WASHINGTON, DC – A diverse delegation of Armenian American activists, many with roots in Baku, took part in a capacity-crowd Capitol Hill briefing and two-day series of Congressional meetings, sharing with Members of Congress, for the first time, their harrowing family accounts of Azerbajiani aggression against the Armenian populations of Baku, Sumgait and Kirovabad, and advocating for robust U.S. political support and direct assistance to ensure a brighter future for the free citizens of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The ANCA sponsored Capitol Hill program, titled: “Nagorno Karabakh – A Generation After Anti-Armenian Pogroms: The Challenge of Promoting Peace and Developing Democracy,” featured powerful remarks by Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte, a lawyer, lecturer, and author of ‘Nowhere, A Story of Exile,’ and Dr. Alina Dorian, an internationally respected public health expert and advocate who has worked for decades to strengthen and expand public health programs in Nagorno Karabakh. Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone Jr. opened the program by offering warm words of welcome, and ardent support for an independent Artsakh. Both the Armenian Embassy and the Nagorno Karabakh Office in Washington were well represented at the briefing by Deputy Chief of Mission Hrach Tashjian and Nagorno Karabakh Representative Robert Avetisyan.
Joining Dorian and Turcotte as ardent spokespeople for Nagorno Karabakh independence were Vitaliy Dadalyan, Marat Khoudabakhshiev and Julia Papiyan, who traveled from Utah, California and Michigan, respectively, to share their family stories of persecution in Baku during the late 1980’s. In some 40 meetings with key Senate and House leaders, Members of Congress were moved by their accounts of courage and survival and inspired by the Nagorno Karabakh Republic’s commitment to democracy and economic development. ANCA Western Region Advisory Board Member Garo Madenlian, Esq., ANCA-WR Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan and the ANCA Eastern Region’s Armen Sahakyan joined the ANCA Washington DC team in facilitating Congressional outreach efforts and sharing the broad range of Armenian American community priorities.
“The ANCA was proud to help the Baku Armenian community raise its voice here in Washington – with purpose, power, and passion,” stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “These remarkable young men and women delivered compelling messages of both remembrance and resolve across Capitol Hill, educating dozens of Members of Congress about the atrocities committed against their families a generation ago, and – just as importantly – demanding that American leaders stand up for Artsakh’s, freedom, stand strong against Azerbaijani aggression, and stand firmly with all those seeking a fair and enduring regional peace.”
Astvatsaturian Turcotte: “They knew our addresses”
In her remarks on the Capitol Hill briefing, Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte described a “happy and sunny childhood” until 1988, when, the “facades of tolerance began to fade.”
“Life as we knew it for myself, my family and hundreds of our friends ceased to exist as the violent gangs organized by the Azerbaijani government stormed our streets and attacked us for simply being Armenian,” explained Turcotte, who was just 11-years-old at the time. “They knew our addresses.”
Turcotte went on to explain that families like hers “spent months hiding in the dark, with curtains closed tightly or equally terrified surrounded by Russian tanks who were there to assert the Soviet dominance, not to protect us.”
The effects of that ordeal, their escape and the struggle for survival affect her to this day, explained Turcotte. “This fear is still engrained in me at 36 years old and I detest it. I fight against it by speaking it out loud, just as I am doing right now.”
Turcotte praised the Nagorno Karabakh Republic for its commitment to democracy and development, despite ongoing Azerbaijani attacks. “Nagorno-Karabakh is flourishing with its limited resources, with all its security concerns, road by road, building by building, family by family.” She continued, sharing this poignant message of hope addressed to the Artsakh people.
“Baku Armenian communities around the world and especially in the United States, stand with you, Nagorno Karabakh. May your children never have to be subjected to the Azerbaijani government again. May you never hide in the dark like we did fearing for our lives in Baku. May you proudly display your Armenian names and culture within the borders of your democratic country, just like I proudly do in my adoptive country, United States of America.”
Dorian: “Direct US aid to Nagorno-Karabakh has Represented a Powerful Investment in Peace”
Public health expert and disaster assistance specialist Dr. Alina Dorian offered a strong indictment of the scarcity of international humanitarian aid efforts to Nagorno Karabakh to date, and laid out a compelling case for expanded U.S. assistance to the fledgling democracy, based on both the critical needs and the merits.
Explaining that most international response to humanitarian crises is spearheaded by the United Nations and its relevant agencies, International Red Cross, non-government organizations and governments, Dorian noted “that didn’t happen in Nagorno Karabakh,” with the United Nations absent from the region to this day.
Turning to U.S. assistance, Dorian explained, “As much as I am proud of what our government, what we have done in Nagorno Karabakh to date, it cannot be forgotten that we didn’t provide any assistance until four years post-ceasefire. Can you imagine waiting four years before responding to Haiti? Or, waiting four years before responding to Kosovo?” asked Dorian.
