Senator Markey demands Azerbaijan release Armenian hostages

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey called on the U.S. and the international community to use every available diplomatic tool – including the upcoming COP29 Climate Summit planned for Baku – to secure the release of Armenian hostages being illegally detained and tortured by Azerbaijan’s dictatorial Aliyev regime, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

In powerful remarks on the Senate floor, Senator Markey condemned Azerbaijan’s forced deportation of Artsakh’s ethnic Armenian population in September 2023, and the subsequent illegal arrest and detention of former Karabakh government leaders, including former State Minister Ruben Vardanyan, ex-presidents Arkady Ghoukasian, Bako Sahakyan, and Arayik Harutunyan, former Foreign Minister David Babayan, Parliament Speaker Davit Ishkhanyan, and former generals Levon Mnatsakanyan and David Manukyan.  The Senator went on to detail the various forms of torture Vardanyan has been subject to, including “punitive extended stays in solitary confinement, poor prison conditions, denial of water and clean clothing, and orders that require him to stand for hours on end.”

“Azerbaijan has routinely resorted to hostage diplomacy, prolonging unlawful detention and using prisoners of war as bargaining chips to impose its demands on Armenia, in clear violation of international law. In fact, Azerbaijan is still holding dozens of Armenian prisoners of war and civilian political prisoners that it took captive during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war,” stated Sen. Markey.

Among the actions Congress has already taken to address these concerns, Sen. Markey referenced an April 2024 bi-partisan Senate letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, cosigned by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Gary Peters (D-MI), and himself, calling for Azerbaijan’s immediate release of the Armenian hostages and supporting the right of return of Artsakh’s indigenous Armenian population.  “Forcefully removing and detaining the political leadership of an ethnic group is a well-known tactic of those committing ethnic cleansing. Denying their freedom and ability to participate in the peace process means that peace is being negotiated without the voice or perspective of those with key knowledge of those affected by Azerbaijan’s atrocities,” the Senators.

Senator Markey went on to argue that Azerbaijan’s illegal detention of Armenian hostages and anti-Armenian aggression should not be rewarded by the US and international community with the privilege of hosting this year’s international climate summit, COP29.  “We must ensure that we take this opportunity to put the spotlight on all of those political prisoners who are being held wrongly by the Azerbaijan government,” argued Sen. Markey, calling for their release prior to the November COP29 summit in Baku, Azerbaijan.

“We join with Senator Markey in demanding decisive American leadership to secure the release of Armenian hostages illegally held by Azerbaijan,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “For all the Biden Administration’s big talk about no business-as-usual with Aliyev, all we have seen from the President is business-as-usual – normalizing Azerbaijan’s genocide of Artsakh, abuse of prisoners, and desecration of holy sites. It’s time for Joe Biden to stop appeasing Aliyev and to start holding this dictator accountable.”

Sen. Markey has been an outspoken voice of justice for the people of Artsakh for decades.  In February, he and Sen. Cassidy introduced a bipartisan resolution (S.Res.540) requesting a report on Azerbaijan’s human rights practices pursuant to Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act. The resolution requests information from the State Department on Azerbaijan’s human rights abuses both within the country, as well as during its sustained military assault against Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) that last year resulted in the ethnic cleansing of its entire indigenous Armenian population.  

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