WASHINGTON, DC — The United States is preparing a comprehensive and transparent report on what happened in Nagorno-Karabakh ahead of Azerbaijan’s offensive in September, James O’Brien, Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, announced during a congressional hearing on Wednesday, November 15.
James O’Brien said the investigation is focused not only on what happened in Nagorno-Karabakh on the day of the offensive but also during the months preceding it.
“We have commissioned independent investigators. We have our own investigators working in the field. There is information available from international nongovernmental organizations and other investigators, O’Brien told the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Europe.
“And as we develop the record of what happened, we will be completely open about what we are finding. I can’t put a timeline on this investigation, but we will inform you as we go forward,” he said.
The hearing follows the forced exodus of nearly all Karabakh Armenians from their ancestral homeland following Azerbaijan’s lightning military operation in September. The offensive ended three decades of independence in the republic.
O’Brien said the State Department is also working on support for Armenia, the refugees’ destination, adding that he has been impressed by the Armenian government’s commitment to reforms and diversifying existing economic, political, energy, and security relationships, particularly those in the trans-Atlantic region.
“I think we owe it to the people of Armenia to help them through this difficult situation so that those choices they have made very bravely [help them] have a more secure, stable, and prosperous future,” the U.S. diplomat added.
Speaking on behalf of the Department of State, O’Brien said that Washington insists that Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians have complete access to the territory, on the protection of the property and culture and that they receive adequate information “so that they can make real choice about their future.”
O’Brien also confirmed the State Department does not intend to submit a request to the White House to waive restrictions on U.S. government assistance to Azerbaijan under Section 907, a measure heavily restricting aid to the country. What that may mean in practice is the drawdown of many of Washington’s aid efforts in the country.
Section 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act restricts most U.S. aid to Azerbaijan until Washington determines that Baku “is taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.” However, subsequent legislation has allowed for Section 907 to be waived annually, and U.S. presidents have done so every year from 2002 to 2022.
Members of the Subcommittee also talked about the settlement of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, emphasizing that the countries hindering the process, including Russia, should be kept away from the negotiations.
Reflecting on events in September, Representative Bill Keating (Democrat-Massachusetts) said that despite months of diplomatic talks earlier this year that had led to “significant progress,” Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev “decided to break with the internationally accepted and lawful diplomatic path, instead opting for the use of military force in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
“As a result of Azerbaijan’s unacceptable military action over 100,000 ethnic Armenians have fled Nagorno-Karabakh, resettling in Armenia and leaving their personal belongings and their livelihoods behind them. 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,” Keating underscored.
Keating said he supports U.S. humanitarian and economic assistance to displaced people in Armenia and ensuring “accountability for any potential crimes committed against those fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh or those who are choosing to remain there.”