WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a powerful amendment introduced by Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) to block the transfer of U.S. defense articles to Baku that could potentially be used by the Azerbaijani government to act upon its threat to shoot down civilian aircraft operating out of Artsakh’s Stepanakert Airport, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
The ANCA-backed amendment , offered to Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, was cosponsored by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Vice-Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA). The House adopted the measure with a vote of 234 to 195. A full listing of votes cast is available here.
“I thank my House colleagues for advancing and voting in favor of my amendment to the NDAA to require that the President must certify to Congress that any defense articles provided to Azerbaijan pose no threat to civilian aviation,” Rep. Sherman told the ANCA upon passage of the measure. “However you feel about the political status of Artsakh, threats to shoot down civilian aircraft are unacceptable. I thank my colleagues again for ensuring that we do not abet the Azeris in this menacing behavior.”
“The people’s house took a solid stand for peace today,” said ANCA Chairman Raffi Hamparian. “The adoption of the Sherman Amendment sends a powerful message that the United States will not tolerate Azerbaijan’s threats against civilian aircraft or its use of violence to resolve outstanding status and security issues with the Artsakh Republic. We are deeply grateful to Congressman Sherman for his strong leadership, value the support of Rules Committee Chairman McGovern, and thank each and every legislator – from both sides of the aisle – who voted for this historic measure.”
During House floor debate of the amendment, Rep. Sherman argued, “If there is one thing that this House can agree on, it is that we are opposed to shooting down, especially deliberately shooting down, civilian aircraft. And yet, the government of Azerbaijan has stated with regard to flights going into Stepanakert Airport, that they envision the physical destruction of airplanes landing in that territory.” Rep. Sherman went even further, noting, “After 23 years of studying this issue on the Foreign Affairs Committee, I’m not convinced that we should transfer any weapons, under any circumstances, to the government of Azerbaijan until it comes to the table, and resolves the Artsakh dispute.”
Rep. Sherman concluded his remarks, explaining, “I would point out that the Stepanakert Airport is located in the Republic of Artsakh, previously known as the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh, and historically Armenian territory that was lumped in with Azerbaijan by no less than Joseph Stalin in a deliberate effort to create ethnic tensions in the Caucuses to the benefit of the Soviet Union and in an effort to punish the Armenian people. The people of Artsakh established their independence decades ago and whatever your view as to the status of that territory, you should support this amendment, unless you believe it is appropriate to shoot down civilian aircraft. I urge my colleagues to support the amendment and I reserve the balance of my time.”
The sole speaker against the Sherman amendment was Congressman Ron Wright (R-TX), who recited a series of standard pro-Azerbaijan talking points, avoiding any mention of Azerbaijan’s threats to shoot down civilian aircraft.
In March of 2011, Arif Mamadov, the Director of Azerbaijan’s Civil Aviation Administration, reported that the Azerbaijani government had warned the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that it had not authorized flights to Nagorno Karabakh, explaining that “The law on aviation envisages the physical destruction of airplanes landing in that territory.” The Azerbaijani government has neither withdrawn this threat, nor agreed that its forces will not shoot down civilian aircraft. As a result, the civilian airport in Stepanakert has remained closed for the past eight years, depriving the citizens of Artsakh and others of their universally recognized right to travel.
The text of the Sherman Amendment states that “none of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2020 may be used to transfer defense articles or services to Azerbaijan unless the President certifies to Congress that the transfer of such defense articles or services does not threaten civil aviation.”
The Republic of Artsakh Ministry of Foreign Affairs hailed the introduction of the Sherman Amendment, stating “the resuming the operation of the Stepanakert airport is a sovereign right of Artsakh and pursues purely civil and humanitarian goals, in particular, the exercise of such an inalienable right as freedom of movement.”