Adam Schiff condemns the ongoing atmosphere of violence in Azerbaijan

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Azerbaijani pogroms against the Armenian population of the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait, and condemned the ongoing atmosphere of violence and intimidation being fostered by the government of President Ilham Aliyev, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Statement by Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) regarding the 25th anniversary of the Sumgait Pogroms

This week marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the pogrom against people of Armenian descent in the town of Sumgait, Azerbaijan. The three-day massacre in the winter of 1988 resulted in the deaths of scores of Armenians, many of whom were burnt to death after being brutally beaten and tortured. Hundreds of others were wounded. Women and girls were brutally raped. The carnage created thousands of ethnic Armenian refugees, who had to leave everything behind to be looted or destroyed, including their homes, cars and businesses.

These crimes, which were proceeded by a wave of anti-Armenian rallies throughout Azerbaijan, were never adequately prosecuted by Azerbaijan authorities.  Many who organized or participated in the bloodshed have gone on to serve in high positions on the Azeri government.  For example, in the days leading up to the massacre, a leader of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, Hidayat Orujev, warned Armenians in Sumgait:  ‘If you do not stop campaigning for the unification of Nagorno Karabakh with Armenia, if you don’t sober up, 100,000 Azeris from neighboring districts will break into your houses, torch your apartments, rape your women, and kill your children.’  In a cruel twist, Orujev went on serve as Azerbaijan’s  State Advisor for Ethnic Policy and later as head of State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations.

The Sumgait massacres led to wider reprisals against Azerbaijan’s ethnic minority, resulting in the virtual disappearance of Azerbaijan’s 450,000-strong Armenian community, and culminating in the war launched against the people of Nagorno Karabakh. That war resulted in almost 30,000 dead on both sides and created more than one million refugees in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In the years since the fighting ended, the people of Artsakh, the region’s ancestral name, have struggled to build a functioning democratic state in the midst of unremitting hostility and threats from Azerbaijan, as well as sniper fire and other incursions across the Line of Contact between the two sides.  Hatred towards Armenians is both inculcated and celebrated in Azeri youth, as exemplified by the case of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army captain who had confessed to the savage 2004 axe murder of Armenian army lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan, while the latter slept. At the time, the two were participating in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise in Budapest, Hungary. After the murder, Safarov was sentenced to life in prison by a Hungarian court and imprisoned in Hungary.

Last August Safarov was sent home to Azerbaijan, purportedly to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Instead of prison, he was greeted as a hero by the Azeri government and promenaded through the streets of Baku carrying a bouquet of roses. President Ilham Aliyev immediately pardoned Safarov and he was promoted to the rank of major and given a new apartment and eight years of back pay.

In recent weeks, 75-year-old Akram Aylisli, one of Azerbaijan’s most celebrated writers, has been subjected to a campaign of hatred.  According to a report in the BBC, ‘[h]is books have been publicly burnt. He has been stripped of his national literary awards. And a high-ranking Azeri politician has offered $13,000 as a bounty for anyone who will cut off his ear.  Aylisi’s crime?’ –  in his short novel Stone Dreams, he dared to look at the conflict between Azeris and Armenians from the Armenian perspective.

With these disgusting acts, the Azeri state reminded the whole world why the people of Artsakh must be allowed to determine their own future and cannot be allowed to slip into Aliyev’s clutches, lest the carnage of Sumgait a quarter century ago serve as a foreshadowing of a greater slaughter.

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