Offering a brief public health snapshot of Nagorno Karabakh to attendees, and thanking USAID for 1998 and 2003 rounds of assistance efforts in which she participated, Dorian stressed that the need is still great. “The war and its aftermath have disrupted the lives of individuals, their families and communities – depriving them of the means of growth and development.”
Dorian then outlined the merits of expanded U.S. assistance to Artsakh, citing its commitment to democracy and self-reliance. “Since 1991, Nagorno Karabakh has successfully conducted five parliamentary and five presidential elections… this post-war generation is growing up in a government of their choosing.” She stressed Nagorno Karabakh’s commitment to peace, citing their willingness, unlike Azerbaijan, “to support the OSCE’s calls to pull back snipers and increase OSCE observers.” Dorian highlighted the effectiveness of U.S. assistance in the region. “We have shown outcomes; we have shown impact; we have shown that our government’s investment, although small, has been a wise one, by reaching out stated goals and objectives.”
Dorian then shared recommendations for expanded US assistance to Artsakh, including a thorough public health assessment in the region. She cited the importance of maintaining Section 907 restrictions on U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan, sending a strong signal to a dictatorial Aliyev regime which has steadily increased its aggression against Nagorno Karabakh. She urged Nagorno Karabakh’s direct participation in the OSCE peace process.
“The fact is that the population in Nagorno Karabakh is struggling daily for survival and it is not being afforded the necessary assistance and support of the international community. Within this triangle of conflict, the most vulnerable group – Nagorno Karabakh – is still marginalized and disenfranchised. Twenty years later, it is time for us to change the tide,” concluded Dorian.
Baku Armenians Share their Stories of Survival; Vision for Peace
Twenty-five years after the Azerbaijani government incited racially motivated attacks that left hundreds dead, scores injured and forced over 300,000 to flee their family homes in Baku, Sumgait, Kirovabad, Maragha and other cities throughout Azerbaijan, a small but determined group of Baku-Armenian survivors travelled to the nation’s capitol to share their family’s stories of courage with legislators, offering thanks for the safe-haven provided by communities across the United States. In meeting after meeting – some 40 Senate and House meetings with Congressional leaders and staff – the eye-witness accounts of Azerbaijani aggression in the late 1980’s and the continued attacks on Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh today, underscored the need for increased US assistance and support for an independent Artsakh.
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) explained, “Even though we talk about the Armenian Genocide centennial, we have to remember that this was not just something 100 years ago. It was pogroms 150 years ago and it was pogroms 25 years ago and we have to remember that.” Citing his support for U.S. recognition of an independent Artsakh, Congressman Pallone urged “whatever we [US] could do, economic development, that would lead to recognition, that would lead to a settlement so that Karabakh could remain an independent country, or part of Armenia.”
Inspired by the impact of Astvatsaturian Turcotte’s moving diary of survival “Nowhere, A Story of Exile,” the ANCA issued a call earlier this year to Baku Armenians across the US to share their stories with elected officials and the American public, beginning with a poignant account relayed by 2014 ANCA Leo Sarkisian intern Inna Mirzoyan:
Since then others have come forward, including Julia Papiyan, who shared her family’s story, both in the pages of Asbarez and this week on Capitol Hill. Family stories can be shared with the ANCA by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Noted Armenian journalist Marianna Grigoryan and H1 Television’s Washington correspondent Haykaram Nahapetyan travelled throughout the U.S. videotaping and collecting Baku pogrom survivor accounts for a powerful documentary which premiered on the 25th anniversary of the Baku Pogroms in January of this year, the fifth installment in the “Ordinary Genocide” Project.
Expanding the Armenian American Issues Profile on Capitol Hill
This month’s Capitol Hill briefing on Nagorno Karabakh is part of a broader ANCA sponsored initiative to spotlight key Armenian American community concerns through interactive programs and expanded community advocacy opportunities.
Last month, the efforts of Near East Relief, the unprecedented American campaign of international humanitarian assistance which saved and sustained hundreds of thousands of Armenian Genocide survivors from 1915 – 1930, was spotlighted at the first Capitol Hill briefing of the year. Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Jim Costa were joined by public policy leaders and a bipartisan group of Senate and House Congressional staff for the unique presentation by Maurice Kelechian, a member of the ANCA Western Region’s ‘America We Thank You: An Armenian Tribute to Near East Relief,’ who has spent decades researching archives around the world to document this unprecedented American humanitarian aid effort.
Both programs were made possible by a generous grant by the Aramian Family, in memory of the late Martha Aramian – a respected community leader and devoted daughter of the Armenian nation.