Telethon to Aid Armenian Struggle

A 16-hour nationwide telethon will be held this weekend for war-weary Armenians seeking freedom from the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

For the second year in a row, the Aid to Artsakh Telethon will seek to raise funds for the reconstruction of schools, homes, orphanages and communication lines destroyed in the seven-year struggle between the Azerbaijan government and separatists from Nagorno-Karabakh, the mostly Armenian-populated region just south of the Caucasus Mountains above Armenia.

The event will be coordinated by the Armenian National Committee's Artsakh Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Glendale and dedicated to providing humanitarian assistance to Karabakh residents. Last year's event raised more than $1.5 million.

Made a part of Soviet Azerbaijan in the early 1920s, the Karabakh region, formerly known as Artsakh, has remained largely Armenian in character through the decades despite the Turkish influence of the Azerbaijan government.

Amid the weakening of Soviet power, in 1988 Armenians in Karabakh declared autonomy from Azerbaijan and have been fighting to secede from the republic ever since.

"For hundreds of years, Artsakh was a part of Armenia," said Artsakh Fund spokesman George Chorbajian. "As soon as they had the chance to reunite with the country of their heritage, (the Artsakh people) wanted to go back. They want to be free."

So far, fighting has claimed the lives of about 15,000 people and displaced more than 1 million from their homes.

Broadcast across the nation from studios in Glendale, the telethon will feature recorded segments of traditional Armenian song and dance performances intermingled with background information on the war in Karabakh and the region's history.

Aid to Artsakh Telethon II will air on KSCI-TV Channel 18 in Los Angeles from 10 tonight to 2 p.m. Sunday. About 500 volunteers will accept donation pledges.

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