Reps. Bilirakis, Deutch sign letter in support of Karabakh peace

Florida Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) have signed a letter that will be sent to U.S. Ambassador James Warlick later this week calling for increased security measures and confidence building mechanisms along the Nagorno Karabakh-Azerbaijan border, reported FLArmenians.com. Congressman Bilirakis serves as Co-Chair of the Hellenic Caucus, Co-Chair of the Hellenic Israel Alliance Caucus, and Vice-Chair of the Armenian Caucus.

“When violence and aggression become a pattern in a historically turbulent region, we, as American policy leaders, should speak out strongly to dispel further hostilities,” Congressman Bilirakis told FLArmenians.com.  “That is why I joined my colleagues in a letter to James Warlick, U.S. Co-Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group urging a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict. Azerbaijani aggression must stop so that peace and security can return to the region as swiftly as possible,” he said.

Congressman Deutch, whose Palm Beach County district is home to the largest Armenian community in Florida, serves with Bilirakis as the Co-Chair of the Hellenic Israel Alliance Caucus.

“I want to thank our Florida Representatives, Gus Bilirakis and Ted Deutch, for their support in calling for an end to the escalating violence against Armenia and Karabakh,” stated District 21 resident and Florida Armenians Boca Raton Chair George Sarkisian.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) are circulating a bipartisan letter asking their Congressional colleagues to support renewed U.S. leadership in the South Caucasus.

The two senior legislators are currently collecting signatures on a letter addressed to Ambassador James Warlick, U.S. representative to the OSCE Minsk Group which is responsible for mediating a resolution of the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh. The Royce-Engel letter specifically calls for the U.S. and OSCE to abandon the failed policy of false parity in responding to acts of aggression, noting that: “The longstanding U.S. and OSCE practice of responding to each new attack with generic calls upon all parties to refrain from violence has failed to de-escalate the situation. Instead, this policy of artificial evenhandedness has dangerously increased tensions. There will be no peace absent responsibility.”

The legislators propose three concrete steps that would, “in the short-term, save lives and help to avert war. Over the longer term,” the letter says, “these steps could contribute to a comprehensive and enduring peace for all the citizens of the region:”

Specifically, the letter calls for:

1.     An agreement from all sides not to deploy snipers along the line of contact;

2.     The placement of OSCE-monitored, advanced gunfire-locator systems and sound-ranging equipment to determine the source of attacks along the line of contact; and

3.     The deployment of additional OSCE observers along the line of contact to better monitor cease-fire violations.

According to sources familiar with the negotiations, the governments of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh have both pledged their support for these confidence-building measures, while Azerbaijan has repeatedly opposed them.

Over fifty-five members of Congress have signed the Royce-Engel letter to Ambassador Warlick. In addition to the House Foreign Affairs Committee leadership, the letter has the support of House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA), U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-NY), and former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Steve Israel (D-NY).

Congressman Schiff wrote a separate letter to Ambassador Warlick earlier this month warning, “unwillingness to speak plainly about the aggressor in this conflict sends the message to Azerbaijan that it can act with impunity.” “I do not believe the cause of peace is served by ignoring Azerbaijan’s increasing belligerence and the suggestion that both parties are equally to blame for violence along the Line of Contact when that is not the case,” Schiff’s letter states.

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