WASHINGTON—Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s Prime Minister Arayik Harutyunyan joined with members of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, Armenian American community leaders, and the Armenian and Artsakh representations at Capitol Hill celebration of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic’s (Artsakh) 25th anniversary on Tuesday, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
The event, hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, featured opening remarks by ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, speeches by U.S. legislators – including Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Jackie Speier (D-CA), Caucus Vice-Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) – as well as an insightful presentation by Armenia’s Ambassador Grigor Hovhannissian, a compelling analysis by former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, and a powerful keynote address by Prime Minister Harutyunyan, which was live-streamed on the ANCA Facebook page.
“It is symbolic for us to organize this event on the occasion of Artsakh’s independence in the United States Congress as both our nations and states share the same values,” said Prime Minister Harutyunyan, who went on to outline key factors of Artsakh’s economic and democratic progress over the past quarter century. He commended the leadership of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) and senior member Brad Sherman (D-CA) for their efforts to support the cease-fire and implement investigative mechanisms. The Prime Minister thanked legislators for appropriating aid for Nagorno Karabakh, underscoring the life-saving nature of The Halo Trust’s ongoing demining efforts and the importance of allocating assistance for the expansion of the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center in Artsakh’s capital, Stepanakert. The full text of his translated remarks is provided below.
The Podesta Group, a paid foreign agent of the Azerbaijani government of Ilham Aliyev, circulated letters condemning the event to Congressional offices, and a small group of protesters gathered outside the Capitol Hill offices to register their opposition to this annual American commemoration of Artsakh’s independence.
Artsakh Prime Minister Arayik Harutyunyan’s Speech at the Event Dedicated to the 25th Anniversary of the Proclamation of NKR Independence
Honorable Members of Congress,
Dear compatriots, Ladies and gentlemen,
I greet you all on behalf of the people and the government of the Republic of Artsakh as well as in my personal capacity at this already traditional event dedicated to the independence of the Artsakh Republic. The 25th anniversary is celebrated as a jubilee — an occasion to look back at the long path that we have crossed during these 25 years and to outline the forthcoming programs and projects. Making use of this opportunity, I would like to express my gratitude to all those individuals and institutions, who assisted in Artsakh’s security and development in general, and in the organizing of tonight’s celebration in particular.
It is symbolic for us to organize this event on the occasion of Artsakh’s independence in the United States Congress as both our nations and states share the same values. About two and a half centuries ago, the American people fought for their independence and have built the homeland of their dreams, where the rights and freedoms of all peoples are respected, citizens have sufficient security conditions to create and to live. It is a country where great ideas are born and implemented.
After 25 years of our own independence, we can state that the Republic of Artsakh has recorded considerable successes in regards to respecting and guaranteeing human rights and freedoms, building liberal market-based economy and a democratic political system. But we have not yet reached the desired level of development for the political and socio-economic systems. What is more important, our people constantly face challenges and threats against their basic security needs. The reason for this is not a secret, at least for us. We have a neighboring state, whose government glorifies maniacs who axed a sleeping Armenian officer in Hungary and beheaded our servicemen alive; a government that calls all Armenians of the world as their number one enemy and considers killing any Armenian as a primary objective. It is a country where the government propagated fascism-style enmity towards their neighbor even within schools and kindergartens, where the Armenian historic-cultural heritage is destroyed or falls victim to vandalism.
Given the ongoing confrontation with such a neighbor like Azerbaijan, the people of Artsakh continue not only to survive for more than twenty years, but also to create and develop their own country. We have succeeded in considerably improving the quality of life in Artsakh. Let me bring some examples.
Over the last 20 years, GDP per capita increased 12-fold – if it was $250 in 1995, now we have reached $3000 in 2015. Moreover, we have recorded a 10 percent average GDP growth rate, which can be considered a desirable pace for many countries.
After the proclamation of independence, we transformed our Soviet planned economy into a free market system, which was not an easy task. But we were able to restore the ravaged economy during these years and guarantee economic freedoms and market competition. Using international experience and taking into account our domestic peculiarities, Artsakh has been able to record the fastest pace of economic development and install probably the most attractive tax policy in the region. Just imagine that even during the years of global financial economic crisis we recorded over 10 percent of GDP growth, realizing grand projects in the fields of hydroenergy, agriculture, food and textile industry as well as the mining sector. Thanks to these steps, Artsakh is fully self-sufficient now and even exports electricity to the Republic of Armenia. By the way, we produce electricity only from renewable sources without causing harm to our environment. As you see, the Republic of Artsakh has made its share of contributions toward the protection of ecology of the region; yet, we are deprived of the possibility of receiving international assistance. Wouldn’t you agree that neither human rights nor environmental protection recognize borders and international status of countries?
