LA’s large Armenian community has been rallying around calls to support the region of Artsakh this week, with multiple restaurants offering donation deals and charity initiatives aimed at raising much-needed funds there. The disputed border region (also known as Nagorno-Karabakh) between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been the site of intense and renewed military conflict in recent weeks, leading to protests across Los Angeles and calls for a ceasefire from regional officials. Some say Azerbaijan instigated the conflict with the backing of Turkey, whose precursor, the Ottoman Empire, killed 1.5 million Armenians at the end of World War I.
Los Angeles is home to largest diaspora population of Armenians anywhere in the world, totaling in the hundreds of thousands across Southern California. In the last week, protests have taken place in Hollywood and Glendale to raise awareness of the conflict, and criticize the media for not covering it accurately.
“It’s my duty,” says Oui Melrose and Tony Khachapuri owner Armen Piskoulian, who donated funds from a day of sales earlier this week. “If you look at my lineage, I’m a direct descendent of the Armenian genocide. My great-grandparents were displaced, people were murdered. I will not eat, not pay my rent, but I’ll make sure that I’ll do whatever I can as a survivor to support.” Piskoulian raised over $1,000 in just one day, a figure that was matched by private donors and sent to the Armenia Fund.
Armen Martirosyan of Glendale’s Mini Kabob agrees. His family’s restaurant continues to donate money to the Armenia Fund daily, and he says that the tiny kabob specialist has no plans to stop any time soon. “We’re not going to stop until we find some type of peace,” Martirosyan says. “We don’t want anyone to lose their lives, including Azerbaijanis.” His family has already donated several thousand dollars, and has been approached by other local businesses to match those donations. In total, he says, the international diaspora of Armenians is hoping to raise $100 million to send to the Artsakh region, as quickly as possible. “It’s brought the Armenian community together like never before,” he says.
Zankou Chicken, the popular Armenian chicken chain across Southern California, has also been donating time and money to the Artsakh cause, including a Pasadena give-back night slated for tomorrow evening. Nora Iskenderian, whose family founded the chain, tells Eater that community support is already high. “The diaspora here is loud and ready to make their position very clear: Artsakh has been ours, and will remain ours. Our people have been living there in peace.” She is quick to note the political parallels that many feel tie back to the 1915 Armenian genocide. “If we turned a blind eye now, the second time around, who would we be? When we chant ‘1915, never again!,’ we mean it.”
Much like Mini Kabob, Oui Melrose, Zankou Chicken, and others, Glendale’s Zhengyalov Hatz is promising to donate all proceeds to the people of Artsakh at least through this month, and likely beyond. Reached by phone, reps for the restaurant say that they’ll be sending “anything they can, including tips” to the Armenia Fund. The restaurant’s founder, Vresh Osipian, is from Artsakh, though seemingly everyone from the LA Armenian community has been affected by the fighting. “If we don’t support and do whatever we can,” says Oui Melrose’s Piskoulian, “Armenia might be wiped off the map.”
Even with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, slowed sales, and no indoor dining at restaurants across LA County, Mini Kabob’s Martirosyan says that there was never a thought of ceasing support for Armenia in this time of need — a sentiment echoed by many other businesses around LA right now. “Money holds no value, at least against precious lives that might be lost in Armenia,” he says. “I could care less about the money that’s lost. I’ll deplete my bank account just to make sure that our people are good.”
For further businesses that are giving back to Artsakh, check out this handy list here.