Armenian Ambassador updates US Congressmen on crisis caused by Azerbaijani aggression against Artsakh

In a letter to Members of the US House of Representatives, Armenia’s Ambassador to the US Varuzhan Nersesyan Ambassador Nersesyan’s letter to members of updated them on the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by Azerbaijan’s six-week war last fall against the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), and stressed that the difficult road toward a sustainable peace will require the renewed and active engagement of the United States from both the legislative and executive branches.

The letter runs as follows:

The terrible human costs of the Baku’s aggression are clear. Thousands killed. Tens of thousands injured. As many as 90.000 indigenous Armenians forced by Azerbaijani attacks to flee their ancestral homeland. Groups as diverse as the World Council of Churches and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have decried Azerbaijan’s desecration of historic Christian holy sites. Without exaggeration, this is the worst act of ethnic cleansing by a state that the region has seen in decades.

To this day, Azerbaijan continues to illegally hold hundreds of Armenian prisoners – women and men, civilians and soldiers – many of whom have been tortured, mutilated, and even murdered in ISIS-style beheadings on social media. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet referred to specific cases of summary executions of captured Armenians by Azerbaijan’s military as a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and thus war crimes.

On the critical issue of POWs, in addition to violating international law and Geneva Conventions, Azerbaijan has ignored the principle of “all for all” was a requirement of the November 9, 2020 tripartite statement that established the current ceasefire. While Armenia estimates approximately 200 captives, Azerbaijan only acknowledges 57 captives and have fabricated criminal complaints against the vast majority of recognized POWs, intentionally misrepresenting them as terrorist. While the European Court on Human Rights has issued a final notice for Azerbaijan to respond regarding information on detainees, Armenia is deeply concerned that Azerbaijan has politicized the process and may use captives and hostages for human trafficking and slavery, a particularly alarming notion given how many civilians – including women – are being held.

These are the consequences of a large-scale war, unprecedented in many ways, carried out by Baku with the full backing of Ankara. The Armenians of Artsakh were confronted with a massive, well-armed attack by the combined forces of Azerbaijan and Turkey and – as has been confirmed by UN Working Group on Use of Mercenaries, France and other Western nations – thousands of foreign terrorist jihadists from Syria recruited, paid, and transported by Turkey to join the conflict. To terrorize the local population into fleeing their homes, Azerbaijani armed forces targeted civilian population and critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, and churches, using Western military drone technology and heavy artillery.

In the wake of a fragile ceasefire brokered by Russia, Azerbaijan has continued to recklessly undertake provocative and hostile actions. They have refused to respect key obligations, including the immediate and unconditional exchange of prisoners of war and hostages by using a legal loophole to falsely label our Armenian captives as criminals. In December, Azerbaijan’s President again claimed ownership of broad territories of Armenia, including our capital of Yerevan. Since the start of February, Turkey and Azerbaijan have conducted offensive military drills on Turkey’s border with Armenia, threatening to complete the genocide they started a century ago once again.

While the fragile November ceasefire continues to hold, the final status and sustainable settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict remains unresolved. Only a political, negotiated resolution based on the right of democratic self-determination may bring lasting peace and reconciliation to the South Caucasus region. To achieve this, Armenia and international community need the renewed diplomatic engagement of the United States through the existing and established international mechanism: the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship that the United States already co-leads with France and Russia. We were heartened to hear Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s plans for active engagement of the United States in this process during his tenure, and we respectfully call on the United States to work toward the de-occupation by Azerbaijan of the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh, safe and dignified return to their homes of the recently displaced population of Artsakh, and protection of the cultural and religious sites and monuments in the territories which fell under Azerbaijani control.

While the State Department will lead this diplomatic process, the United States Congress can also play an important role to advance peace and security in Artsakh. For example, in FY 2018 and 2019, Azerbaijan was allocated over $100 million in security aid. Congress should cease any further generosity towards Azerbaijan, which has demonstrated that it will use any and all military assets for offensive purposes. Further, Congress should consider appropriate financial sanctions against Azerbaijan and Turkey’s leadership to create consequences for undermining a peace process co-led by America. Finally, the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Artsakh has seen tens of thousands displaced from their homes in the midst of a global pandemic. We are grateful for the humanitarian aid provided to date by USAID, and we would ask for the United States to consider large-scale humanitarian and developmental aid to assist Artsakh and Armenia in caring for and protecting displaced civilians.

The Armenian people have demonstrated their commitment to democratic values, as reflected in the State Department’s decision to upgrade our bilateral ties to the level of Strategic Dialogue. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan, a petro-state ruled by a hereditary regime, is ranked by Freedom House among the 15 least free nations in the world. For its part, Turkey – a NATO member subject to CAATSA sanctions – is described by Amnesty International as “the world’s largest prison for journalists.”

To keep Armenia’s democracy safe – and to protect the essential right of self-determination for the people of Artsakh – Armenia needs the diplomatic engagement of the United States to constructively address and eventually overcome the crisis incited by Azerbaijan and Turkey. Your legislative support for American leadership in this direction would hold great meaning for the Armenian people.

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