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Close to 100 Armenian Americans and supporters gathered in front of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Tuesday to rally for the thousands of ethnic Armenians in the contested and besieged region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Organizers said the rally in Simi Valley, held the day before the second Republican presidential debate at the same location, was intended to shine a light on the ongoing humanitarian crisis facing the estimated 120,000 Armenians living in the region. Known to Armenians as Artsakh, the region sits within the borders of Azerbaijan but has been historically occupied by ethnic Armenians.

The crowd gathered on Presidential Drive, with many waving Armenian and American flags. They were led in chants denouncing genocide and asking for sanctions against Azerbaijan.

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Last week, Azerbaijani military forces entered the region to seize control of the area, launching rockets, artillery and drone attacks. The campaign sparked fears of pogrom among residents and the wider Armenian diaspora. Azerbaijani military officials said the forces were deployed for “local anti-terrorist” operations at specific military facilities, while the Armenian National Committee of America said the attacks also targeted residential centers, destroying homes and killing civilians. At least 200 people were reported to have died by Sept. 20.

Additionally, since December, Azerbaijan has enforced a blockade of the Lachin Corridor, the only land link between Armenia and the breakaway enclave. The blockage has prevented the distribution of food, water, medicine and other essentials.

Ratcheting up the tension and adding to the conflict’s death toll, an explosion at a gas station in Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday left scores of people dead or injured. Many of those killed were among the thousands of ethnic Armenians trying to flee the region. The cause of the blast remained unclear late Tuesday.

Joseph Kaskanian, a spokesman for the Armenian National Committee of America, said the rally was a call for support from both the GOP presidential candidates and the Biden administration. He said previous requests for aid had fallen on deaf ears.

“Not only is the Biden administration failing to address any of this stuff, the Biden administration is complicit in the genocide of Armenians,” Kaskanian told The Times.

Protesters at the rally carried signs demanding action and expressing anger at the Biden administration.

“1915 Never Again,” read one sign, in reference to the Armenian genocide. “Biden supports genocide,” said another.

“We’re here to demand action from the U.S. government,” said Alexis Tolmajian, a member of the Armenian Youth Federation, the self-described youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation political party that organized the rally. “We want awareness and some sort of action plan from the GOP.

“We just need them to get, you know, get the ball rolling,” she added, “and to start actually talking about what’s happening to stop it before it’s irreversible.”

Tolmajian said it had been “extremely difficult” to see “no action” from the Biden administration.

Ralliers were demanding five actions from President Biden and the GOP candidates: to intervene and stop the attacks in Artsakh; end military aid to Azerbaijan; send emergency humanitarian airlifts to Artsakh for those remaining in the region; enact sanctions on Azerbaijan; and remove the blockade within the Lachin Corridor.

“How do you go about recognizing the first genocide of the 21st century, and then turn around and allow for it to happen again,” said Nyree Derderian, chairperson of the Armenian Relief Society, referring to Biden’s formal recognition of the Armenian genocide in 2021.

Derderian said she “would take a pledge” from the GOP candidates but hoped for action.

“There’s been a lot of pledges over the years,” Derderian said, “a lot of promises that have all been broken.”

Southern California has a sizable Armenian American presence, with the nation’s largest Armenian diaspora community in Los Angeles County.

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