WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) of the United States Congress held a high-stakes hearing to address the immediate and critical need to safeguard the lives and rights of the vulnerable Armenian population living in Artsakh (also known as Nagorno-Karabakh), reported the Armenian Assembly of America.
Co-chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), the Commission heard compelling testimony from four key panelists: former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin, Director of Peace-Building and Human Rights Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University, David Phillips, and former Ambassador of the United States to Armenia, John M. Evans. Additionally, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) submitted testimony for the record.
In gripping opening remarks, Rep. Smith (R-NJ) demanded adequate safeguards for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. He stated, “As our government is leading discussions with Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders, we in Congress have a responsibility to ask: Where is all of this headed? What is the Azeri quality of mind? Above all, as these discussions continue, what would constitute adequate safeguards for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh? What is the administration doing to make sure that Karabakh is not starved into submission or ethnically cleansed? The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh have a right to survival in their ancestral homeland.”
Drawing attention to the forced displacement of Armenians and the threat of ethnic cleansing, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) stated, “During the 2020 war, some 90,000 residents of Nagorno-Karabakh were forcibly displaced. Today, more than 40,000 are still displaced. Before the 2020 war, the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh was about 147,000. Today it is estimated to be down to lower than 120,000. Forced displacement can be a tactic used to achieve ethnic cleansing.”
Former Ambassador Brownback, who had just returned from an inspection tour of the border regions of Armenia where he observed Azeri military installations, expressed concern over the historic Christian populations being driven out, saying, “We have seen historic Christian populations being driven completely out of the Middle East — virtually. There’s a [Christian] population left in Egypt, but it’s been driven out virtually everywhere else. This is another historic Christian population that’s going to get driven out if we don’t take some policy moves, and thankfully, we have some that are available to us, but how many more of these do we have to see? And you can see that’s what’s taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh, that Azerbaijan’s going to squeeze the place – just force the people to leave. You can leave but you can’t return.”
Addressing regional security concerns and highlighting the potential dangers posed by Turkey, Michael Rubin warned, “When it comes to Turkey, the fact of the matter is the F-16s which Erdogan demands are more likely to be used against Iraq, against Northern Syria, against perhaps Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh as they were during the 2020 war.”
David Phillips emphasized Azerbaijan’s aim of cultural erasure and the adverse effects of the blockade. He stated, “The overall goal of Azerbaijan was and remains the cultural erasure of Armenians. In violation of the trilateral ceasefire statement of November 9, 2020, Azerbaijan blocked the Lachin Corridor on December 12 . Mr. Rubin referred to a recent photo on the bridge leading to Artsakh where an APC has been parked and is blocking the passage of civilians, many of whom are seeking medical services. Blocking the corridor has left 120,000 Armenians without life-saving medication and health care. Azerbaijan established checkpoints on the border with Armenia. It cut gas, electricity, water supplies, mobile communications, and is engaged in well-documented daily attacks. The ultimate aim, and let’s be clear, is emptying Artsakh of its native Armenian population.”
Former Ambassador Evans stressed the real danger of genocide, stating, “One of the points that is sometimes disputed is whether there really is a danger of genocide. I would say absolutely there is. It’s been stated here today that the second genocide has already begun. That may be questionable but I think that there is a real danger of it. And it’s not only in view of the 1915 precedent, but it’s also, as David has said, it’s in view of the actions — recorded actions — and speech of Azerbaijani officials and politicians, and that also includes politicians in Turkey.”
Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chair Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) called for an end to the Section 907 Waiver, stating, “While we can’t change the past, we must act now to stop another Armenian genocide. I appreciate the testimony from this esteemed panel and the calls for an end to 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. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) highlighted the premeditated steps taken to remove the Armenian population from Artsakh, stating, “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 Armenia itself, and he is clearly taking premeditated steps to remove the indigenous Armenian population from Artsakh and depriving them of the opportunity to live freely, democratically, and with dignity in the land of their ancestors which is a clear sign of what I would call ethnic cleansing that we can’t ignore.”