Congressmen David Cicilline and Adam Schiff Mark Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad Pogroms

U.S. Representatives David Cicilline and Adam Schiff


Representatives Stand Strong in Support of Artsakh Independence

WASHINGTON—U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and David Cicilline (D-RI) offered strong condemnations of the Azerbaijani massacres in Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad and spoke out in support of the democratic right to self-determination of the people of Artsakh in powerful statements issued in commemoration of these crimes, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

“The Sumgait massacre is a black mark on history and sadly, this event sparked further violence as Armenians would be targeted less than 9 months later in Kirovabad and again in Baku in 1990,” Rep. Cicilline told his colleagues late last week. The Congressman went on to note, “From the earliest days of its formation, the Republic’s freely elected governmental bodies have helped build an open democratic society through transparent elections and it is critical that the United States support their independence and autonomy.”

Rep. Schiff echoed these remarks in a statement issued today, noting, “With these appalling acts, the Azeri state reminded the whole world why the people of Artsakh must be allowed to determine their own future and cannot be allowed to slip into Aliyev’s clutches, lest the carnage of Sumgait 26 years ago serve as a foreshadowing of a greater slaughter. Mr. Speaker, the memory of the victims of Sumgait must not be forgotten, and it is our moral obligation to condemn crimes of hatred, in hope that history will not be repeated.”

Last week, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) was joined by fellow Committee colleague Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Representatives Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Katherine Clark (D-MA) in issuing similar statements condemning the Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad pogroms and calling on Azerbaijan to end its aggression against Armenia and the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh.

The complete texts of the statements by Representatives Cicilline and Schiff are provided below.

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Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI): Mr. Speaker, today we commemorate the 26th Anniversary of the horrific Sumgait Pogroms. On February 27, 1988 organized mobs of Azerbaijanis aimed at killing and driving Armenian Christians living in Sumgait from their homes. Armed with sticks, axes and iron rods, they attacked Armenian men, women and children by breaking into their homes and brutally beating and killing them just because of their ethnicity. Despite Sumgait’s 30 minute proximity to Baku, police allowed the pogroms to go on for 3 days, during which Armenians were burned alive and thrown from windows.

These acts were merely a continuation of the Azerbaijani authorities’ unswerving policy of racism towards Armenians and ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population, with unpunished killings and deportations.

The Sumgait massacre is a black mark on history and sadly, this event sparked further violence as Armenians would be targeted less than 9 months later in Kirovabad and again in Baku in 1990.

The Azerbaijani Government has shamefully continued to undermine prospects for a lasting peace in the Southern Caucasus, recently in 2012, pardoning an Azerbaijani military officer Ramil Safarov who brutally murdered Armenian military officer Gurgen Margaryan during a NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace exercise in 2004. Safarov confessed and was convicted in Budapest for brutally axing Margaryan while he was sleeping. Safarov never showed remorse for the murder and stated that he wished he had killed more Armenians. Immediately after his pardon Safarov received a promotion in the Azerbaijani military, an apartment, and years of back pay for his time spent in prison.

For more than 20 years, the people of Nagorno Karabakh have fought and died for their independence. From the earliest days of its formation, the Republic’s freely elected governmental bodies have helped build an open democratic society through transparent elections and it is critical that the United States support their independence and autonomy.

As we reflect on these horrific outbreaks of ethnic violence, I join with Armenians in Rhode Island, and across the world in remembering these victims and renewing our commitment to justice, independence and finding lasting peace.

I am proud to say Rhode Island was the first state in our nation to pass a resolution to recognize the Independence of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic and set an example for other legislatures to follow, like Massachusetts, Maine and Louisiana. The time has come for the United States Congress to do the same.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA): Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate the twenty-sixth anniversary of the pogrom against people of Armenian descent in the town of Sumgait, Azerbaijan, where Armenian civilians were massacred at the hands of the Azerbaijani regime. Beginning on February 27, 1988 and for three days, Azerbaijani mobs assaulted and killed Armenians. Hundreds of Armenians were wounded, women and young girls were brutally raped, and many victims of all ages were burnt to death after being tortured and beaten. The carnage created thousands of ethnic Armenian refugees, who had to leave everything behind to be looted or destroyed, including their homes and businesses. The Sumgait Pogroms were part of an organized pattern, and were proceeded by a wave of anti-Armenian rallies throughout Azerbaijan, which culminated in the 1990 Pogroms in Baku.

These crimes were never adequately prosecuted by Azerbaijan authorities. Despite efforts by the Government of Azerbaijan to cover up the events which occurred in February 1988, survivors of the pogrom have come forward with their stories. They told of enraged mobs, which threw refrigerators and furniture, among other belongings from apartment balconies and set them afire. Armenians were dragged from their apartments. If they tried to run and escape, the mob attacked them with metal rods, hatchets and knives before the victims were thrown into the fire.

The Sumgait massacres led to wider reprisals against Azerbaijan’s ethnic minority, resulting in the virtual disappearance of a once thriving population of 450,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan, and culminating in the war launched against the people of Nagorno Karabakh. That war resulted in thousands dead on both sides and created over one million refugees in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In the years since the fighting ended, the people of Artsakh, the region’s ancestral name, have struggled to build a functioning democratic state in the midst of unremitting hostility and threats from Azerbaijan, as well as incursions across the Line of Contact between the two sides, such as the recent murder of yet another Armenian soldier, Hrant Poghosyan, in an unprovoked attack by Azerbaijani troops against Armenian forces. Hatred towards Armenians is both celebrated and inculcated in Azeri youth, as exemplified by the case of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army captain who had confessed to the savage 2004 axe murder of Armenian army lieutenant Gurgen Margaryan, while the latter slept. At the time, the two were participating in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise in Budapest, Hungary. After the murder, Safarov was sentenced to life in prison by a Hungarian court and imprisoned in Hungary.

In 2012, Safarov was sent home to Azerbaijan, purportedly to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Instead of serving out his sentence in an Azeri jail, he was pardoned, promoted to Major, given back pay and paraded through the streets of Baku in a disgusting and bloodthirsty welcome home.

With these appalling acts, the Azeri state reminded the whole world why the people of Artsakh must be allowed to determine their own future and cannot be allowed to slip into Aliyev’s clutches, lest the carnage of Sumgait 26 years ago serve as a foreshadowing of a greater slaughter. Mr. Speaker, the memory of the victims of Sumgait must not be forgotten, and it is our moral obligation to condemn crimes of hatred, in hope that history will not be repeated.

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