Adam Schiff: The memory of the victims of Sumgait must not be forgotten

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) issued the following  statement in commemoration of the massacre of Armenians in Sumbait, Baku and Kirovabad:

“I rise today to commemorate the twenty-sixth anniversary of the pogrom against people of Armenian descent in the town of Sumgait, Azerbaijan, where Armenian civilians were massacred at the hands of the Azerbaijani regime. Beginning on February 27, 1988 and for three days, Azerbaijani mobs assaulted and killed Armenians. Hundreds of Armenians were wounded, women and young girls were brutally raped, and many victims of all ages were burnt to death after being tortured and beaten. The carnage created thousands of ethnic Armenian refugees, who had to leave everything behind to be looted or destroyed, including their homes and businesses. The Sumgait Pogroms were part of an organized pattern, and were proceeded by a wave of anti-Armenian rallies throughout Azerbaijan, which culminated in the 1990 Pogroms in Baku.

These crimes were never adequately prosecuted by Azerbaijan authorities. Despite efforts by the Government of Azerbaijan to cover up the events which occurred in February 1988, survivors of the pogrom have come forward with their stories. They told of enraged mobs, which threw refrigerators and furniture, among other belongings from apartment balconies and set them afire. Armenians were dragged from their apartments.  If they tried to run and escape, the mob attacked them with metal rods, hatchets and knives before the victims were thrown into the fire.

The Sumgait massacres led to wider reprisals against Azerbaijan’s ethnic minority, resulting in the virtual disappearance of a once thriving population of 450,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan, and culminating in the war launched against the people of Nagorno Karabakh. That war resulted in thousands dead on both sides and created over 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 incursions across the Line of Contact between the two sides, such as the recent murder of yet another Armenian soldier, Hrant Poghosyan, in an unprovoked attack by Azerbaijani troops against Armenian forces. Hatred towards Armenians is both celebrated and inculcated 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.

In 2012, Safarov was sent home to Azerbaijan, purportedly to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Instead of serving out his sentence in an Azeri jail, he was pardoned, promoted to Major, given back pay and paraded through the streets of Baku in a disgusting and bloodthirsty welcome home.

With these appalling 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 26 years ago serve as a foreshadowing of a greater slaughter. The memory of the victims of Sumgait must not be forgotten, and it is our moral obligation to condemn crimes of hatred, in hope that history will not be repeated.”

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