Landmark Congressional Commission Hearing Warns of Second Armenian Genocide Against Artsakh

Expert Testimony Calls for U.S. Sanctions Against Azerbaijan; Enforcement of Section 907 Restrictions on U.S. Military Aid to Azerbaijan

June 22, 2023

WASHINGTON, DC – The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) held a landmark hearing spotlighting Azerbaijan’s escalating aggression against the indigenous Armenian Christians of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), calling for sanctions against the Azerbaijani government in the face of a second Armenian Genocide taking place in the region, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

“Today’s hearing both reflected and reinforced the growing pro-Artsakh Congressional consensus in support of an urgent reset in U.S. policy – starting with an end to all U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan,” stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “The ANCA will continue to work with the broad coalition of faith-based, ethnic, and human rights organizations and Congressional leaders to defend Artsakh’s right to security and self-determination.”

The two-hour Capitol Hill hearing was hosted by TLHRC Co-Chairs Chris Smith (R-NJ) and James McGovern (D-MA) and included remarks by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ). Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) also submitted a written statement for the record. Titled “Safeguarding the people of Nagorno Karabakh”, the hearing included testimony by former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, American Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Michael Rubin, and Columbia University Director of the Peace-Building and Human Rights Program, Institute for the Study of Human Rights, David Phillips.

The hearing was live-streamed on the TLHRC’s YouTube channel:

The full proceedings were also streamed on the ANCA’s Facebook and Twitter channels.

“You’ve got 120,000 Christians that are being strangled, blockaded by Azerbaijan,” explained Amb. Brownback, who recently returned from a Philos Project-led fact-finding mission to Armenia. “It’s against the peace agreement, it’s against what the International Court of Justice found, and yet it’s taking place. It’s being backed by Erdogan, who is probably the leading Islamist person in the world that’s pushing militant Islam.” Amb. Brownback recommended the introduction of a Nagorno-Karabakh Human Rights Act, which would clearly identify the minimum standards to safeguard the security of Artsakh’s Armenian population. Amb. Brownback also called for a Congressional delegation visit to Artsakh, noting that he and his delegation were blocked from entering Artsakh last week. On U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan, Amb. Brownback was adamant: “Unless Azerbaijan lifts that blockade, those Section 907 sanctions should be put in place by the President, by the Administration, and they ought to take place now if they will not lift this blockade.”

Michael Rubin, who also participated in the Philos Project Armenia fact-finding mission, was adamant about the implementation of U.S. laws to sanction Azerbaijan – including Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act, and Magnitsky Act. “President Aliyev has changed, and grown more erratic over the last decade. I’d say his trajectory is almost analogous to what we saw with Saddam Hussein,” explained Rubin.

Phillips was direct in his assessment of Azerbaijan’s genocidal intent against Artsakh’s Armenian population. “It is clear from Aliyev’s actions and his hate speech that a second Armenian Genocide is underway. The Erdogan regime is a full partner. It has equipped Azerbaijan with the tools to implement its Armenophobia,” stated Phillips. He went on to discuss the documentation project he had launched on Azerbaijani and Turkish atrocities against Artsakh, geared to preserve evidence to deter future crimes and hold perpetrators accountable.

“I think our task today is simply to consider how to preserve the lives of the Armenians in Karabakh, in the face of a potentially genocidal threat,” explained Amb. Evans. “I certainly agree with the idea that the waiver of Section 907 ought to be rescinded.” Amb. Evans went on to urge US diplomats to “put the brakes on Turkish and Israeli arms sales to Baku. All the other members of the Minsk Group, and Turkey is technically a member of that group, but all the others had basically agreed to preserve the military balance in the Caucasus. Now Russia, of course, played the biggest role as a supplier to both sides, but when Israeli and Turkish high-tech drones and other equipment got in there, not to mention the F-16s, this really upset the situation and has brought us to where we are.”

Rep. Chris Smith Announces Second Hearing on Artsakh Security

Rep. Chris Smith, during dialogue with TLHRC hearing witnesses about U.S. efforts to address escalating Azerbaijani aggression, announced that he will soon be holding a second hearing – this time through the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights & International Organizations, which he chairs – where U.S. Administration officials would be invited to outline their efforts to address the Artsakh crisis.

