Senate and House Members Condemn Sumgait, Baku Massacres

Senator Gary Peters; Representatives Judy Chu, Katherine Clark, Jim Costa, Robert Dold, Frank Pallone, Adam Schiff, and Brad Sherman commemorated the 27th anniversary of the Sumgait pogroms against Armenians.


Senator Gary Peters; Representatives Katherine Clark, Jim Costa, Robert Dold, Frank Pallone, Adam Schiff, and Brad Sherman are the Latest to Speak Out on Ongoing Azerbaijani Aggression Against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh

WASHINGTON—Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) was joined by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Robert Dold (R-IL) and Representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Brad Sherman (D-CA) in commemorating the brutal massacres of Armenians in the Azerbaijani cities of Baku, Sumgait and Kirovabad from 1988-1990 and condemning the ongoing violence and intimidation fostered by the government of President Ilham Aliyev, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). They add their voices to Rep. Judy Chu, who was the first to offer impassioned remarks on the topic on the House floor last week.

“Armenian Americans from Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, and California and across America thank these bold legislators for adding their voices to those of their Congressional colleagues in commemorating the Azerbaijani government fomented pogroms against the Armenian populations of Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad,” stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “Their powerful words help commemorate the lives of those who were lost, while also helping to protect those who survived – by both condemning Azerbaijan’s ongoing aggression and supporting the freedom and security of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic.”

“I wish to recognize the victims of the mass murder of Armenians 27 years ago during the state-sponsored pogroms in Sumgait, Azerbaijan,” began Senator Peters. “True democracies must respect the rights of the minority, allow citizens to peacefully speak freely, and protect the human rights of all residents. The people of Nagorno Karabakh and the victims of this senseless massacre played a critical role in promoting a democracy movement which helped to end the Soviet Union.”

Congressman Pallone explained, “We have a shared responsibility to speak out when groups of people are targeted with oppression and violence just because of their ethnicity. Along with my colleagues on the Congressional Armenian Issues Caucus, I continue my efforts to try and shed light on these events so that those lives lost are not forgotten. We will continue to promote mutual understanding and security through the Caucasus region. It is my hope that we can all join together in condemning acts of violence in the past, and renew our commitment to vigilance in the future.”

In a statement shared with the ANCA, Rep. Dold noted, “The massacres that took place 27 years ago in Sumgait serve as a reminder of the struggle for freedom and liberty around the world. Today I stand in solidarity with the Armenian community and the people of Nagorno Karabakh who mourn the loss of friends and family. The United States must continue to work with the people of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh to ensure their future safety and peace.”

Congressman Schiff reminded his colleagues of Pres. Ilham Aliyev’s pardon and praise for the killer of an innocent Armenian soldier in his sleep. “Time has not healed the wounds of those killed and hurt in the pogroms in Sumgait, Kirovabad, and Baku. To the contrary, hatred of Armenians is celebrated in Azeri society, a situation most vividly exemplified by the case of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army captain who savagely murdered an Armenian army lieutenant, Gurgen Margaryan with an axe while he slept. The two were participating in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise at the time in Hungary. In 2012, Safarov was sent home to Azerbaijan, purportedly to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Instead, he was pardoned, promoted, and paraded through the streets of Baku in a sickening welcome home. And as we speak, Azerbaijan continues its dangerous and provocative behavior along its border with Armenia and in Karabakh.”

“I am proud to stand today with the Armenian-American community, including many of my constituents in Massachusetts, in remembrance and mourning of this unspeakable tragedy,” stated Rep. Clark. “Like the persecution of too many others before it, the lessons of the Sumgait Pogrom must not be forgotten. We have a moral obligation to promote tolerance and justice, and we have a duty to recognize the atrocities that have kept us from our common goal.”

Reminding colleagues of Azerbaijan’s ongoing attacks on Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, Rep. Costa stated, “In November 2014, Azerbaijani armed forces shot down a Nagorno-Karabakh helicopter participating in a training exercise near the cease-fire line, killing the three crew members on board. This aggression is completely unacceptable and further hurts efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution. Today, I ask my colleagues to stand with the proud people of Nagorno Karabakh in recognizing the anniversary of these tragic events. Let today serve as a reminder for each and every one of us to continue advocating for human rights and democratic freedoms around the world.”

