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Kardashian West uses star power to pressure US on Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

Reality television star and criminal justice reform advocate Kim Kardashian WestKimberly (Kim) Noel Kardashian WestNew Jersey spoofs Kim Kardashian West's private island getaway amid COVID-19 Trump grants clemency to five nonviolent offenders Hillicon Valley: Twitter lacked adequate cybersecurity protection ahead of July hacks, regulator says | Twitter, Facebook clamp down on New York Post article about Hunter Biden | YouTube bans COVID-19 vaccine misinformation MORE is pushing for President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE to do more to support Armenia amid an outbreak of fierce fighting with its neighbor and decades-old adversary Azerbaijan.

The influential celebrity, who is of Armenian descent, is broadcasting to her hundreds of millions of social media followers to demand Congress condemn Azerbaijan as the instigator of the recent fighting and denounce Turkey for interfering in the conflict.

Kardashian West, who has a direct line to Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump says ex-staffer who penned 'Anonymous' op-ed should be 'prosecuted' Kushner told Woodward in April Trump was 'getting the country back from the doctors' What a Biden administration should look like MORE, has the potential to push the administration to take a more active stance.

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Behind her efforts is the L.A.-based gastroenterologist, Emmy-nominated film producer and human rights advocate Eric Esrailian, who has been drafting statements for Kardashian West, her famous family members and other high-profile celebrities of Armenian descent calling for more support to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.

“The situation currently with a lack of appropriate international attention is frustrating for a lot of people,” Esrailian, who was a producer on the 2017 film "The Promise," about the Armenian genocide, said in an interview with The Hill. 

"What I’ve done with my friends, like Kim KardashianKimberly (Kim) Noel Kardashian WestNew Jersey spoofs Kim Kardashian West's private island getaway amid COVID-19 Trump grants clemency to five nonviolent offenders Hillicon Valley: Twitter lacked adequate cybersecurity protection ahead of July hacks, regulator says | Twitter, Facebook clamp down on New York Post article about Hunter Biden | YouTube bans COVID-19 vaccine misinformation MORE, her family, her siblings, and other friends like Cher, Serj Tankian, Alexis Ohanian, all of us — obviously they have a bigger platform than I do, but I have the ability to pull everybody together … and I feel honored that everybody cares and they basically say, ‘what can I do?' "

Yet regional experts fear Kardashian West’s high-profile involvement could tip the scales of the U.S.’s historically neutral role in the conflict, which for 30 years has been a co-mediator along with France and Russia under the auspices of the Minsk Group, part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The group was formed in 1994 to quell years of devastating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which erupted in the late 1980s in anticipation of the fall of the Soviet Union.

Yet caught in the middle and left unresolved for over three decades is the contested area of Nagorno-Karabakh, which falls within the borders of Azerbaijan but is controlled by the majority ethnic Armenian population, which refers to the area as Artsakh.

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The territory has long been punctuated by outbursts of fighting. But the latest violence, which erupted on Sept. 27, is being viewed as a premeditated attack by Azeri forces, and supported by Turkey, to reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh. 

While Trump and administration officials have joined in statements calling for an immediate ceasefire and National Security Council and State Department officials have spoken with their counterparts in Yerevan and Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, the international community has largely viewed the U.S. as absent from efforts to calm tensions in the region.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Wednesday that the “Americans are withdrawing and Turkey is taking a stronger, much more assertive position.”

The Armenian American community — which numbers around 1.5 million in the U.S. — have launched a pressure campaign to push Congress to support Armenia in the face of what is being described as a belligerent attack from the autocratic government of Azerbaijan and backed by a rogue Turkey.

“I would not ask all of my friends, in all of our positions, to use the language that we’ve been using if there was even a one percent chance that Armenia had started these hostilities,” said Esrailian, who is leading the celebrity advocacy campaign.

One social media post by Kardashian West called on the public to urge Congress and the White House to pressure Baku to cease hostilities, cut off all U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan being used against Armenians and warn Turkey to stop sending arms and fighters to Baku. 

Kardashian West’s position on this issue lends a highly influential voice. On Sept. 29 she shared on social media a link to the advocacy group the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), nearly overloading their systems.

“We may operate on any given day in the tens of thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands [of web visitors],” said Aram Hamparian, the executive director of ANCA. “But she had us into the tens of hundreds of millions, it was a good problem.”

