Human rights panel highlights importance of documenting atrocities against the Armenian people

The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) kicked off its Virtual National Advocacy Conference and Advocacy Week on Monday, March 8, 2021 – with a panel titled “Defending Human Rights & Preventing Atrocities,” featuring House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), former Republic of Artsakh Human Rights Ombudsman, Artak Beglaryan, and the Director of the Program on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, David L. Phillips.

The panel, moderated by Assembly Co-Chair Van Krikorian, focused on the documentation of human rights violations against the Armenian people of Artsakh, as well as steps undertaken to provide humanitarian assistance and a lasting resolution to the ongoing conflict in the region.

Rep. Schiff indicated that perpetrators of human rights abuses should be held accountable and that the U.S. should demand the return of Armenian prisoners of war and bodies of the fallen. He also stated that he is working on introducing a resolution with his Armenian Caucus colleagues in this regard.

In addition, Representative Schiff highlighted the bipartisan letter, signed by 101 House Members addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, which urges the Biden Administration to prioritize assistance to the Armenian people, while also reengaging on Artsakh conflict mediation via the OSCE Minsk Group.

Touching upon the U.S. role in the OSCE peace process, Rep. Schiff stated that “It’s a tragic reality that our failure to be more engaged in the Minsk Group process led Azerbaijan to believe they could undertake an attack like this with impunity. This tragic outcome was avoidable.”

“The U.S. has to reclaim its legacy of being a champion of human rights and provide tremendous humanitarian support to the region, demand the return of POWs, and support Artsakh’s right to self-determination,” he concluded. As Director of the Program on Peace-building and Human Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, David L. Phillips prepared the Institute’s Artsakh Atrocities documentation page.

“It’s important to document and record the crimes against Armenians that occurred in plain sight and create a dossier for U.S. policymakers to hold the perpetrators, including Azerbaijan, Turkey and the jihadist mercenaries, accountable,” said Phillips, who listed the war crimes perpetuated against Armenian combatants and civilians, including the use of banned weapons, cluster bombs, and white phosphorus munitions.

In his remarks, Phillips elaborated on Turkey’s significant role in the war that Azerbaijan waged against the Armenians of Artsakh beginning on September 27, 2020, noting that the two countries worked “hand in glove.” Under Erdogan’s dictatorship, Turkey has become “anti-democratic and is an antagonist to the moral principles Western countries hold dear.” Phillips recommended that sanctions be a “primary tool” that the U.S. should use against Turkey.

Phillips also focused on the Armenian Genocide, of which throughout his career in public service President Joe Biden has recognized and pledged to officially recognize as President. Phillips recommended that U.S. officials be given permission now to refer to the events of 1915 as genocide. “Turkey’s denial campaign is morally abhorrent,” said Phillips.

“It’s time for truth-telling, and it starts with U.S. officials using the term Armenian Genocide to characterize what happened.” In conclusion, Phillips stated that the U.S. should provide more aid to Armenia to correct the imbalance with the security assistance it provided to Azerbaijan as a result of the waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act.

He also said that there ought to be a complete accounting of all of the Armenians who Azerbaijan detained during the Artsakh war, especially after the signing of the November 9, 2020 ceasefire agreement, and release all POWs that international humanitarian watchdogs, like Human Rights Watch, are monitoring.

“Restoring U.S. credibility on the international stage starts by recognizing Turkey as a perpetrator which commits crimes against humanity,” said Phillips. In his remarks, Artak Beglaryan focused on impunity and Azerbaijan’s exemption from punishment for its ongoing human rights violations against the Republic of Artsakh and its people. “Azerbaijan has conducted a serious policy of isolation against Artsakh that has intensified since 2008,” said Beglaryan. “Year by year, the isolation and anti-Armenian hatred policy has deepened.”

He emphasized Turkey’s role in the war, which was “quite visible,” along with the hiring of mercenaries, who were promised money in exchange for each Armenian soldier killed.

“We have many confessions and witnesses that prove the direct engagement of Turkey in recruiting and transferring mercenaries to Artsakh,” said Beglaryan, who stated that the mercenaries are still present in the region.

Turkey has clearly violated NATO principles and the principles of the U.S.-Turkey alliance, according to Beglaryan, who cataloged and investigated all of the war crimes executed against Armenians, including cluster munitions and suicide drones that targeted civilians who resided far from military sites.

“These were deliberate targeting attempts using reconnaissance drones,” said Beglaryan, who noted that public reports are available through the Republic of Artsakh Human Rights Ombudsman office.

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