Congressman Sherman noted his meeting last month with Marat Khoudabakhshiev, “whose family barely survived pogroms perpetrated 27 years ago today against the Armenian residents of then-Soviet Azerbaijan. He recounted how Azerbaijanis who had lived alongside Armenians for generations suddenly turned violent against them, causing Armenian families like his to flee their homes for safety.” Rep. Sherman explained, “Recognizing the ethnic-cleansing of the Armenians from Azerbaijan is an important step. However, we need to do more–we need to demonstrate to Azerbaijan that the United States is committed to peace and to the protection of Artsakh from coercion. As the current government of Azerbaijan grows even more hostile towards Armenians, we must call for an end to all threats and acts of violence by Azerbaijan’s government against the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. Congress should strengthen Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act by removing the President’s ability to waive U.S. law prohibiting aid to Azerbaijan because of its continuing blockade against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.”

Khoudabakhshiev was part of a delegation of survivors of anti-Armenian attacks in Baku, who travelled to Washington, DC last month to share their eye-witness accounts with legislators and speak out in support Artsakh independence. In addition to Congressional meetings, the delegation participated in the ANCA sponsored Capitol Hill program, titled: “Nagorno Karabakh – A Generation After Anti-Armenian Pogroms: The Challenge of Promoting Peace and Developing Democracy,” which featured powerful remarks by Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte, a lawyer, lecturer, and author of ‘Nowhere, A Story of Exile,’ and Dr. Alina Dorian, an internationally respected public health expert and advocate who has worked for decades to strengthen and expand public health programs in Nagorno Karabakh.

The full text of statements submitted for the Congressional Record commemorating the Sumgait, Baku and Kirovabad pogroms are provided below.

Senator Gary Peters (D-MI): Madam President, I wish to recognize the victims of the mass murder of Armenians 27 years ago during the state-sponsored pogroms in Sumgait, Azerbaijan.

The citizens of Nagorno Karabakh peacefully petitioned to be reunited with Soviet Armenia and spoke out against the arbitrary borders established by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union. This democratic exercise of free speech expressing a natural desire for self-determination was met with 3 days of violence and brutality against Armenian civilians, who were hunted down in their homes. Security forces in Soviet Azerbaijan turned a blind eye, allowing the mass murder of Armenians in a futile attempt to defeat this movement. The massacres of Armenians did not stop in Sumgait but were followed in other Azerbaijani towns such as Kirovabad in November 1988 and the capital Baku in January 1990. The U.S. Congress strongly condemned these massacres at that time. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians fled Azerbaijan, many finding their home in my State of Michigan, where there is a monument to the victims of the Sumgait massacres.

True democracies must respect the rights of the minority, allow citizens to peacefully speak freely, and protect the human rights of all residents. The people of Nagorno Karabakh and the victims of this senseless massacre played a critical role in promoting a democracy movement which helped to end the Soviet Union.

Today, I remember the victims and ask my colleagues and the Americanpeople to join me in honoring their memories.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA): Mr. Speaker, Twenty-seven years ago, as the lines of the Soviet Union were fading, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh were united in a call for a say in their own futures and greater independence from Azerbaijan. This peaceful movement for self-determination and freedom was followed by premeditated and government-sponsored attacks.

Over the next two years, the Armenian population in the territory of Artsakh was repeatedly victim to brutal and racially motivated pogroms, darkly reminiscent of the days of the Armenian Genocide. Hundreds were murdered, thousands were displaced, and the Armenian community – both in Artsakh and in exile – continues to bear the scars from the brutal attacks in Sumgait, Kirovabad, and Baku.

When the people of Nagorno-Karabakh officially declared independence on December 10, 1991, they were met with full-scale war lasting until 1994. Even today, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh are still forced to live under constant ceasefire violations by Azerbaijan.

As we commemorate the somber anniversary marking the struggle of the Nagorno-Karabakh people, we wish for the peaceful resolution of this conflict and hope that its citizens will be free to determine their own future.

Rep. Catherine Clark (D-MA): Mr. Speaker, February 27 marked the 27th anniversary of harrowing violence against the Armenian community in Sumgait, Azerbaijan.

I am proud to stand today with the Armenian-American community, including many of my constituents in Massachusetts, in remembrance and mourning of this unspeakable tragedy.

