The biggest battle for most students this semester is navigating the pandemic, but Oklahoma State University student Raffi Demirjian is fighting another battle few of his peers know.
That battle began long before Raffi was born and is rife with human rights violations, foreign intervention and press restrictions.
Raffi, a marketing and sports management senior, is Armenian, ‘a small but proud group of people.’ Between recovering from COVID, passing his classes and participating in his fraternity, Raffi said he ‘has a duty to his people’ to spread awareness of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The conflict is reaching a tipping point, with tensions rising to levels not seen since the ‘90s.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region is 90% Armenian and has been for hundreds of years. The Turkish-backed Azerbaijan government called for a complete withdrawal of Armenians from the region.
With Turkey supporting the conflict, Armenians are reminded of the genocide, which killed 1.5 million of their people, at the end of World War I.
“After the Armenian genocide of 1915 by the Ottoman empire in Turkey, it has just always been a sense of togetherness and survival among the Armenian community,” Raffi said.
Never having visited his home country, Raffi said he was planning to visit next summer. With the unrest in the region and the pandemic, he said he doesn’t think it will happen anytime soon.
“We all obviously can’t fly back and fight for our country but we do what we can as American citizens,” Raffi said. “We do what we can to urge our lawmakers, our congressmen, our senators and our president to, one, condemn the attacks by both Azerbaijan and Turkey, two, stop military funding to both of those countries.”
Depending on which government explains it, the origin of the conflict might sound drastically different. Raffi said he fears American politicians won’t condemn the attacks because they don't want to lose political ties with Turkey.
“We feel like we aren’t being heard and because of these political ties we have with oppressive countries, they are just going to keep going and killing our homeland,” Raffi said.
Oklahoma has a much smaller population of Armenian people than Raffi’s home state, California. Raffi’s only met one other Armenian student at OSU, which he said is making his experience more difficult.
“I’ve thought about, especially as of late, trying to start an Armenian Student Association chapter of OSU,” Raffi said. “My two concerns would be, one, I don’t know any other Armenians here except for one student and, two, I graduate in May.”
This semester has been rough for Raffi and he said he often gets stressed keeping up with everything, but he has ‘nothing to lose from being an advocate’ for his country and his people.
“Because when a bigger group of people than just Armenians start speaking about it, that’s when voices are truly heard,” Raffi said.