Julie Thomasian is a member of the GW Armenian Students Association.
A week ago, I woke up to what I thought would be just another day of school – until I looked down at my phone.
Flooding my screen were alerts from local Armenian news sources and messages from my friends and family in Armenia. While I had been sleeping, my homeland Armenia, and specifically Artsakh, an ethnically Armenian, independently established republic, was attacked by Azerbaijan with full support from Turkey. A full-scale war had broken out. In other words, I woke up to a war in my homeland.
When I am located 5,000 miles away from my homeland, living through a war is a feeling akin to paralysis. My mind travels far away from my body, and I am constantly thinking of what I can do next to help. But the ways I try to help never seem like enough, and anything I do is certainly nothing compared to what Armenia is doing for me right now – defending my existence in this world.
This realization weighs me down with immense guilt, and my mind travels even further trying to imagine what it feels like to be in my home right now. I am inundated with different sounds in my head, from the voices of soldiers fighting on the frontlines to the screams of youth my age, and much younger, fleeing to take shelter while their homes are destroyed. Sometimes, it’s the silence I hear while I’m physically miles away while my country is in crisis that is most overbearing.
The silence felt as an Armenian living in the United States right now is deafening. The silence felt as an Armenian student at GW is even louder. How can we be expected to go to class, participate and learn while our homeland is being destroyed at the hands of its perpetrators and with the help of the world’s silence? Azerbaijan’s planned attacks on Armenia have crossed any measure of a mere regional conflict. This is no longer just an issue between two adjacent countries or an agenda that can be silenced in the name of politics. Starting a war amid a pandemic is nothing short of a major humanitarian and public health crisis: one that threatens the entire Caucasus region and beyond, which needs – more than ever – attention from the rest of the world.
War is a public health problem in and of itself. War during a pandemic, then, creates an even greater health crisis. The demand for hospital beds grow, while hospitals themselves are under attack. Medical supplies, which were already running short, become even more scarce. And the destruction of every part of infrastructure occurs, from homes and schools to the water supply and electricity. These destructions exponentiate the risk of disease transmission. With living spaces destroyed, people have no choice but to be forced into close, unsanitary quarters – a perfect milieu for any pathogen, let alone a highly contagious one like COVID-19, to spread rapidly.
It is the morale of the people that suffers the greatest loss from a war during a pandemic. This loss is even greater for a close-knit society, both in the realms of physical space and culture, where the idea of social distancing has already been enough of a challenge, only upheld at the cost of that which everyone now needs more than ever right now: happiness. But how can health precautions, disease prevention or even happiness be on this society’s mind, when it is their very own existence that the people are fighting for?
We call upon the GW community to end this silence. More than anything else, we encourage you to take the time to learn what is happening. Be curious, seek accurate information and learn about Armenia – a nation that has time and time again fought for the struggle of its existence while the rest of the world remains silent. The Armenian Genocide of 1915, in which more than 1.5 million Armenians were killed under the Ottoman Empire, is still denied by its perpetrator, Turkey, more than 100 years later. It is time for us to find our voices and use them as we strive not to repeat history. It is only then that we can become advocates for one another. And it is through this spread of knowledge that this public health crisis will be stopped in time.