In February of 1988, anti-Armenian rallies through Azerbaijan gave way to waves of ethnically-motivated violence, death and destruction. In the aftermath of these terrible events, Azerbaijan’s Armenian community all but disappeared, with thousands displaced, culminating in a war against the people of Nagorno Karabakh.

That war resulted in almost 30,000 dead on both sides. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were forced to flee their homes. And to this day, those who lost their lives or were displaced by this violence still seek resolution and justice.

Many displaced Armenian families have sought refuge in America, and are now making vital contributions in the Fifth District of Massachusetts. Proudly, our diverse District is home to one of the largest Armenian communities in the nation. Together, our community is a thriving example of strength and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity.

Like the persecution of too many others before it, the lessons of the Sumgait Pogrom must not be forgotten.

We have a moral obligation to promote tolerance and justice, and we have a duty to recognize the atrocities that have kept us from our common goal.

Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA): Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize the twenty-seventh anniversary of the pogroms against people of Armenian descent in Sumgait, Azerbaijan. My district is home to thousands of Armenian-Americans, many who are the sons and daughters of survivors. As they know well, Azerbaijani rioters started a murderous rampage in response to peaceful protests on February 27, 1988, that forever changed Armenia. During those three days, scores of Armenians were killed, hundreds were wounded, and thousands were forced to leave their homes and livelihoods behind.

As we recognize this tragedy, we should also take this time to commend the people of Nagorno Karabakh on being the first to demand their right to freedom and self-governance from the Soviet Union. Although a small nation, Nagorno Karabakh sparked the democracy movement that ended decades of dictatorial rule in the USSR and eventually led to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Sadly, the Azerbaijani government continues to act as an aggressor today. In November 2014, Azerbaijani armed forces shot down a Nagorno-Karabakh helicopter participating in a training exercise near the cease-fire line, killing the three crew members on board. This aggression is completely unacceptable and further hurts efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution.

Today, I ask my colleagues to stand with the proud people of Nagorno Karabakh in recognizing the anniversary of these tragic events. Let today serve as a reminder for each and every one of us to continue advocating for human rights and democratic freedoms around the world.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ): Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate the Sumgait pogroms–violent riots that resulted in the murder of hundreds of Armenians. This was perhaps one of the most gruesome atrocities in a series of hostile acts against the Armenian people. In 1988, Armenians living in the town of Sumgait in Azerbaijan were burned alive, thrown from windows and senselessly murdered by Azerbaijanis. Hundreds of people were killed, raped, and maimed simply because they were Armenians.

The police forces turned a blind eye towards the situation and allowed the crimes to continue for three days without intervention. Since then, Azerbaijan has sought to cover up these crimes and rewrite history.

As we prepare to observe 100 years since the Armenian Genocide, these more recent acts of violence against Armenians remind us that the work towards peace in the region continues.

Today, we recognize the anniversary of the Sumgait pogroms and to call attention to the work we have ahead of us. We have a shared responsibility to speak out when groups of people are targeted with oppression and violence just because of their ethnicity.
Along with my colleagues on the Congressional Armenian Issues Caucus, I continue my efforts to try and shed light on these events so that those lives lost are not forgotten. We will continue to promote mutual understanding and security through the Caucasus region.

It is my hope that we can all join together in condemning acts of violence in the past, and renew our commitment to vigilance in the future.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA): Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the pogrom against the Armenian residents of the town of Sumgait, Azerbaijan. On this day in 1988, and for three days following, Azerbaijani mobs assaulted and killed Armenians. When the violence finally subsided, hundreds of Armenian civilians had been brutally murdered and injured, women and young girls were raped, and some victims were tortured and burned to death. Those that survived the carnage fled their homes and businesses, leaving behind all but the clothes on their backs. The Sumgait Pogroms came in the wake of a pattern of anti-Armenian rallies throughout Azerbaijan, aided and encouraged by high ranking officials in the Azeri government, and touched off a wave of violence culminating in the 1990 Pogroms in Baku.

In a pattern all too familiar to the Armenian people, the Azerbaijani authorities made little effort to punish those responsible, instead attempting to cover up the atrocities in Sumgait to this day, as well as denying the role of senior government officials in instigating the violence.

The Sumgait massacres led to wider reprisals against Azerbaijan’s Armenian 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.

