US House Calls on Azerbaijan to Hold Free Elections

ANCA welcomes effort to press Baku to meet international democratic standards

"Our measure is necessary after Azerbaijan disenfranchised its citizens and made a mockery of its promises to the international community to hold a free and fair presidential election in October 2003." –Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA)

WASHINGTON–DC–The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) welcomed the adoption on Wednesday of legislation in US House calling on Azerbaijan to hold free and fair parliamentary elections this November.

The measure–introduced by Congressman Elton Gallegly–Chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee on Europe–raises serious concerns about patterns of Azerbaijani government voter fraud–intimidation–and restrictions on the opposition. It was adopted by vote of 416 to 1 this evening under the suspension calendar.

"We want to thank Chairman Gallegly for his leadership in securing the adoption of this timely and important legislation encouraging free and fair elections in Azerbaijan," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "For the people of Azerbaijan–democratic elections will provide a long overdue opportunity to live under a government of their own choosing; for Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh–free and fair elections will hopefully help Azerbaijan transform itself into a better neighbor and more reliable partner in the search for peace."

Speaking in favor of the resolution during debate on the House floor earlier this week were several members of the International Relations Committee–including its Ranking Democrat Tom Lantos (D-CA). In his remarks–the San Francisco Democrat stressed that–"our measure is necessary after Azerbaijan disenfranchised its citizens and made a mockery of its promises to the international community to hold a free and fair presidential election in October 2003. After a campaign troubled by intimidation and countless irregularities and violent incidents on election day–election observers concluded that the vote in 2003 was one which was fraudulent and it resulted in an illegal government."

Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ)–the Chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee dealing with human rights–offered detailed remarks in favor of the measure’s adoption. He shared with his colleagues that he is "deeply convinced that the stability we all seek in Azerbaijan is only possible through democracy. For that reason–the November election must be free and fair. Whoever wins–it is essential that Azerbaijan’s citizens and the international community see the outcome as legitimate."

Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) noted that–"in the most recent elections in Azerbaijan–the 2003 presidential elections–international election observers concluded that they fell well short of international standards. The observers found numerous instances of voting fraud–restrictions on political rallies–and intimidation against political opponents."

Congressman Ben Cardin (D-MD)–the Ranking Democrat on the US Helsinki Commission–in stating his support for the resolution–noted a troubling incident–in May of 2005–in which Azerbaijani officials "arrested and incarcerated a group of peaceful protesters in the capital city of Baku." Representative Joe Crowley (D-NY) pointed out that Azerbaijan "has yet to meet its full potential and its poor human rights record constantly overshadows any positive steps that the government has taken."

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