“Please Don’t Make Us Feel Invisible”: USC Students React to the Invasion of Armenia

After midnight on September 13, thousands of Armenians woke up to a nightmare. 

Just moments later, hundreds of phones here at the University of Southern California would be buzzing with notifications bearing the news. The nightmare, it seemed, had breached USC’s walls.

Major towns and communities across southern Armenia came under heavy shelling as Azerbaijani forces invaded Armenia, launching a war of choice. Azerbaijan’s attacks against Armenia left at least 207 dead, 296 injured and over 7,600 displaced.

These are not just numbers, however. For many of the nearly 1,000 Armenian students at USC, they are family and friends.

It has now been a week since Azerbaijan launched its brutal military campaign, taking hundreds of Armenian lives. It has also been a week since USC failed to acknowledge these attacks.

Los Angeles is home to approximately 1 million Armenian-Americans, and among the largest Armenian diaspora centers in the world. In addition to being an academic hub of this diasporic center, USC prides itself in having one of the largest Armenian student body populations in the United States, and hosts one of the leading Armenian Studies institutions in the world in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

As an institution committed to the wellbeing of its student body and inclusivity efforts on campus, however, USC has failed its Armenian community — one of the largest on campus — at every turn. Hundreds of students have yet to receive visibility, resources or even a statement of acknowledgement on behalf of USC administration during what, for many, has been the most stressful and terrifying week of their lives.

Where the university has failed, student activism will not. Alongside students from top universities across the country, USC students have drafted an open letter appealing to the American academic community to denounce Azerbaijan’s invasion of Armenia and support democracy worldwide. USC students, faculty and staff are urged to take a principled stance by adding their names to the letter.

Furthermore, below is a selection of student reactions to the invasion of Armenia, from Armenian students and non-Armenians alike. Glimpse from the Globe lends itself as a platform to make these students feel heard.

USC Students React to Invasion of Armenia

“Please don’t make us feel invisible.” – Anthony Khoory, Senior, Sociology

“The lack of response from USC regarding the recent events in Armenia is extremely heartbreaking. There are almost 1,000 Armenians on campus, and I feel like we are all invisible. No one talks about how our families are getting bombed back home, and we have to deal with all of this college stress while our own university stays silent and overlooks our experiences.” – Eduard Ghazaryan, Sophomore, International Relations

“Having many Armenian friends myself, many of whom are USC students, I have seen the direct impact these events have had on them. I know people that have lost close friends and acquaintances to the violence and attacks perpetrated by Azerbaijan, and the Armenian diaspora is actively seeing their country at risk of being taken and destroyed. Azerbaijan breaks ceasefires, tortures prisoners of war, and attacks innocent civilians. It honestly baffles me that the international community has turned a blind eye so many times to these atrocities. It is especially important that USC recognize its large Armenian student body and take action to support them.” – Giovani Zaarour, Junior, Computer Science and Business Administration

“It is a lonely feeling to be Armenian right now. The weight of Azerbaijan’s attacks and their inhumane treatment of our soldiers is crushing and unbearable. As a transfer student conscious of the large Armenian population at USC, I was expecting that the university would acknowledge and condemn Azerbaijan’s actions. Instead, the silence of students and administrators is deafening. In these moments, Armenians feel as if we are screaming into a void where none of our cries can be heard. A statement in support of our country would make a world of a difference in assuring Armenians that USC cares about our livelihoods.” – Solange Aguero, Sophomore, English Literature

“The crisis currently unfolding between Armenia and Azerbaijan has resulted in the death of hundreds. It has become the subject of international concern, as any time a country obtaining territory from another sovereign state through the use of force should be. USC acknowledged such severity when the war between Ukraine and Russia began. As a student of USC, I ask that the university show the same support now. The emotional impact that recent events hold on Armenian students at USC has been heartbreaking, placing these students in a state of continuous worry, plagued with sleepless nights and a connection to the reality of death that no student should have to experience. USC must not only acknowledge and spread awareness, but must provide resources and outlets that support its Armenian students during this time of uncertainty.” – Matthew Giesecke, Junior, Political Science

“What’s happening in Armenia cannot and should not go unnoticed. The unprovoked, unnecessary and one-sided aggression by Azerbaijani forces is threatening Armenian sovereignty as we speak. Seeing my Armenian friends in so much uncertainty about their homes and futures makes me question the world’s moral standing. You don’t have to be Armenian to see that what’s going on is wrong. You have to be a rational human being to make that distinction. Armenia belongs to Armenians, not to serve Azerbaijani terror.” – Zain Khan, Sophomore, Journalism and International Relations

“A proud moment as a USC student was when USC made a statement supporting Ukraine and provided resources for affected students, even hosting a vigil in support of Ukraine. In a letter sent to all students, USC stated its support for the ideals at the heart of our global community: respecting human rights, freedom and international law. Currently, the same ideals and fundamental freedoms are being attacked in Armenia. There are hundreds of Armenian Trojans who, at the moment, are deeply affected by this. I hope USC makes a statement in support of these ideals and provides affected students with necessary resources.” – Armond Mnatsakanyan, Senior, Philosophy

“This entire ordeal is a nightmare. Two years ago on September 27, we woke up to war and the world remained silent. The nightmare re-occured on September 13. It’s not only upsetting to see sovereign Armenia under attack, but it is absolutely devastating that the institution we have devoted our undergrad years to has chosen to be complacent and remain silent. Our university is located in LA, which houses the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia, yet USC’s silence sadly speaks volumes. It is simply unjust to remain silent when your student population is constantly listening to news and reading articles, to ensure that their families and loved ones are safe. The anxiety and the guilt that follows Armenian Americans is inexplicable –- I wish more professors and students were aware. The only side we need to be on is the side of justice and peace.” – Mariam Manukyan, Senior, Political Science

