Mountainous Karabagh Independence Marked on Capitol Hill

Baroness Caroline Cox–Members of Congress–Armenian-American Community Mark Fourteen Years of Freedom–Democracy and Economic Development

WASHINGTON–DC–Members of Congress and leading human rights activist–British House of Lords Vice-Speaker Baroness Caroline Cox–joined together on Capitol Hill September 28 to mark the 14th anniversary of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic’s (MKR/Artsakh) independence. Over 100 Armenian-Americans–Congressional staff members and human rights advocates attended this unprecedented event–hosted by the Office of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic in the USA–the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia–the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) in cooperation with the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues.

During the two-hour event titled "14 years of Mountainous Karabagh’s Independence: Progress Toward Freedom–Democracy and Economic Development," participants highlighted the great strides the Mountainous Karabagh Republic has made since shaking off foreign oppression.

"Fourteen years have passed since the day when the people of Karabagh said a firm NO to continued foreign oppression," said MKR Representative to the United States Vardan Barseghian in his opening remarks.

"Fourteen years of ongoing struggle to survive and prosper against overwhelming odds. Fourteen years of serious achievemen’s. Fourteen years of success. Many formally recognized countries would wish to be able to say this about their recent history–but only a few can."

Making the case for international recognition of MKR independence–Barseghian stressed that the Mountainous Karabagh Republic now meets all of the traditional–internationally acceptable requiremen’s for statehood–such as control over a defined territory–a permanent population–democratically elected government–capable armed forces–and the capacity to conduct international relations–including participation in peace negotiations and functioning representative offices in Moscow–Paris–Washington–DC and elsewhere.

Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) stressed the progress Mountainous Karabagh has made since declaring its independence in 1991–and the pivotal role of US humanitarian assistance in the region. "Progress is the key word here," stated Rep. Knollenberg. "The people of Karabagh continue to make progress despite the challenges they face. I think in the future they will continue to make progress with the support of the US Congress and from the United States." He emphasized that in Karabagh "the economy is working–the democracy is functioning and they continue to have successful elections–which are more open and free than [those in] some countries in the region." Knollenberg also commended the Office of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic in the USA and its staff for keeping Members of Congress abreast of ongoing developmen’s in NKR.

Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone–Jr. (D-NJ) reminded participants that "often times when Karabagh is mentioned in the media–they forget to mention that it became independent legally under international law and under Soviet law? We need to keep stressing that this truly is a democracy that has an elected president and does so in a very transparent way." Rep. Pallone also pledged continued Armenian Caucus support for Mountainous Karabagh’s democratic aspirations. "We will continue to urge the Bush Administration–or any other administration–and State Department that they need to be more supportive to Karabagh," he said.

Representative George Radanovich (R-CA) stressed the important role the Armenian-American community plays in educating Congressional leaders about the vital concerns in Mountainous Karabagh. "Your presence here [on the Hill] helps us to better the relationship between [our] two countries," explained Rep. Radanovich–as he congratulated Mountainous Karabagh’s 14 years of independence.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) concurred–stating "I want to express my admiration for the Armenian-American community–which has been a wonderful example to the other Americans about how you take democracy seriously . . . and how you do it for the moral principle. Thank you for insisting we take this principle of self-determination–that we so fiercely defend in America–and apply it elsewhere." Rep. Frank went on to remark about Azerbaijan’s continued attempts to deny Mountainous Karabagh freedom. "I don’t understand? and this is directed to the government of Azerbaijan: Governing when people are willing to be [governed] can be difficult; I can’t imagine why anyone would want to go through the aggravation of governing people against their will. It really just is a dumb thing to do. . . I do not understand why any government anywhere would want to hold people against their will."

California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff noted that he supports "independence for MKR because it is both consistent with American values and because it makes practical political sense." He praised the growing democracy in the region–stating that "even though they have been politically and militarily challenged by Azerbaijan and its powerful ally Turkey–the people of Karabagh have continued to build all the requisites of statehood."

The final Congressional speaker of the evening–Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY)–summed up the sentimen’s of previous speakers–stating "the people of Mountainous Karabagh have the right to assert their independence and freedom; they have that right and they should be provided the opportunity to do so? I am very proud to be with you to assert my unity with you and your enterprise."

Armenian Ambassador to the US Dr. Tatoul Markarian noted–"self-determination for Mountainous Karabagh is the key to achieving real freedom and to bringing long-term peace and prosperity in the region. Karabagh’s conflict’s distinction from other conflicts in Eurasia is acknowledged by the international community. We understand that settlement of the conflict requires serious compromise from all parties. Meanwhile–I am convinced–and it is widely shared–that any solution to the conflict will be based on the fact and the right to self-determination of the people of Mountainous Karabagh–which the core and the final settlement must take into account."

