BY RAFFI HAMPARIAN
Ed Royce is a proud Republican member of Congress from beautiful Orange County, California. Eliot Engel is an equally ardent Democrat, representing America’s urban core in New York City, with a district stretching north toward Yonkers.
While Royce has a strong and steady conservative Congressional track-record, Eliot Engel has been a staunch liberal and advocate for progressive causes.
At this point, you might be thinking: In a deeply divided Congress, what do a California conservative and a New York liberal have in common?
Well, the answer to this question has two parts. The first is that Royce serves as the Chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel is the Ranking Member of this influential panel, which means he is the top Democrat on the committee.
The second holds special meaning for those of us who care about peace and prosperity for our Armenian homeland. These two senior legislators teamed up last fall to author a bipartisan letter urging the State Department to adopt a new approach to peace in Artsakh. Their letter was addressed to Ambassador James Warlick (Co-Chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group) and signed by over 80 of their House colleagues, representing over 50 million Americans. This letter specifically called on Ambassador Warlick, who works with counterparts in Russia and France to resolve Artsakh-related status and security issues, to work to implement three concrete, accountability-based steps toward peace:
1. An agreement by all sides to not deploy snipers, heavy arms, or any new weapons along the line-of-contact separating Artsakh and Azerbaijani forces.
2. The deployment of OSCE-monitored, advanced gunfire-locator systems and sound-ranging equipment to determine the source of attacks along the line-of-contact.
3. The introduction of additional OSCE observers along the line-of-contact to better monitor cease-fire violations.
Each of these ANCA-backed proposals, on their own, represent urgently needed life-saving initiatives. Together, they represent a comprehensive approach to holding Baku accountable, checking Azerbaijani aggression, keeping the peace, and creating the conditions for a negotiated resolution. They embody both practical steps toward peace and, more broadly, a principled sea-change in how America approaches the Artsakh peace process. Instead of giving Baku a free pass on its aggression by issuing generic calls for peace in the wake of every Azerbaijani attack, the Royce-Engel proposals require an accountability-based response that forcefully challenges the actual perpetrator. It’s no surprise then that Armenia and Artsakh have publicly endorsed these internationally supported proposals, and that Azerbaijan stands alone, before the world, in blocking their implementation.
Congressman Adam Schiff spoke powerfully to the urgent need for the Royce-Engel proposals, when he said the “unwillingness (by the U.S. Department of State) to speak plainly about the aggressor in this conflict sends the message to Azerbaijan that it can act with impunity.” We have, of course, been deeply gratified by bipartisan Congressional support for this effort, and have welcomed U.S. and OSCE statements of support for the Royce-Engel proposals, but remain troubled that the Obama Administration has yet to either openly challenge or actively overcome Azerbaijan’s obstruction. The fact of the matter is, full implementation of Royce-Engel may have very well prevented Azerbaijan’s attack against Artsakh in early April.
Thanks to the outstanding work of the ANCA Eastern and Western Region offices, local ANCs, and activists, the Royce-Engel proposals have reframed the Artsakh issue in pro-peace terms. Thousands of ANCA grassroots advocates have educated legislators, generating broad-based, bipartisan Congressional support for the fall 2015 letter and a second appeal sent this spring to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
In the wake of Azerbaijan’s April 2nd offensive on Artsakh, the Royce-Engel proposals are more urgently needed than ever. We saw, in very human terms, the price of failing to implement these recommendations, of allowing Azerbaijan to attack with impunity.
To secure an enduring peace for the proud citizens of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic – the Royce-Engel initiative offers a smart path forward. The ANCA has and will continue to press for the immediate implementation of the Royce-Engel initiative.
Raffi Hamparian is the Chairman, Armenian National Committee of America