I hope the message of unity will be carried through the diaspora and the republic,” Berberian said.
Helena San Roque is a Campus News Editor for the 2023-24 school year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.