The president of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic visited Fresno on Monday to discuss key policy issues that affect the two regions and meet with local representatives of the Armenian community.
Nagorno-Karabakh was historically ruled by Armenia, but the breakup of the Soviet Union left the area officially under the rule of Azerbaijan. The two states have wrestled over control of the province, where many Armenians live.
During his first visit to the central San Joaquin Valley, President H.E. Bako Sahakyan met at a reception with leaders including Berj Apkarian, honorary consul of Armenia in Fresno, Sergey Sarkisov, consul general of Armenia in Los Angeles, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford. He later sat for dinner with around 250 local Armenians in downtown Fresno.
During the reception, Apkarian spoke to a room packed with some of Fresno’s oldest Armenian families — and security personnel. He raised a glass and toasted the president.
Sahakyan spoke through an interpreter: “We will definitely touch upon this event later and already I think it has laid the foundation for our future cooperation.” He smiled and raised his glass in return.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution in April 2013, which maintains that residents of Nagorno-Karabakh have elected to govern themselves and that their wishes should be respected. The supervisors weighed in out of respect for the views of many in the Valley’s large Armenian community.
Fresno was the first county in the United States to take a position on the matter, although some states had passed similar resolutions. In May, the California Assembly passed a resolution recognizing the region’s independence.
Andreas Borgeas, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said Sahakyan’s visit speaks to how highly the Fresno Armenian community is regarded in Armenia and in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“The effort to create an independent Nagorno-Karabakh wasn’t just a conflict far removed,” he said. “It actually hit home for a lot of people here in the Valley.”
Borgeas pointed to Visalia native Monte Melkonian, who went to Armenia, organized much of the army in Nagorno-Karabakh, led them to victory over Azerbaijan, then died in battle in 1993.
Apkarian took the role of consul in October. Apkarian said that following the consulate’s opening in Fresno, Sahakyan’s visit was the next step in strengthening ties between the local Armenian community and the homeland.