WASHINGTON—The Capitol Hill celebration of 21 years of Nagorno Karabakh independence brought together a bi-partisan group of national legislators for a salute to Artsakh’s commitment to democracy and economic development in the face of Azerbaijan’s ongoing aggression against its neighbors, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
The annual independence celebration took place on December 5th in the historic Russell Senate Office Building, and was hosted by the Armenian Caucus, which is co-chaired by Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), the incoming Chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs Committee, and Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ). Representative Pallone served as the evening’s master of ceremonies. Among the legislators offering powerful statements at the event in support for Nagorno Karabakh were Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), and Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), and Eliot Engel (D-NY), the incoming Ranking Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Representatives Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Linda Sanchez (D-CA) participated in the program, meeting with Minister Mirzayan and joining in the celebration of Artsakh’s independence. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) shared powerful statements of support of Nagorno Karabakh.
Senator Jack Reed, the only current Member of the Senate to have visited Karabakh, reminisced fondly about his trip and stressed its importance. “It was important for me to go there because we had to show both in substance and symbolically that we were together with the Armenian people.”
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone told attendees about his trip to Artsakh and the ongoing democratic and economic progress of the bourgeoning state. “We see Nagorno Karabakh as such an example of democracy. They’ve had parliamentary elections, they’ve had presidential elections, characterized by independent international observers as very free and transparent,” explained Rep. Pallone.
Congressman David Cicilline offered his pledge to visit Karabakh to see first-hand “the incredible commitment to the shared values of our great democracy.” In his remarks, Rep. Cicilline referenced the Rhode Island State House passage of legislation earlier this year calling on the U.S. president and Congress to recognize the independence of the Nagorno Karabagh Republic (NKR). The resolution also encouraged the Republic’s “continued efforts to develop as a free and independent nation,” and praised Artsakh’s “constructive involvement with the international community and its efforts to reach a lasting solution to the existing regional problems.”
Senator Menendez and Representative Jackie Speier echoed support for international recognition for Karabakh independence. “As a strong advocate for human rights and democracy, I have long supported the people of Nagorno Karabakh and their fight for independence,” noted Senator Menendez. “I have also worked with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that U.S. funding be as robust as possible in order to strengthen Nagorno Karabakh’s democratic society and fought to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide.”
Rep. Speier was equally direct in her support for Artsakh’s independence. “I believe it is time for the United States and international organizations to formally recognize the Republic’s sovereignty and quest for peace. Our Armenian ancestors endured gross atrocities and, as a people, we have faced constant political adversity. But, our stubborn will to thrive as a community enables us to withstand all challenges, and I do believe that peace is on the horizon,” noted Rep. Speier, who is one of two Members of Congress of Armenian ancestry.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s praise, pardon and promotion of convicted axe-murderer Ramil Safarov, who had killed Armenian Lt. Gurgen Margaryan in his sleep during a NATO training exercise in Hungary in 2004, was roundly condemned by Members of Congress. “To make a hero out of an axe-murderer is appalling,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who just days earlier had sent a strongly worded letter to Senate and House Appropriators calling for restrictions on all U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan. “Whatever assistance we have given to Azerbaijan for military training has been worse that wasted and I do not see why we give Azerbaijan a red nickel,” Rep. Schiff told the Capitol Hill audience.
Incoming Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel (D-NY) congratulated Nagorno Karabakh and discussed broader regional topics, citing Turkey’s hypocrisy in demanding other countries admit to genocidal acts. “First you (Turkey) apologize for the Armenian Genocide,” said Rep. Engel, “and then we will worry about every other country apologizing.”
Reps. Sherman and Anna Eshoo Honored with “Mkhitar Gosh” Award
A highlight of the evening was the ceremony, conducted by the Ambassador of Armenia, His Excellency Tatoul Markarian, bestowing the Republic of Armenia’s “Mkhitar Gosh” award upon Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA).
Rep. Eshoo, who is of Armenian and Assyrian descent, offered emotional words of appreciation following the award presentation. “I’m humbled by this high honor, and I’m grateful to the President of Armenia and the Armenian people for it,” Rep. Eshoo said. “This award is deeply meaningful to me, and it renews my commitment to complete the unfinished work of the United States to finally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.”
