Rep. Pallone Leads Effort to Oppose Turkish Sales of F 16s to Azerbaijan

"It is inconceivable to me–and I think most of the American people–that our military–diplomatic–and intelligence agencies would even contemplate such a proposal." – Rep. Frank Pallone

WASHINGTON–Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NY)–in an April 23rd statement on the floor of the US House of Representatives–announced that he will lead Congressional opposition to Turkey’s proposed sale of advanced fighter aircraft to Azerbaijan–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

"We welcome Congressman Pallone’s leadership in opposing the granting of a US license for Turkey’s proposed sale of advanced military aircraft to Azerbaijan," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.

"Turkey’s efforts to deliver offensive weaponry to the Azerbaijani military illustrates a point which we have consistently made to senior US policy makers–namely that US military sales and support for domestic Turkish production of offensive weapons serve only to destabilize the region by threatening neighboring states and fueling a regional arms race," he added.

ANCA Government Affairs Director Christopher M. Hekimian–in his March 31–1998 testimony before the House Foreign Operations Subcommittee–specifically called on Congress to oppose any proposed sales or transfers by Turkey "which may be transferred to Azerbaijan for use against Nagorno Karabakh." Hekimian went on to outline the Armenian American community’s broader concerns on the question of US arms sale policy toward Turkey:

The increase in US weapons sales and transfers to Turkey– as well as the increasing cascade of NATO weapons to Turkey–threaten to accelerate the regional arms race–seriously harming US interests. It should be clear by now that the US should not place more arms in the hands of a nation which is actively involved in aggression against its own citizens and which has openly threatened its neighbors. The use of US supplied weapons by the Turkish military in human rights abuses against civilians has been documented by both the State and Defense departmen’s.

Accordingly–we call upon Congress to continue to exercise its oversight authority by carefully scrutinizing US military sales and transfers to Turkey. We recommend that special attention be given to any US military hardware which may be used by the Turkish armed forces in Cyprus–against Kurdish civilians or which may be transferred to Azerbaijan for use against Karabakh.

The ANCA has consistently opposed arms sales and transfers to Turkey as part of a coalition of Greek and Kurdish Americans–human rights groups–and arms control advocates

Below is Pallone’s statement on the House floor regarding this issue:

Republic of Turkey Seeking US Approval

I would like to turn first to the situation in Armenia. I should say really threats–if you will–to the Republic of Armenia–and also the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh that are coming–once again–from its neighbors. I would like to specifically address a very troubling situation involving the possible transfer of sophisticated US arms to Azerbaijan–an unstable and undemocratic regime. There have recently been press reports suggesting that the Republic of Turkey–another neighbor of Armenia–is seeking US approval to sell F-16 fighter planes–assembled in Turkey–but based on a US license–to the Republic of Azerbaijan.

According to the press reports–the idea of arms sale emerged during talks between government officials from the two countries regarding a Turkey-Azerbaijan defense agreement. For the transfer of the F-16’s to take place–Turkey would have to seek permission from the United States and also of NATO. I have come to the House floor tonight to ask my colleagues to join me in urging our administration to reject any such proposal and discourage Turkey’s growing role as an arms supplier to such volatile regions as the Transcaucasus and the Middle East. In the next few days–I will be seeking signatures for letters to our President and other key national security officials in opposition to the Turkish sale of F-16’s to Azerbaijan. Indeed–Mr. Speaker–it is inconceivable to me–and I think to most of the American people that our military–diplomatic–and intelligence agencies would even contemplate such a proposal.

While all the facts about the F-16 deal are still somewhat in dispute–these recent reports are the latest indication of a growing military and political alliance between Turkey and Azerbaijan–a very troubling development in terms of peace–stability–and democracy in this strategically important Caucasus region.

Both Turkey and Azerbaijan continue to maintain blockades of their neighbor–Armenia. These blockades–which are both illegal and immoral–have made it extremely difficult for much-needed emergency food–medicine–and energy supplies to reach the people in Armenia–including supplies sent by the American people.

In addition–Azerbaijan continues to refuse to compromise on negotiations to achieve a settlement over the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Nagorno Karabakh is a region that has been primarily populated by Armenia’s for centuries–which has proclaimed its independence about 10 years ago–but which continues to be claimed by Azerbaijan. As a matter of fact–Azerbaijan also continues to maintain a blockade of Nagorno Karabakh–causing significant human hardship there as well.

Mr. Speaker–when I was in the region earlier this year in the Caucasus–in the front-line area of Karabakh–which was the target of constant sniper fire from Azerbaijani forces–I became aware of a very disturbing fact–which I would like to point out this evening. The equipment that was being used by the Azerbaijani forces–from the weapons right down to the uniforms–were American and NATO supplies–provided to Turkey and then funneled to Azerbaijan.

Of course–Turkey–as we know–is a NATO ally–despite the fact that–unlike the other NATO countries of North America and Western Europe–Turkey is a country with numerous restrictions on democratic and civil liberties and a terrible human rights record. But while Turkey is a NATO member–Azerbaijan is not–and it should not be receiving American military equipment–particularly not anything as sophisticated and dangerous as F-16 aircraft. Turkey should not be supplying such equipment to other nations.

Mr. Speaker–Azerbaijan is not exactly one of the democratic success stories of the former Soviet Union. In fact–the leader of Azerbaijan–Heydar Aliyev–is a former Communist Party boss who seized power in a coup and has led an authoritarian regime ever since. He has not permitted opposition political organizations or a free media.

More shocking–while oil wealth begins to pour into the Azeri capital of Baku–President Aliyev has done nothing to relieve the suffering of his own people in the countryside of Azerbaijan. Yet–it is precisely the huge oil wealth and Azeri territory in the Caspian Sea that has led Western Governmen’s–including–I am sorry to say–our own government–to tolerate and promote this antidemocratic regime.

The combination of the oil resources in Azerbaijan and Turkey’s position as a NATO member have led to excessive tolerance–in my opinion–on the part of our State Department for these two regimes and their growing military partnership. I just hope–and this is the last thing I would like to say tonight on this subject–is I just hope that the proposed Turkish-Azerbaijani F-16 sale will be where we finally draw the line in our support for this undemocratic regime and the dangerous situation that the F-16s might pose if this sale were ever allowed.

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