Restoration and further development of Artsakh’s economy and ruined infrastructures became possible due to effective management of domestic resources and constant assistance and investments by Armenia and the Diaspora. Besides, we continuously attract foreign investments, many of which have proved to be profitable and successful in Artsakh. For example, one of our largest investors is from Lebanon who owns our telecommunication company. Among numerous foreign investors, we have also Italian clothing brands. Another interesting example is the domestic production of black caviar, which was launched with a large foreign direct investment and the investor is expected to export black caviar from Artsakh very soon. I would like to emphasize here that we are not going to use black caviar in diplomacy, unlike some of our neighbors.
With that being said, the development of our economy faces obstacles, too, and there are number of both objective and subjective hindering factors, most of which are conditioned by Baku’s antagonistic policies. In particular, Azerbaijan’s authoritarian leadership continues the blockade of the republics of Artsakh and Armenia, threatens to shoot down even our civilian planes, boasts about launching a large-scale war against our consolidating democracy, seeks to impede the activities of foreign companies and investors in Artsakh, and places obstacles to the export and sale of the products made in Artsakh. I would run a parallel between these and a number of other obstacles and limitations with the sanctions and pressures carried out against the American people in the years of the American Revolution. The answer of your ancestors to those sanctions and pressures was the Boston Tea Party, the American Revolutionary War and the construction of a democratic state. We also walk towards that direction — defending our homeland and our rights during the war and now building a democratic and prosperous state, despite Azerbaijani pressure and limitations.
The latest large-scale outbreak of the Azerbaijani hatred towards Artsakh and all Armenians was in April of this year, when the Azerbaijani army violated the 1994 tripartite ceasefire treaty with Artsakh and Armenia and attacked the military positions and peaceful settlements of Karabakh. The Azerbaijani side mobilized thousands of special forces soldiers, more than 10 helicopters, hundreds of tanks and artillery, rocket launch systems, which included forbidden weapon types. Our army was able to resist Azerbaijan’s sudden aggression and defend our population against massacre and deportation. Despite that, Azerbaijani forces committed war crimes and other crimes against humanity. In particular, in Talish village, they brutally tortured, mutilated, and killed three civilians, including a 90-year old woman. Using Islamic State methods, Azerbaijani soldiers beheaded three of our servicemen and tortured and mutilated the bodies of over 20 Armenian soldiers both alive and dead. Moreover, a few days following the attacks, the Azerbaijani president decorated and glorified those criminals. Azerbaijan’s artillery was intentionally shelling peaceful settlements of Karabakh, which resulted in the death of a child who was walking school. The continuation of that policy was the statement released by the Azerbaijani defense ministry that they were going to bombard Karabakh’s capital city Stepanakert. Baku’s behavior in April was terrorism committed and praised on the state level, which, unfortunately, again was not condemned appropriately by the international community.
Four days after the Azerbaijan aggression, Baku officially requested a ceasefire due to the painful retaliatory actions of our army as well as Azerbaijani failures and greater losses.
However, we also had irreparable human and considerable material losses. Particularly, we lost tens of soldiers. Furthermore, more than 10,000 citizens, which is equal to 7 percent of Artsakh’s population, had to temporarily leave their homes near the frontline. As for the Talish village, its inhabitants left because of Azerbaijan’s ferocities and have not returned yet due to security concerns. Nevertheless, we are making efforts to restore Talish. The war also had its negative direct and indirect effects on the economy. The direct effect is over $20 million loss, while indirect negative impact will be felt for a longer period.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Regarding conflict resolution efforts, we welcome the steps of the Co-Chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group directed towards the stabilization of the situation and conflict settlement. The people of Artsakh highly appreciate the role of the United States within the frameworks of OSCE Minsk Group in the realization of necessary steps directed at the preservation of peace and final peaceful settlement of the conflict. We are glad that the U.S. shares our position in the protection of the rights of Karabakhi people and inadmissibility of military activities. From that perspective, we are also grateful to the seven US states – Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, Louisiana, California, Georgia, and Hawaii for supporting the independence of Artsakh Republic and our people’s right to self-determination.
Like the whole civilized world, we also claim that the conflict must be resolved only through peaceful means without use of force or the threat thereof. At the same time, it is inadmissible and impossible to reach a successful conflict resolution without the equal and full participation of the main side of the conflict — the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. It must be stated that our inclination to resolve the conflict exclusively through peaceful means does not mean that we are weak or are not ready for a new war. No, friends, the Artsakh army has enough capacity and combat readiness to confront any harassment towards our people which is our sacred duty and responsibility. We simply value human life and, like the entire civilized humanity, we think that it is possible and needed to settle conflicts peacefully. I am sure you realize that this position of Artsakh Republic is not only in our favor but also in favor of the Azerbaijani people. Moreover, due to our commitment to peace we can confidently assert that Artsakh is a reliable partner for the international community in providing regional peace and stability.
