As voters inside Miami Beach City Hall used the ballot box to decide their country’s future, a group of Armenian-Americans took part in a more public display of patriotism right outside.
More than 100 protesters marched through South Beach on Friday afternoon, calling for an end to fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. The small, mountainous area is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but ethnic Armenians have governed it as an independent state, the Republic of Artsakh, since breaking away from Azerbaijan in 1991.
The escalating violence over Nagorno-Karabakh, which began in late September, has killed dozens of civilians in both countries, their governments have said.
“Once the protests started, it made us feel like we’re not as small as we think we are,” said 21-year-old Vartiter Vardanyan, who lives in Boca Raton. “They’re flooding the streets of L.A. and everything, it’s really empowering.”
The demonstrators, who gathered outside City Hall before marching along Lincoln Road, waved Armenian flags and held signs as they chanted in opposition to Azerbaijan and Turkey, which supports its claim to the disputed territory.
Miami Beach Commissioner Mark Samuelian, who is of Armenian descent, joined the protest in support of an independent Artsakh. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez was also in attendance.
“We call for recognition,” Samuelian said. “We call for our U.S. government, at all levels, to take action and to protect Armenia [and] to recognize Artsakh.”
As they walked along the tourist-friendly Lincoln Road promenade, demonstrators hoped to call attention to the conflict, an issue they said many Americans know little about.
“Our goal is to bring attention to what’s going on right now, and I’m seeing that there are plenty of people taking pictures,” said Ara Jabrayan, 40, of Delray Beach. “All we’re trying to do is raise awareness for our issue, for our history and our plight.”