“Seeing my Armenian friends deeply affected by this is disheartening, and it’s ridiculous that the USC administration has not even commented on the ongoing situation in Armenia. As a university, they have a responsibility to advocate for and support all students, and they are currently not fulfilling that responsibility.” – Piya Garg, Junior, International Relations and Global Business

“I feel deeply saddened and disappointed by the lack of consideration USC has shown for the dire situation my homeland, Armenia, faces as we speak. Azerbaijan is shelling villages in sovereign Armenian territory and is once again committing unspeakable war crimes against my people. The least USC could do is formally condemning Azerbaijani aggression. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, ‘Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’” – Irina Harutyunyan, Sophomore, Business Administration

“It has been a week since Azerbaijani forces attacked Armenia. It has been a week, and I have not been given a voice. What may look like a small territory to you is home, heritage and history to me. How many more innocent lives must be taken? How many more children must perish and teenage soldiers be martyred? How many more villages must be shelled and people expelled? And how many more generations of Armenians must fear for their safety and their homeland for you to spread awareness and defend an Armenians’ right to exist?” – Anna Sarukian, Senior, Neuroscience

“I am so incredibly angered by the lack of attention about the invasion of Armenia. The Armenian Genocide was denied and now it’s happening again. Our voices must be amplified by those in power, including the USC administration. It’s important the University stands in solidarity with us Armenian students, who are experiencing a great deal of emotional pain right now. LA is home to the largest Armenian diaspora and USC has hundreds of Armenian students: there is no reason the University should stay silent on this issue.” – Lydia Costantian, Sophomore, Political Economy

“The University’s lack of a response in the wake of the invasion of Armenia has left many of us disappointed. As Trojans, we must speak up against injustice all around the world, and the atrocities that are currently being committed by Azerbaijan are no different. Armenians have always felt home at SC. However, we can’t help but feel neglected when our country’s struggles are ignored by university higher-ups. A written statement condemning Azerbaijan’s attacks on Armenia would be a start.” – Michael Khoylyan, Junior, International Relations

“USC is home to one of the largest Armenian student populations in the country. As a minority on campus we currently feel unheard; however, we are vociferous students and we want to bring this humanitarian issue to the forefront as it is a global issue, not just an Armenian one.” – Seeran Ajemian, Senior, Journalism

“USC stayed silent during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war while Azerbaijan committed inhumane war crimes against Armenians and displaced thousands from their homes. USC has also been silent in the recent Azebaijani attacks on the sovereign territory of Armenia. Given that the Los Angeles area is home to hundreds of thousands of Armenians and the number of Armenian students attending USC, this silence is betrayal. We love this university, but we have not received the same love back. These events have had a very noticeable and detrimental effect on the lives of your many Armenian students, staff and faculty.” – Mher Garibyan, Graduate Student, Biomedical Engineering

“The past few days have been nothing short of a nightmare for me and my Armenian friends on campus. Though the escalation of aggression against Armenia does not come as a surprise, I am deeply saddened to see the lack of support and acknowledgement from USC. With such a large population of Armenian students on campus, and with Los Angeles as the heart of the diaspora, I cannot help but feel a lack of support and solidarity provided for my people. We deserve to feel heard and supported on campus.” – Christine Almadjian, Senior, Law, History, and Culture 

“I came back from Armenia this summer excited to learn about complex algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning, aware that one day I could make an impact in these fields not just across the world, but also in Armenia. Now, as I prepare for exams, I am left with the deep pain of having to ask myself if I will have a homeland to leave an impact on. More importantly, what will happen to my people and my family? It feels as though the world’s inability to hear our voice may halt my journey with Armenia just as it was beginning.” – Aren Melkonian, Senior, Computer Science

“It’s not enough to be heard, it’s about taking action. I hope USC will respond to our struggle.” – George Gemayel, Junior, Physics

“It’s just frustrating that the school hasn’t said anything. Other issues and events have received instant responses from the school, but we don’t get anything. It’s just upsetting, especially with the number of Armenians here.” – Hasmig Krikorian, Senior, Law, History, and Culture

“In addition to courses, research, work and internships on their plates, Armenian students at USC need to be constantly worried about their families and acquaintances back home. Armenia has been under constant fear and attack and the Armenians in Armenia are not the only ones paying the cost. No one deserves to be scared for people they love, especially when they are far enough to feel hopeless about it. The atrocities committed against Armenia are not only an international violation but also a human rights violation.” – Nour Myra Geha, Sophomore, International Relations

“Ever since the situation in Armenia escalated, I feel like my voice is unheard. There aren’t many resources on campus to make our voices heard.”  – Nona Nersisyan, Sophomore, Computer Science

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Mane Berikyan

Mane Berikyan is a Deans scholar sophomore majoring in International Relations and minoring in Russian Area Studies and Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence. On campus, Mane is an editorial lead at the Global Policy Institute, works at the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, and acts as the representative of the Armenian Students Association. Outside of USC, she is a journalist for the Armenia-based media outlet CivilNet and formerly served as Membership Director for the non-profit organization Armenian Engineers & Scientists of America. Her interests include issues of corruption, democracy, foreign affairs and national security as it pertains to post-Soviet Eurasia, Europe and the Middle East.

berikyan@usc.edu