World-renowned human rights activist and an outspoken champion of Karabagh’s right to self-determination–Baroness Caroline Cox gave the keynote address. Baroness Cox–who recently returned from her 60th trip to the region–provided an eye-witness account of Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing campaign–pogroms and outright war against the people of Mountainous Karabagh and spoke passionately about the incredible progress–both democratic and economic–Karabagh has made since the 1994 cease-fire accord.

Through a powerful slide presentation–the Baroness gave Members of Congress–staffers and attendees a first-hand view of reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts throughout the country.

Lady Cox concluded her remarks by urging the international community to respect the rights to freedom–justice–and democracy of the people of Mountainous Karabagh.

"It is high time for the international community to address the challenges raised by the conflict of the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity. Surely–there must be some recognition of the rights of a vulnerable minority–threatened by a repressive state with attempted ethnic cleansing or genocide–to have the right to claim their independence in order to survive? The time for recognition of the rights of the people of Karabagh for self-determination is NOW for the sake of justice–peace and–in due course–the economic prosperity and stability for all who live in the region."

"If any people in the world today deserve the right to self-determination and the recognition of independence–it is the people of Mountainous Karabagh," said Baroness Cox.

Among speakers at the program were ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian and AAA Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. Hamparian stressed the significance of NKR achievemen’s and thanked Members of Congress for their ongoing support of Artsakh’s freedom–democracy and economic development.

"Today–as Armenians–we thank the US Congress for years of moral–financial–and political support for Mountainous Karabagh," said Hamparian. "In turn–as Americans–we thank the people of Mountainous Karabagh–first–for their courage and leadership in sparking the democracy movement that spread to other republics and eventually helped to end the Soviet threat to the free world–and–second–for today being on the front lines in the advance of freedom worldwide–an enduring goal of the American people."

Ardouny concurred by saying: "We have heard this evening about the importance of freedom–liberty and democracy fundamental principles that guide us today just as they did over 200 years ago during the founding of the US Constitution."

"Mountainous Karabagh is a geographical fact. It is a political and moral fact [Karabaghtsis] are the first people of the former Soviet Union to launch a freedom movement and set out in principle to institutionalize freedom–responsible government–and human equality as is evidenced today," said Ardouny–drawing a parallel with what American statesman Adlai Stevenson once said about the US.

Providing first-hand knowledge of the most recent election held in Mountainous Karabagh was Dr. Aleyda Kasten–who traveled to NKR last June as one of six members of the American Independent Monitoring Delegation. Dr. Kasten–who also observed presidential elections in the United States and last year’s presidential election in the Ukraine–testified that over 75% of eligible citizens of Karabagh turned out to elect the Republic’s Fourth Parliament since independence. "This was a tightly contested ballot that left no single party in majority control of the legislature. We–as a group–did not observe irregularities during voting or vote count. We were struck by the people’s determination to democratically decide their future. We can honestly say that from our observations the elections were carried out freely and transparently," said Kasten.

MKR Representative Barseghian closed the event by saying that "during its 14 years of independence NKR has shown demonstrable progress toward freedom–democracy and economic development– values championed by the United States and shared by the people of Karabagh. As the United States supports and promotes freedom and democracy for all peoples around the globe–we call on the US to also continue to support the aspirations of the Karabagh people to live in freedom–security and prosperity."

On behalf of the people of Artsakh–Barseghian thanked the Government of the United States and the American people for their ongoing aid to rehabilitate Mountainous Karabagh’s war-torn economy and the shattered lives of its citizens and called on the US to play a greater role in its conflict mediation efforts by encouraging the government of Azerbaijan to negotiate directly with the leaders of Mountainous Karabagh and to respect the will of the people of Karabagh to live in freedom.

"This event would not have been possible without the strong support of the two Co-Chairs of the Armenian Caucus–Representatives Pallone and Knollenberg–Ambassador Markarian–the Armenian Assembly and the Armenian National Committee," said Barseghian. He also thanked Tim Delmonico from Rep. Pallone’s office and Craig Albright–legislative director for Rep. Knollenberg–for their invaluable input.

"The Mountainous Karabagh Republic is strong and successful because it has committed friends like you," concluded Barseghian.

The Office of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic in the United States is based in Washington–DC and works with the US government–academia and the public representing the official policies and interests of the Mountainous Karabagh Republic.


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