It is important to say that despite the mediators’ long-standing efforts, official Baku’s destructive and fascist policies have resulted in stalled and ineffective negotiations. Due to the false-parity and lack of strong condemnation against Azerbaijan by the international community as well as feeling empowered by the petrodollars and the false sense of impunity, Azerbaijan has gradually become more militaristic by arming itself and destabilizing the entire South Caucasus. The official Baku has not only openly violated the permissible limits of the conventional arms, but also boasts about it. International organizations have recorded many times that the Azerbaijani authorities export the authoritarian methods used against their own people, trying to implement those same methods against their neighbors and other states. Unfortunately, the whole world turns a blind eye to that dangerous behavior.
I think the main aim of the international community, especially after the April aggression, must be the guarantee of peace not by blank statements but by practical measures of restraining and pressuring the aggressor Azerbaijan in the political, economic, and military fronts. In that context, the Azerbaijan Sanctions Bill authored by Congressman Chris Smith sends a strong message that human rights, freedoms, as well as the safety and dignity of individuals remain as the most important values of the civilized humanity. The Azerbaijani leadership must remember it once and forever, and the international community must understand that with further accumulation of heavy armaments in the region, the new war is going to be extremely devastating and destructive for both sides which in a short time will make the whole South Caucasus face a serious humanitarian disaster. It is not hard to imagine what kind of negative consequences such a scenario will have for safety and security in the West, the Middle East and Central Asia. As one of the greatest US presidents John F Kennedy said, “Mankind must put an end to war – or war will put an end to mankind.”
In the context of ensuring peace in the Karabakh conflict zone, we highly appreciate congressmen Ed Royce and Eliot Engel’s proposals which last year were introduced to the U.S. administration with the signatures of over 80 Members of Congress. As you know, they call upon the US authorities to get an agreement from all the sides to remove snipers from the frontline, to install advanced gunfire locator systems and sound-ranging equipment to determine the source of attacks, as well as, to deploy more OSCE observers along the line of contact to better monitor and investigate ceasefire violations. It is not surprising that the Republic of Artsakh, the Republic of Armenia and the OSCE mediators welcomed those proposals, while Azerbaijan refused. And why? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
We are pleased and grateful that there are many legislators in the U.S. Congress who are concerned about the future of our people and who share our values. We are also happy that in the latest elections the overwhelming majority of our friends in the Congress received the vote of the American citizens. I cordially congratulate you on earning that high trust and I’m sure that it will contribute to further deepening of our friendship. We are grateful for the financial support that the US Congress and all Americans provide for Artsakh every year. I hope you know that it is the only foreign official support to the Karabakh people. Due to that humanitarian assistance, many lives have been saved, many infrastructures have been restored.
I want to bring only two examples so that you can see the importance of the support you provide. Since 2000, with US financial assistance, the HALO Trust organization has cleaned 1848 hectares of mine fields in Karabakh, preventing possible unfortunate accidents. Let me inform you that if in the 1990s Artsakh had the highest per capita explosive remnants of war in the world, then now, due to the American support we have just over 722 hectare mine fields left to clear. So, thank you for the saved lives. Another tangible work was the support to construct a drinking water network in Stepanakert, due to which tens of thousands people have been provided with clean drinking water. This is something that had not been done even by the powerful Soviet Union. Thank you for providing our people with water. Our people will never forget your assistance.
I am sure that more such projects are still to come. In particular, now there is a need to expand the existing Baroness Caroline Cox Rehabilitation Center in Stepanakert, which is a unique center providing humanitarian services to wounded and disabled persons. In the course of 18 years they have treated almost 1000 citizens per year from all age groups. In the meantime, the actual need is more than 10 times higher. For our population living in conflict conditions it is a center of vital importance. Besides, because of the military actions unleashed by the Azerbaijani side this past April, many families have suffered significant losses, and more than 500 inhabitants of the Talish village, as I mentioned, had to be displaced. Hence, now there are new humanitarian needs which also can be addressed with American support.
Dear Members of Congress,
I call upon you to keep Karabakh’s challenges in the center of your attention and to participate as much as possible in trying to solve them. Be sure that by that you are lending a hand to a people who walk on the democratic path well known to you. Moreover, Artsakh is going to make a new step on that path by making some amendments in the Constitution. In particular, we have a goal to increase the efficiency of the political system, expand human rights protection guarantees as well as strengthen the foundations of our statehood. However, it is a well- known fact that democracy-building is not an easy task, especially when you have to simultaneously struggle for basic security. But the people of Artsakh are very committed to these principles – to ensure security without having to sacrifice our freedoms, as one of the founding fathers of the US Benjamin Franklin would say in order to deserve both democracy and security. The Karabakh people’s struggle is for the sake of universal values – similar to the American people’s struggle for freedom in our region, which can also serve as an example for other people.
Dear friends, our values are also your values. Our struggle is also your struggle. Our success is also your success. Let us stand together and support the victory of universal human values in another corner of the world.