WASHINGTON, DC – In an overdue and still inadequate response to Azerbaijan’s U.S.-armed genocide of Artsakh’s indigenous Christian Armenians, President Biden has only now started to outline potential accountability measures – starting with a cut-off of all U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan – that have long been called for by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), our Congressional allies, and community and coalition partners.
Ambassador James O’Brien, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, told House Foreign Affairs Committee members today “we have not and don’t anticipate submitting a waiver on [Section ] 907,” referencing the 1992 U.S. law that restricts U.S. aid to Azerbaijan based on its ongoing aggression against Armenia and Artsakh. Amb. O’Brien flatly rejected arguments – often advanced by the Azerbaijani lobby — that enforcing Section 907 would undermine U.S. national security interests.
“A day late, and a dollar short,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “Having armed, emboldened, and actively abetted Azerbaijan’s genocide of Artsakh – the U.S.-backed ethnic cleansing of Armenians from yet more of our indigenous homeland – President Biden will need to do far more than send signals about his willingness to enforce an existing U.S. statute. He can, for example – if he is serious and not just engaged in electoral damage control – lead a UN Security Council resolution establishing an international mandate providing security for the safe and sustainable return of Armenians to Artsakh.”
Amb. O’Brien’s statements came during the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Subcommittee on Europe hearing on “The Future of Nagorno-Karabakh”, where Committee members pressed the State Department and USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Dr. Alexander Sokolowski about expanding U.S. aid to the over 100,000 Artsakh Armenian victims of Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing and efforts to stop renewed Aliyev regime aggression against Armenia.
“Over 100,000 ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh are now living as refugees in Armenia. We cannot afford to look away from the region or be distracted by other conflicts proliferating across the globe,” stated Subcommittee on Europe Chair Tom Kean (R-NJ). He went on to call on State Department and USAID representatives to outline plans for humanitarian assistance to Artsakh refugees and asked them to clarify the Biden Administration’s message to Azerbaijani officials to prevent further attacks against Armenia. “I hope our witnesses today will explain how they are communicating to President Aliyev that the use of force against sovereign Armenian territory, including in the Syunik province, would be completely and totally unacceptable,” stated Chairman Kean.
Subcommittee Ranking Democrat Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA) concurred, noting “I strongly believe we must provide humanitarian and economic assistance to displaced people in Armenia and ensure accountability for any potential crimes committed against those fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh or those who are choosing to remain there.”
Speaking of the 100,000 Armenian refugees “uprooted” from Artsakh, Amb. O’Brien told Congress “we insist on the people having complete access to the territory, on the protection of the property, the protection of the culture, and that the people receive adequate information so that they can make a real choice about their future and know that they have the viable opportunity to return and live well in Nagorno-Karabakh if that’s what they choose.” Instead of clearly condemning Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing of Artsakh, Amb. O’Brien announced that the State Department has commissioned independent investigators, and is working with international partners to provide “a comprehensive, thorough, and transparent record of what happened, not just on those days, but for the months before.” No timeline was announced for the presentation of the report.
In an attempt to address Congressional concerns about a clear US response to Azerbaijan’s brutal attack on Artsakh that led to the forced exile of Artsakh Armenians, Amb. O’Brien noted “We’ve canceled a number of high-level visits […] We don’t anticipate submitting a [Section 907] waiver until such time as we see a real improvement in the situation. All of this is to say we continue to urge peace.”
With regard to the U.S. humanitarian aid for Artsakh’s forcibly displaced, Dr. Sokolowski reiterated USAID Administrator Power’s commitment of $11.5 million in U.S. assistance. He also announced that “USAID has focused nearly $6 million in funding from existing programming at USAID Armenia to respond to the humanitarian crisis.”
Members of Congress were skeptical about the State Department’s optimism about Azerbaijan-Armenia peace talks and President Aliyev’s commitment to peace in the region.
“I don’t see the peace process as going nearly as well as some of the descriptions I’ve just heard. The meeting in Granada, Spain, the last two meetings, Azerbaijan refused to go. I don’t know how you describe that as being positive,” stated Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA). He went on to raise security concerns stemming from proposed economic corridors through Armenia. “Armenians are concerned and feel threatened by that corridor and what it might imply for another grabbing of land by Azerbaijan once it’s established.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) asked Assistant Secretary O’Brien to outline the specific resources the State Department is prepared to use to ensure Azerbaijan honors a peace deal. “What are you prepared to do, Ambassador [O’Brien], to create a carrot and stick to move this agenda? Are you willing to add sanctions for non-compliance?” Assistant Secretary O’Brien stated, “Yes, we are looking at all the tools we have. I’m not going to preview any sanctions decisions, but that’s certainly a tool in our toolkit.”
Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) questioned Biden Administration’s military aid to Azerbaijan in the face of President Aliyev’s ties with Russia and Iran. “Sanctioned Russian and Iranian companies own significant shares in Azerbaijan’s gas fields exporting energy to Europe, and Azerbaijan has recently signed lucrative energy deals with both countries,” stated Rep. Lawler. Assistant Secretary O’Brien noted they were aware of Azerbaijan’s energy deals, and affirmed they are not in US national interests.
“Many of us here in Congress sent letter after letter after letter and supported resolution after resolution to exert pressure and relieve the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, which had been exacerbated since the 2020 war. It looks like we failed,” stated Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL) in powerful remarks questioning the State Department’s assessment of prospects for peace. “The tightening of the stranglehold around Nagorno-Karabakh over the years until the ethnic Armenian population was forced to leave, was not just about counterterrorism, and it was not just about geopolitics,” stated Rep. Schneider. He went on to relay the story of the brutal murder of Armenian serviceman Gurgen Margaryan, axed to death by Azerbaijani soldier Ramil Safarov during a NATO exercise in Hungary in 2004. Safarov was extradited back to Azerbaijan in 2012, where he was promoted and rewarded for his actions. “What should be our takeaway from what happened in 2004 through 2012? How should we think of the possibilities of peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan in this context,” asked Rep. Schneider.
Calling the Margaryan’s murder a “reprehensible” set of events, Amb. O’Brien cited the need for “accountability for crimes,” and “setting a new path going forward,” but stopped short of outlining any clear U.S. actions to achieve the former or to ensure the latter – placing the onus on Armenia and Azerbaijan. “We are creating a path for them to take and incentives for them to go there.”
Noting Turkey’s history of genocide against the Armenian people, Rep. Dina Titus cited the close ties between Turkey and Azerbaijan and asked “what kind of damage are they causing now?” Rep. Titus called for end-use monitoring of US weapons sold to Turkey, expressing concern about Turkey’s illegal transfer of military parts and munitions to Azerbaijan
Rep. Madeleine Dean stressed the importance of the hearing. “What started as a blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh culminated in the Azerbaijani offensive on September 19 and 20 to regain control of the region. Within 10 days, approximately 100,000 residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, about 80 percent of the population, fled to Armenia. Armenia, the U.S., E.U., and international organizations have stepped in to provide humanitarian assistance for the refugees, but many questions remain as to their future, as well as the future of Nagorno-Karabakh,” stated Rep. Dean.