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Congressional Armenian Caucus raises alarms over Azerbaijan’s military exercises

A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives joined Congressional Armenian Caucus leaders yesterday in ringing alarm bells over Azerbaijan’s large-scale military exercises this week, sharing with U.S. leaders and international mediators their “grave concerns” that Baku’s reckless actions amidst a global pandemic can destabilize the Caucasus.

“We want to thank Congressman Pallone and all who joined with him in this Armenian Caucus initiative to alert the Administration and the international community to Azerbaijan’s reckless march toward a renewed regional war amid a global pandemic,” said ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan. “This powerful bipartisan legislative initiative reflects and reinforces the thousands of messages that concerned Americans are sending to Washington via the ANCA’s online platform.

In two separate letters – the first to Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Esper, and the second to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group Co-Chairs – Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone and Congressional leaders noted that “these exercises are dangerous, violate diplomatic agreements and have the potential to destabilize security in the South Caucasus at a time when the COVID-19 global pandemic has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and threatened the health of many more.”  The letters call on the U.S. Administration and OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs to publicly condemn Azerbaijan’s military exercises.

Joining Rep. Pallone in cosigning the letters were Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Jackie Speier (D-CA), Vice-Chairs Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jim Costa (D-CA), T.J. Cox (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), James Langevin (D-RI), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), and Juan Vargas (D-CA).

The letter to Secretary Pompeo and Esper specifically expressed concern about a $100 million allocation in U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan, noting that “the aid appears to have allowed Azerbaijan to shift resources toward offensive capabilities and further threaten Armenian lives and regional stability as the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues warned in letters sent to you in September and November of 2019.”

Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces are holding large-scale tactical military exercises this week from May 18th to 22nd. In the announcement about the event, the Azerbaijani army stated “massive artillery, air, and high-precision weapons will be fired at the enemy’s operational depth,” calling the exercises “offensive” in nature.  The Armenian Defense Ministry condemned the exercises noting that they “exacerbate the security environment in the region, under the conditions of a global imperative for joint actions against the COVID-19 pandemic and despite the call for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to establish a global ceasefire.”

Text of Congressional Letter to Secretary of State Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Esper

Dear Secretaries Pompeo and Esper:

We are gravely concerned about the military exercises reported to be held by the Republic of Azerbaijan from May 18 to 22, 2020. These exercises are dangerous, violate diplomatic agreements and have the potential to destabilize security in the South Caucasus at a time when the COVID-19 global pandemic has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and threatened the health of many more. We strongly urge the Department of State and the Department of Defense to condemn these egregious actions taken by the Azerbaijani military.

Even in normal circumstances, these exercises would be unacceptable due to their offensive nature and the failure to follow diplomatic notification practices. On May 14, the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry released information describing military exercises that would take place from May 18 to 22. Azeri reports state that the exercises are expected to include 10,000 servicemen, 120 artillery and armored vehicles, 200 missile systems, 30 aviation units, and various unmanned aerial vehicles. The failure to provide adequate notification as prescribed under the 2011 Vienna Document and the size of the exercises demonstrates Azerbaijani President Aliyev’s intention of further aggravating historical tensions with the Republic of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.

We are especially concerned that over $100 million in security assistance the United States has sent to Azerbaijan over the last two years through the Section 333 Building Partner Capacity program has emboldened the Aliyev regime. This taxpayer funding defies almost two decades of parity in U.S. security assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The aid appears to have allowed Azerbaijan to shift resources toward offensive capabilities and further threaten Armenian lives and regional stability as the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues warned in letters sent to you in September and November of 2019.

We cannot allow Azerbaijan to use the global coronavirus pandemic as cover for these dangerous military operations. We urge you to immediately condemn the reckless actions of the Azerbaijani military and to work with our allies and international partners to halt the provocative actions being taken by the Aliyev Regime.

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