In opening remarks in today’s hearing, Rep. Smith noted, “Since 2020, Azerbaijan has been tightening a noose on Nagorno-Karabakh. Its forces have occupied much of the former territory and even territory of Armenia proper. […] As our government is leading discussions with Azerbaijan and Armenia leaders, we in Congress have a responsibility to ask where is all of this headed. […] Our country simply cannot accept a risk of genocide or of ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh.”

TLHRC Co-Chair Rep. McGovern offered an overview of the Artsakh crisis and Azerbaijan’s aggression, asserting, “the bottom line is that the Armenian population in Nagorno-Karabakh understandably feels vulnerable and at risk. So, what do we do about this? What is the pro-human rights response here? It is to ensure civilian protection, which means taking any and all actions we can to prevent further escalation of tensions that could lead to more war and new atrocities.” Rep. McGovern noted his co-sponsorship of the Anti-Blockade Resolution (H.Res.108), spearheaded by Rep. Pallone and Rep. Bilirakis, which condemns Azerbaijan’s Artsakh blockade, calls for the cutting all military aid to Azerbaijan and expanding U.S. aid to Artsakh. The bi-partisan measure currently has over 90 co-sponsors. Rep. McGovern’s opening remarks are available here.

Rep. Bilirakis, who was among those chairing the commission hearing, stressed the importance of enforcing Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan. “I appreciate the testimony from this esteemed panel and the calls for an end to the Section 907 waiver of the FREEDOM Support Act, which would prohibit the sale of military equipment to Azerbaijan. You’re selling it to Azerbaijan, it’s just like selling it to Turkey. There’s no justifiable reason to continue this waiver when Azerbaijan has clearly used this equipment to wage an aggressive war against Armenia, commit war crimes against innocent Armenians and enforce the current blockade.” Rep. Bilirakis pledged to continue working with the Congressional Armenian Caucus to stop the Section 907 waiver “until the United States can guarantee that no American-bought resources will be used to perpetuate humanitarian crises, genocidal campaigns, or target the innocent.”

Rep. Pallone, who submitted testimony for the record and offered remarks during the commission hearing, emphasized Azerbaijan’s genocidal intent in its ongoing aggression and blockade against Artsakh. “Aliyev has not been subtle about alluding to the Armenian Genocide when discussing Artsakh and removing people from there, nor has he attempted to hide his ongoing deadly incursions into Armenian territory,” stated Rep. Pallone. “He is clearly taking premeditated steps to remove the indigenous Armenian population from Artsakh and deprive them of the opportunity to live freely, democratically, and with dignity in the land of their ancestors – a clear sign of ethnic cleansing that we must not ignore.” Rep. Pallone noted that “it’s past time that the United States start better leveraging the diplomatic tools at our disposal, including sanctions, to finally bring this purposeful crisis to an end.” Citing reports of the continuation of Azerbaijan-Armenia talks in Washington DC next week, Rep. Pallone stressed, “I call on the Administration to take every action necessary to prevent Azerbaijan’s militaristic behavior from dictating the terms of a final agreement, as that will not lead to an equitable, lasting peace in the region.”

In written testimony submitted to the TLHRC hearing, Rep. Schiff (D-CA) expressed deep concern that “Artsakh has been used as a bargaining chip in the peace talks, without any representation.” He stressed that “it is the right of the people of Artsakh to live free of political, cultural, and economic oppression, and as a protector of democracy, the United States must continue to support and stand with the people of Artsakh to achieve the recognition it deserves among all nations.” Rep. Schiff outlined a series of steps the US must take to safeguard human rights in Artsakh, including imposing sanctions on Azerbaijan and ensuring “the protection and right to self-determination of the people of Artsakh.” Rep. Schiff’s full statement is available here.

The ANCA will be providing additional coverage of the TLHRC hearing on Artsakh security in upcoming days.


For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian
Email / Tel: (202) 775-1918
Armenian National Committee of America
1711 N Street NW Washington, DC 20036 | | @anca_dc
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