Congressional Briefing Focuses on Rights and Path to Safe Return of Artsakh’s Genocide Survivors
WASHINGTON, DC – Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman) Gegham Stepanyan and former State Minister Artak Beglaryan represented the Artsakh people’s inalienable rights, national interests, and democratic aspirations at a Capitol Hill briefing featuring powerful remarks by Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA) and James Costa (D-CA), and organized by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“We are here to demand the right of safe return of Artsakh’s refugees to their homes, homes that in many cases have been occupied by their families for hundreds and hundreds of years,” stated Rep. Sherman, who urged the enforcement of Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan, sanctioning the Aliyev regime for the ethnic cleansing of Artsakh. Citing President Aliyev’s escalating rhetoric claiming Armenia’s capital Yerevan is Azerbaijani territory, Rep. Sherman urged the Biden Administration to provide defensive military weapons to Armenia, “to avoid the next tragedy, which is being planned in Baku.” Rep. Sherman concluded his remarks, with a message to President Aliyev, who claims that his main enemies are the Armenians of the world. “Well, I have news for you, Mr. Aliyev. Your main enemies are every person in the world who believes in democracy, who believes in human rights, and who believes in justice.”
Condemning Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing of Artsakh, Rep. Costa noted, “We must do more” to provide US humanitarian assistance to Artsakh’s forcibly displaced population through the foreign aid supplemental currently under consideration. “We must hold the Azerbaijan government responsible for not only the ethnic cleansing but the cultural genocide that they continue to attempt to implement as part of a systematic effort that has long been the history of Azerbaijan and their attitude toward the Armenian people and the culture and the religion. The threats that Azerbaijan is now making toward Armenia, I believe, are serious and real, and therefore should be treated as such,” stated Rep. Costa. He also called for concrete US action to secure the return of Artsakh leaders and Armenian POWs illegally held hostage by Azerbaijan.
“Artsakh’s rights were center stage this week in Washington, DC, as two of the Republic’s most eloquent voices – Artak Beglaryan and Gegham Stepanyan – made the case to U.S. legislators and international religious freedom leaders for the safe return of indigenous Armenians to their ancient homeland,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “Today’s Congressional briefing was a great opportunity for legislators to hear first-hand about the Artsakh Genocide and also for them to consult among themselves about the concrete U.S. steps needed to restore this integral part of the Armenian homeland.”
During the briefing, Stepanyan and Beglaryan offered eye-witness accounts of the brutal realities of Azerbaijan’s ten-month blockade of Artsakh, which culminated in the September 2023 genocidal attack that forcibly emptied Artsakh of its indigenous Armenian population. The Artsakh leaders shared the history of Azerbaijan’s premeditated attacks against Artsakh’s Armenians, which laid the foundation for the 2023 genocide.
Beglaryan and Stepanyan called for bold US and international leadership to hold Azerbaijan accountable for the Artsakh genocide, including via:
— Sanctions on Azerbaijan, building on Senate passage of S.3000, which enforce Section 907 restriction on U.S. military and security aid to Azerbaijan. They also encouraged the application of Magnitsky sanctions on Aliyev government officials for war crimes and ethnic cleansing committed during the 2020 Azerbaijan-Turkey war against Armenia and Artsakh and subsequent genocidal aggression.
— US aid for Artsakh’s forcibly displaced Armenian community, including housing and job placement assistance, until a secure mechanism can be put in place through international oversight and mediation with Artsakh authorities to guarantee the safe return of forcibly displaced Armenians to their Artsakh homes.
— Expanded U.S. and international efforts to help secure the immediate release of Artsakh leaders captured in September 2023, and POWs illegally held by Azerbaijan since the 2020 Azerbaijan/Turkey attacks.
— Preservation of Artsakh’s Armenian cultural and religious heritage already under threat of destruction by Azerbaijan.
Stepanyan and Beglaryan stressed that without international efforts to address the Artsakh people’s right to safe return and justice for the crimes committed, it will be impossible to establish sustainable peace in the region. They also emphasized that the systemic anti-Armenian hatred fomented by the Azerbaijani Government must be eradicated to ensure an enduring settlement of the conflict and regional stability.
The speakers underscored that enforcement of Section 907, via enactment of S. 3000, would represent a meaningful contribution to regional peace. They also touched on related initiatives, among them ANCA-backed resolutions pending in the U.S. House, H.R. 5686 and H.R.5683. These measures would hold Azerbaijan accountable for ethnic cleansing against Artsakh’s indigenous Armenians, and help deter further military aggression against Armenia by providing foreign military financing (FMF) aid to Armenia. They also raised H.Res.735, requesting a report on Azerbaijan’s human rights practices under Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act; and H.Res.861, a bipartisan resolution introduced by Rep. Schiff calling on the United States to ensure the immediate release of Armenian POWs and other detained persons illegally held by Azerbaijan.
The ANCA is accompanying Beglaryan and Stepanyan as they represent Artsakh interests during two weeks of Washington DC meetings with elected officials, policymakers, and religious freedom advocates, as part of a 120,0000 Reasons coalition effort supported by the Tufenkian Foundation and the Philos Project.
Earlier this week, Stepanyan offered powerful remarks on Capitol Hill at an International Religious Freedom Summit-related forum calling for U.S. government and non-governmental organization leadership to provide for the secure return of Artsakh Armenians, protection of Artsakh’s Christian heritage, and sanctions against the Azerbaijani government. Throughout the IRF Summit, they discussed the broad range of challenges and opportunities for international action to assist forcibly displaced Artsakh refugees.