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Azerbaijan-Armenian Conflict Plays Out as War of Words on San Francisco Peninsula

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- On September 27, a long-running dispute between Armenians and the nation of Azerbaijan exploded into violent conflict. Now supporters on both sides are fighting a public relations battle here in the Bay Area.

Violence has flared up half a world away in a small region of Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh. Many ethnic Armenians live there and have claimed it as their own Artsakh Republic, which has drawn the ire of Azerbaijanis. Their weapons are rockets and bombs but Sunday, in dueling protest rallies in the Bay Area, it remained a war of words.

"Fair media coverage! Fair media coverage!" chanted Azerbaijani protesters. They marched in San Francisco to gain exposure and protest what they feel is one-sided coverage.

"Media is covering their protests, everything," said organizer Narmin Babayeva, "but when we are going out, it's hard for us to get any coverage."

They said that, since 1991, the Armenians have been "ethnic cleansing" the region, forcing Azerbaijanis out.

"Peace is through co-existence," said Azerbaijani protester Ayka Agayeva. "What we want is Armenian army, the occupying Armenian army, to vacate the land so the Azerbaijani people who used to live there can come back to their homes."

Down the peninsula in San Mateo, Armenians said that part of the world has been their homeland for hundreds of years and declaring it an independent state is an act of self-rule equivalent to the American Revolution.

"This is a war that very much reflects the ideals of America," said protest organizer Raffi Samurkashian. "The Armenian people living there very much reflect the ideals of the American people living here."

Each side said their civilians are being killed and each denies being the aggressor.

"If there is a reaction, if there is violence, I mean, you can't expect people living in Artsakh to sit back and take that violence," said Armenian protester David Iskikian.

When the conflict reignited in September, it ended a cease-fire lasting more than 20 years. No one KPIX spoke to Sunday knew exactly what happened that caused the fighting to resume. The Armenians are getting support from the Russians while the U.S. financially supports Turkey, which is helping Azerbaijan. The geo-politics can be dizzying but people on each side of the dispute in this country share the same goal: to convince the American public that their side is in the right.

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