Genocide centennial, Karabakh focus of Senate hearings for Ambassador nominees

Strengthening Azerbaijan’s rule of law, standing in solidarity with Armenians in marking the 2015 centennial, peacefully resolving Nagorno-Karabakh were among key issues highlighted during the Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s confirmation hearing earlier today for the U.S. Ambassador-designates to Azerbaijan, Robert Cekuta, and Armenia, Richard Mills, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

“Today’s testimony represented a missed opportunity – on the eve of the 2015 centennial – for the Obama Administration to finally reject Ankara’s shameful gag-rule prohibiting American officials from speaking honestly about the Armenian Genocide,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “The Administration also failed, very conspicuously, to use Ambassador-designate Cekuta’s high-profile confirmation hearing as an opportunity to challenge Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s alarming arms build-up, escalating threats of war, and outright acts of aggression against Armenia and Artsakh, a reckless silence that will only encourage Baku’s belligerence.”

United States and the world will stand in solidarity with the Armenian people next year to mark the centenary of one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities.

Richard Mills

Similar to each of his predecessors since former Ambassador John Evans’ historic 2006 stand in support of honest U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Ambassador-designate Mills – in keeping with the White House’s enforcement of the Turkish government’s gag-rule – fell short, in his testimony, of properly characterizing the intentional and systematic murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish authorities as genocide. He did, however, note that “the United States and the world will stand in solidarity with the Armenian people next year to mark the centenary of one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities.” Expressing support for the widely discredited Turkey-Armenia Protocols, Mills admitted that the process had “stalled,” citing Turkey’s refusal to ratify the document. On the eve of Genocide centennial, Mills placed the onus on Turkey to “engage with Armenia to achieve a full, frank, and just acknowledgement of the facts so that both nations can begin to forge a relationship that is peaceful, productive, and prosperous.”

On the economic front, Mills decried the Republic of Armenia decision to join the Eurasian Customs Union but argued for greater U.S. – Armenia efforts to expand investment, noting that the U.S. is “considering whether to begin negotiations with Yerevan on a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement,” an initiative long advanced by the ANCA.

In a clear reference to Azerbaijan’s abysmal human rights record, Ambassador-designate Cekuta told Senators, “Just as we continue our security and energy cooperation, we must also continue our efforts to work with Azerbaijan on advancing democratic institutions and processes, and strengthening rule of law.” He went on to note that “Democracies only thrive when they are bolstered by an independent judiciary, respect for the rule of just laws, a free media, a vibrant civil society, pluralism, competitive, democratic electoral processes, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of assembly, association, expression, movement, and religion.”

Questions by Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) to both Cekuta and Mills primarily focused on efforts to advance the Nagorno Karabakh peace negotiations. Both ambassadorial nominees reaffirmed U.S. support for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group mediation efforts and expressed intent to work closely with U.S. Co-Chair James Warlick to bring the sides closer to a settlement. While noting that there can be no military solution to the Nagorno Karabakh issue, neither nominee commented on the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s repeated attacks against Armenia and Karabakh, which have resulted in over 20 deaths at the line of contact over the past three months.

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