Time has not healed the wounds of those killed and hurt in the pogroms in Sumgait, Kirovabad, and Baku. To the contrary, hatred of Armenians is celebrated in Azeri society, a situation most vividly exemplified by the case of Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army captain who savagely murdered an Armenian army lieutenant, Gurgen Margaryan with an axe while he slept. The two were participating in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise at the time in Hungary. In 2012, Safarov was sent home to Azerbaijan, purportedly to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Instead, he was pardoned, promoted, and paraded through the streets of Baku in a sickening welcome home. And as we speak, Azerbaijan continues its dangerous and provocative behavior along its border with Armenia and in Karabakh.

Mr. Speaker, this April we will mark the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, an event the Turkish government, Azerbaijan’s closest ally, goes to great lengths to deny. We must not let such crimes against humanity go unrecognized, whether they occurred yesterday or 27 years ago or 100 years ago. Today, let us pause to remember the victims of the atrocities of the Sumgait pogroms. Mr. Speaker, it is our moral obligation to condemn crimes of hatred and to remember the victims, in hope that history will not be repeated.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA): Mr. Speaker, earlier this month I met with a constituent, Marat Khoudabakhshiev, whose family barely survived pogroms perpetrated 27 years ago today against the Armenian residents of then-Soviet Azerbaijan. He recounted how Azerbaijanis who had lived alongside Armenians for generations suddenly turned violent against them, causing Armenian families like his to flee their homes for safety.

Over three days, February 26th to 28th, 1988, a pogrom was perpetrated against the Armenian residents of Sumgait in then-Soviet Azerbaijan. Armenians were attacked and killed in their apartments and on the streets. Although official figures reported 30 deaths, it is believed that hundreds were murdered and injured as a result of the pogrom.

The violence against the Armenians in Sumgait was prompted by a vote, which took place one week prior by the Armenians of Nagorno Karabakh, to unify the region with Armenia–the beginning of the Karabakh movement. In the days immediately after this vote Azeri civilians and local officials in the city of Sumgait held rallies calling for “death to Armenians”.

On the night of February 27, 1988, Armenian residents in Sumgait were targeted and indiscriminately raped, mutilated and murdered. Calls for help from Armenians were ignored by local police and city officials. Journalists were shut out from the area. The violence raged on for three days before Soviet troops were able to put an end to the pogrom.

Witnesses of the horrific massacres later testified that the attacks were planned, as civilians had gathered weapons and the exits of the cities were blocked in advance to prevent Armenians from escaping. The homes of Armenians were marked so that the Azeri mobs could easily target them.

Unfortunately, the perpetrators of the pogrom succeeded in their ultimate goal–driving out Armenians. Fearing more violence, Armenian families fled Sumgait. Later that year, another anti-Armenian pogrom occurred in Kirovabad, Azerbaijan from November 21st to 27th, which also forced hundreds of Armenians to flee the region. In January of 1990 violent mobs targeted the Armenian community of Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku.

This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the commemoration of the first genocide of the 20th century, the Armenian Genocide. It is imperative that we honor the memory of Armenians killed in the pogroms of Sumgait, Kirovabad, and Baku, as well as the Armenian Genocide. If we hope to stop future massacres, we must acknowledge these horrific events and ensure they do not happen again.

Recognizing the ethnic-cleansing of the Armenians from Azerbaijan is an important step. However, we need to do more–we need to demonstrate to Azerbaijan that the United States is committed to peace and to the protection of Artsakh from coercion. As the current government of Azerbaijan grows even more hostile towards Armenians, we must call for an end to all threats and acts of violence by Azerbaijan’s government against the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh.

Congress should strengthen Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act by removing the President’s ability to waive U.S. law prohibiting aid to Azerbaijan because of its continuing blockade against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. In 1992, Congress prohibited aid to Azerbaijan because of its continuing blockade against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. However, in 2001, Congress approved a waiver to this provision, and administrations have used the waiver since then to provide aid to Baku. Azerbaijan should not be provided aid from the United States as long as they continue a policy of threats and blockades against Artsakh.

I urge the Administration to remove all barriers to broad-based U.S.-Nagorno Karabakh governmental and civil society communication, travel and cooperation.

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2 Comments

  1. Hratch said:

    This one is way too easy for them to condemn. It does not have the word Genocide, instead it has the more toothless version…Massacre. If they’re courageous enough, let’s see them condemn something with more teeth….. very doubtful with this bunch!

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