Rep. Sherman expressed his gratitude for the award, stressing Nagorno Karabakh’s progress. “Despite Azerbaijan’s deeply unjust blockade and a devastating war in from 1991 to 1994, Artsakh continues to solidify its democracy and improve its economy,” remarked Rep. Sherman. He went on to slam both the Hungarian decision to extradite Ramil Safarov and the Aliyev decision to release and glorify the murderer. “For Azerbaijan to promise the Hungarians that they would keep this axe murderer in prison but instead give him a hero’s welcome unfortunately does not surprise those of us who are familiar with the Baku regime,” said Rep. Sherman, going on to note that “to undercut NATO like that is a stain on Hungary’s membership.”
In addition to the “Mkhitar Gosh” Award, Nagorno Karabakh Republic Foreign Minister Karen Mirzoyan offered both Rep. Eshoo and Rep. Sherman a medal in honor of Artsakh’s independence.
Artsakh Foreign Minister Thanks U.S. for Humanitarian Aid; Prioritizes NKR Participation in International Peace Talks
Nagorno Karabakh Republic Foreign Minister Karen Mirzoyan, in his inaugural speech in Washington, DC as a government minister, outlined Nagorno Karabakh’s democratic and economic successes and cited the important role the U.S. has played in Artsakh’s progress.
“Allow me, on behalf of our people and government, express our profound gratitude to the U.S. Government and all Americans for the crucial humanitarian assistance my people have been thankfully accepting for more than a decade now. We are grateful to the U.S. Congress, Co-Chairs and all the members of the Armenian Caucus, our compatriots living in the United States, who spared no effort to make sure Artsakh remains safe, regional stability is maintained, and freedom-loving Artsakhtsis have a chance to improve their daily peaceful lives,” explained Foreign Minister Mirzoyan.
He expressed Karabakh’s willingness to build on this progress, urging the international community to embrace broader Artsakh participation in regional and worldwide initiatives. “We believe that an unimpeded involvement of NKR in international processes would not only ensure implementation of the concept of equal and comprehensive security, based on our shared values, but it would also send an appropriate signal to Azerbaijan to abandon its revanchist aspirations, and show political will for the sake of a stable and predictable South Caucasus, for the sake of our children’s future,” explained Mirzoyan.
Joining Foreign Minister Mirzoyan in discussing obstacles and opportunities Karabakh faces in the region were Armenia’s Ambassador Tatoul Markarian and Nagorno Karabakh Representative in the U.S. Robert Avetisyan. Also offering comments on the challenges facing Artsakh and the region was the highly-regarded former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans.
The evening’s benediction was offered by Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Legate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, joined by Reverend Father Sarkis Aktavoukian of Soorp Khatch Armenian Apostolic Church of Bethesda, MD and Rev. Father Hovsep Karapetyan of St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church of Washington, DC.
Astvadzaturian Turcotte Documents Azerbaijan’s Anti-Armenian Hatred; Stresses Need for International Recognition of Karabakh
During the course of the evening, poignant remarks were offered by Anna Astvadzaturian Turcotte, author of “Nowhere: A Story of Exile,” who detailed the Azerbaijani pogroms against her and other Armenians in Baku – which led to the forced exodus of that centuries old population.
“I was born an Armenian, in Baku Azerbaijan. I had a happy, sunny childhood in a beautiful city. But things changed in 1988 soon before I turned 10. Life as we knew it for myself, my family and hundreds of our friends ceased to exist as the gangs and violent riots stormed our streets and attacked us as Armenian citizens of Azerbaijan,” began Turcotte, who then detailed her family’s journey to safety first to Armenia and ultimately to the United States.
Turcotte cited the anti-Armenian massacres that began in 1988 and the ongoing intolerance faced by the few Armenians left in Azerbaijan as among the most powerful reasons to continue the fight for justice and self-determination for the people of Artsakh. “The reality of today and the last 24 years since 1988, is that Armenians there are no more safe under Azeri rule than we were in Baku,” she explained. “The anti-Armenian rhetoric and propaganda plagues its policies. Artsakh Armenians could and should never be subjected to the Azeri government.”
Earlier in the day, Turcotte, accompanied by her husband, John, toured Capitol Hill and attended a Jamestown Foundation sponsored presentation on religious tolerance in Azerbaijan, where she shared her family’s harrowing account of Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian aggression and concerns about the Aliyev regime’s ongoing oppression of the remaining Armenian population in that country.
After the Capitol Hill program, Turcotte remarked, “the event on Capitol Hill celebrating the independence of Nagorno Karabakh was a truly memorable experience for me personally. The energy and spirit in the room, the sincere support of the legislators toward the people of Artsakh and the hard work done day-in and day-out by the ANCA on the issues so very important to the Armenian people made this event a success. I was happy to be there and to meet so many wonderful and remarkable people.”