By Ted Ayala
he California State Assembly voted Thursday, May 8 to formally recognize the sovereignty of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
The region, also known by its traditional Armenian name Artsakh, is a landlocked region that lies between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the area has been the source of a bitter dispute and military conflict between the two former Soviet republics.
Hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Azerbaijanis have been displaced from their homes in the ensuing war. Both sides have also accused the other of committing war crimes and atrocities.
Recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence has been hard fought for by the Armenian community in the United States. The federal government considers the region an integral part of Azerbaijan’s territory. To date, no member state of the United Nations has contested that position.
The resolution recognizing the region’s independence, known as AJR-32, was introduced Jan. 6 by Assemblymember Mike Gatto. Its final victory was foreshadowed on May 5 when it passed the State Assembly Rules Committee on a 9-1 vote.
AJR-32 passed overwhelmingly on the floor of the Assembly on a 72-1 vote, with only Assemblymember Rocky J. Chavez casting the sole “no” vote. Six other assemblymembers, four Democrats and two Republicans, abstained from voting.
Calls to Chavez’s office seeking comment were not returned.
“That final vote tally doesn’t reflect how difficult a victory this was,” said Gatto.
The assemblymember said that much of his championing of the bill was fueled by stories of how the father of one of his interns suffered during the Nagorno-Karabakh War of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Passage of the bill, he said, helps right an “injustice.”
When asked how he felt about the California Assembly’s position contradicting the federal government’s, Gatto said that being elected to public office does not terminate one’s right to free speech.
“The federal government once recognized South Africa’s right to apartheid, too. But California stood up against that. We need to stand up for what’s right,” he said. “We hope some of the awareness from this important issue will inspire change.”
The California Assembly is the fifth state legislative body in the country to recognize the sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh. Legislative bodies in Massachussetts, Rhode Island, Louisiana and Maine have all passed similar resolutions.
But some states have taken the opposite position.
On Jan. 30, Arizona passed resolutions that reaffirmed the federal government’s position on Nagorno-Karabakh, instead recognizing the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.