By Oct. 1, bipartisan House lawmakers had introduced a resolution condemning Azerbaijan for the aggression of hostilities and denouncing Turkey’s interference.

The resolution was accompanied by a letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo says US to open embassy in the Maldives Microsoft: Iranian hacking group targeting attendees of major international security conferences American money for American ideas: Think tanks should disclose foreign funding MORE from House lawmakers that condemned Azerbaijan as the aggressor and called for leveraging U.S. military aid to Baku to achieve a cease-fire.

A separate letter from Senate Democrats to Pompeo called for more “senior level engagement” to bring about a cease-fire and suspend all security assistance to Azerbaijan.

Fiona Hill, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and Trump’s former national security adviser on Russia and Europe, said the “United States is missing in action” on Nagorno-Karabakh, and warned that high profile advocacy by Kardashian West may further discredit the U.S.’s historic role as a mediator.

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“Given the large Armenian diaspora here and the president’s — I’ll just say right out — the president’s personal relationship with Kim Kardashian who has been tweeting about Armenia — she’s probably one of the most famous Armenians in United States culture, Cher is another, there are more because we have such a large Armenian diaspora — that is not a good sign for playing a neutral role here in which we had previously,” she said during a virtual roundtable hosted by Brookings.

“And the United States has very close relationships in the past with Azerbaijan. So you can already see the consequences of us missing in action.”

Kardashian West’s relationship with Trump and Kushner goes back to 2018 when she successfully lobbied the president to commute the sentence of Alice Johnson, a mother and grandmother who was serving a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense.

The effort was born out of social media advocacy. Kardashian West has said she was moved to advocate for Johnson’s freedom after viewing a viral video produced by the digital media company Mic.

Her effort to free Johnson, and her direct phone calls with Kushner, were documented on her reality show "Keeping Up with the Kardashians."

Since then, both Kardashian West and Johnson have worked with the president on criminal justice reform and have served as spokespeople for the administration’s efforts. Trump has touted his actions in an appeal to African American voters in a convergence of reality television celebrity and policy action.

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Kardashian West and Johnson were most recently seen at the White House together in a March meeting with Kushner and Ivanka TrumpIvana (Ivanka) Marie TrumpLincoln Project warns of third Trump term in new ad Obama to campaign for Biden in Orlando on Tuesday Lincoln Project attorney on billboards lawsuit threat: 'Please peddle your scare tactics elsewhere' MORE and advocating for imprisoned women.

It’s unclear if Kardashian West has been in direct contact with the White House recently over the issue with Armenia and Azerbaijan. The White House did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

A representative for Kardashian West said the star would continue to post her comments and messaging about the situation in Armenia on social media.

Kardashian West has long been a public force advocating for positive relations with Armenia, highlighting her heritage on her reality show and documenting visits to the country, including meeting with Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in October 2019.  

In December, she posted to her millions of followers on Instagram — she now has 189 million followers and 66.9 million followers on Twitter — urging them to support a Senate resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, which later passed by unanimous consent.

Esrailian, who was also part of the effort to raise awareness to pressure Congress to pass the resolution, said he knows “the White House is busy,” when asked how he felt about its engagement on Nagorno-Karabakh so far.

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“I’m sure it’s not the highest priority on the White House to-do list, but realistically it’s a slippery slope,” he said, pointing to reported human rights violations by Azeri forces on Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The international community has refrained from assigning blame or allegations of human rights violations against either side, but has raised concern about the targeting of populated areas and discouraged external actors.

Both France and Russia have said that Turkey has sent Syrian mercenaries to the front line on the side of Baku, a charge that Ankara denies. And the International Crisis Group has said Artsakh forces have mainly fought on the defensive.

At least 19 civilians are known to have been killed in the fighting, according to the Armenian Foreign Ministry, and officials have said that Azerbaijan is targeting civilian areas with cluster bombs and missiles.

“Allowing people to behave with impunity, particularly committing human rights violations attacking civilians, using cluster munitions, using foreign mercenaries, there’s a lot of things at play,” Esrailian said.

“We’re just getting started. If this doesn’t resolve quickly then I guarantee we’re going to make it a world story.” 

— Updated at 9 a.m.