Why these Armenian American celebs are speaking out about a chronic conflict
Among Kourtney Kardashian’s 19 Instagram story posts Wednesday, two stood out. One was a “Pray for Armenia” graphic of a woman draped in the red, blue and apricot orange Armenian flag and hugging a globe.
The other was a post by writer and researcher Araxie Cass titled “Armenians are facing the threat of genocide: What’s happening in Armenia and Artsakh and how you can help.” The eldest Kardashian sister captioned the post with “important. please read through this post.”
A little-known fact to some, reality stars Kourtney, Kim, Khloé and Rob Kardashian are all of Armenian descent. The great-grandparents of their father, Robert Kardashian (O.J. Simpson’s late defense attorney), were ethnic Armenian immigrants from the village of Karakale.
The Kardashian siblings are among Armenian American celebrities — including Cher and System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian — using their social media clout to raise awareness about an ongoing conflict in the region.
Armenia and its neighbor, Azerbaijan, are former Soviet republics in the southern Caucasus region, straddling Asia and Europe. A long-simmering conflict between the two countries regarding the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh has boiled over in recent days.
The mountainous region — home to 150,000 majority ethnic Armenian people — is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
However, beginning on Sept. 27, fighting over the disputed territory has killed more than 360 people, according to Reuters, including at least 320 military personnel, 28 Azeri civilians and 19 civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
That makes this current conflict the deadliest since a 1991-94 war that killed an estimated 30,000 people and displaced more than a million. Azerbaijan officials say Armenian armed forces violated a ceasefire in the area, a narrative disputed by Armenian proponents.
Armenia and Azerbaijan need to return to the negotiating table, so that the deadly conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh does not widen into a regional war.
Since the fighting began, Armenian Americans, including the Kardashian clan, have been spreading the word about the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenians call by its historic name, Artsakh. The comments under the Kardashians’ Instagram posts are peppered with Armenian flag emojis and cries to “pray for Armenia.”
The Armenian diaspora around the world far outnumbers Armenia’s own population of about 3 million. Alex Galitsky, communications director for the Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region, told The Times that Los Angeles houses more Armenians than any city outside of the capital of Armenia, Yerevan.
On Oct. 1, gastroenterologist and Emmy-nominated film producer Eric Esrailian — who helped create the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA in 2019 — partnered with Kim, Khloé and Rob Kardashian, as well as Tankian, to get the story out on social media.
“Please share the news,” Kim Kardashian posted to her Instagram story. “Armenians in #Arstakh have been attacked. We are praying [for the] brave men & women risking their lives to protect Artsakh & #Armenia. The news is misleading & these are not ‘clashes.’ Armenia has been the victim of unprovoked attacks by Azerbaijan & the predictable disinformation campaign that accompanies them.”
The protesters shut down Imperial Highway and Douglas Street about 6 p.m. Tuesday, with some chanting, “Shame on the L.A. Times.”
“What’s going on in Armenia breaks my heart,” Khloé Kardashian posted to her Instagram story. “I pray so deeply for everyone’s safety and health. … #Armenia and Artsakh are defending themselves but seek assistance from the international community to condemn these attacks & restore peace to the region.”
“In the fog of the pandemic & global crises, #Armenians in #Artsakh have been victims of unprovoked attacks by #Azerbaijan,” Rob Kardashian posted on Twitter. “We appeal to the international community to continue to condemn these attacks. From the highest levels of leadership, we know Armenia and Artsakh want peace.”
After the 2015 death of Armenian American investor Kirk Kerkorian — who had owned the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer media company for 17 years — Esrailian took over Kerkorian’s company, Survival Pictures.
Before his death, Kerkorian bankrolled the historical drama “The Promise,” which tells the story of the beginnings of the Armenian genocide in 1915.
Much was made of Kim Kardashian’s sleek bob and curve-hugging vintage Versace dress at last week’s Hollywood premiere for “The Promise.”
“My great-great-grandparents came from Armenia to Los Angeles in 1914, right before the genocide happened,” Kardashian wrote for TIME in 2015. “We have no existing family left in Armenia. Had they not escaped, we wouldn’t be here.”
The Kardashians have long been vocal advocates for the Armenian cause. Kim and her sister Kourtney attended the Hollywood premiere of “The Promise” in April 2017 alongside fellow Armenian Cher. The film’s trailer aired regularly during episodes of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” at the time.
Late last year, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed a resolution formally designating the mass killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as a genocide. But the Trump administration ultimately sided with Turkey and rejected the congressional resolution.
In recent days, the Kardashians and Cher have been retweeting posts calling on celebrities to use their platforms to spread awareness of the Artsakh conflict, as well the international community to condemn the violence.
“L.A. is proud to be home to the largest Armenian diaspora,” one post retweeted by Cher said. “We stand with the people of Armenia. urge our leaders in Washington to conduct the sustained and rigorous diplomacy necessary to bring peace to the Artsakh region.”
“The Armenian community just really wants to be heard,” Kim Kardashian told The Times in 2017. “I think it’s so important that people just acknowledge that something happened. Of course we can all get through it. We have no choice. But when you’re not recognized for something, that is when you’re fearful it could happen again, and that’s what‘s so scary.”
Esrailian’s original tweet calling for celebrity support, which the Kardashians responded to, also tagged Tankian.
He fronts System of a Down, which is an Armenian American heavy-metal band: It comprises four members — Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan — all of whom are of Armenian descent. Tankian and Malakian both attended an Armenian school in Los Angeles as kids.
Protesters rallied outside media offices in Hollywood over the weekend in demonstrations calling attention to violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh, which has become the subject of renewed fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the past week.
"#Armenian civilians in #Artsakh continue to be attacked by #Azerbaijan without justification,” Tankian wrote on Instagram. “Russian, U.S. & French leaders have called for an end to these hostilities, but Turkey called the demand for truce ‘unacceptable’ & is using American made F-16 aircraft to add to the hostilities.”
The War Zone, a branch of The Drive automotive publication, obtained an Oct. 3 satellite image of Ganja International Airport in Azerbaijan on Wednesday, which showed two F-16 Viper fighter jets — which the publication says are “almost certainly belonging to the Turkish Air Force.”
Rapper Cardi B was also entangled in the conflict this week and issued an apology for promoting a virtual fundraiser for the Armenia Fund. The musician was called out by people on both sides of the land dispute for not doing her research.
“But I don’t know what to believe,” she said on Twitter. “I don’t know. One side is telling me something, the other side is telling me something else. I just want peace. … I don’t want people dying.”
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