WASHINGTON–Florida Republican Bill McCollum marked the eighth anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh with a speech on the floor of the US House of Representatives–citing the Republic as "an example of perseverance and commitment to freedom and independence," reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
In a September 14 statement–Rep. McCollum recounted the long history of Armenia’s in Artsakh – the Armenian name for the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. "Armenian settlemen’s and a distinct political entity have existed in Artsakh since the 2nd century BC," he explained. Despite the loss of independence in the fifth century–McCollum explained that the Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh continued its fight for independence–through the centuries and even during the Soviet era. As the Soviet Union unraveled in the late 1980’s–McCollum noted that:
"The Armenia’s of Karabakh were alarmed by the rise of Turkic militancy in Azerbaijan. The legacy of the 1918-20 slaughter of Armenia’s by Turkish and Azeri forces – especially the March 1920 destruction of Shoushi–an Armenian cultural center that lost its Armenian population and character until recaptured in May 1992 – was revived by pogroms in Baku and `ethnic cleansing’ of the Armenian population throughout the region since 1988. No less alarming was the Azeri blockade aimed to starve the Armenian population into surrender and self-imposed exile."
"We applaud Congressman McCollum’s forceful defense of Karabakh’s inalienable right to self-determination," said ANCA Chairman Mourad Topalian. "As a personal friend and a long-standing ally of our community–Bill McCollum has been there when we have needed him–to strengthen Armenia–defend Nagorno Karabakh–and commemorate the Armenian Genocide. We look forward to working with him and his Senate campaign to expand his outreach to Florida’s growing Armenian community."
Congressman McCollum has supported Armenian American concerns on a number of key votes. In September of last year–he voted for the Radanovich-Pallone Amendment to maintain Section 907–the ban on US aid to the government of Azerbaijan. He has consistently supported Congressional commemoration of the Armenian Genocide–and–in 1996–voted to sanction Turkey over its continued denials.
He has also worked to strengthen the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act–which prohibits US aid to countries–such as Turkey–which block the passage of US humanitarian aid to another country.
A twenty-year veteran of the House–Rep. McCollum serves as Chairman of the both Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime–as well as the Intelligence Subcommittee on Counter-intelligence. He is seeking the nomination for the US Senate seat currently held by retiring Sen. Connie Mack.
The full text of Rep. McCollum’s statement follows.
Artsakh Independence Day
Mr. Speaker–congratulations to the brave people of Artsakh–the traditional Armenian name of what is presently known as the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh–on their independence day–September 2nd. Eight years after their unilateral declaration of independence as the Soviet Union was collapsing and hostile militant forces were rising in the Caucasus–the predominantly Armenian population of Artsakh is still far from being safe and secure. Shunned by the world at large and increasingly threatened by the rise of militant Islamism in the Caucasus–the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh sets an example of perseverance and commitment to freedom and independence.
The current plight of the people of Nagorno Karabakh is a sorry situation since the Armenia’s of Artsakh are among the oldest distinct population groupings on earth. Armenian settlemen’s and a distinct political entity have existed in Artsakh since the 2nd century BC Armenian independence prevailed there until the collapse and partition of the first Armenian state in the 5th Century A.D. At that time–between 480 and 483–Movses Khorenatsi wrote the monumental ‘History of Armenia’ under the auspices of Prince Sahak Bagratuni–a manifestation of the centrality of Artsakh in Armenian civilization. In the late Middle Ages–the Armenian principalities retained their independence under Persia’s nominal rule.
‘The Armenia’s of Nagorno Karabakh were among the first in the region to embrace Christianity back in 301 A.D. in the aftermath of the missionary activities of St. Gregory the Illuminator. In this context–the repeated destruction and rebuilding of the Monastery in Amaras symbolizes the resilience and determination of the Armenia’s of Artsakh. First built around 330 A.D. by St. Gregory the Illuminator–it has been repeatedly damaged and destroyed by countless invaders–such as the Arabs–the Persians–the Mongols and the Turks -only to be rebuilt again and again by the local population. The Monastery in Amaras was last damaged by the Azerbaijani forces in 1992–during Nagorno Karabakh’s bitter war for independence. It has since been rebuilt and its centrality in Armenian religious life restored.
The Armenia’s’ quest for independence has long historical roots. In the late 1980s–as the population of the then Soviet Union was awakened to rediscover nationalist roots–as well as cultural and religious heritage–so did Armenia’s of Nagorno Karabakh. By then–they had a history of quest for independence despite Soviet oppression. Significantly–since 1923–Nagorno Karabakh was a distinct Autonomous Region within Azerbaijan–a status that reflected the population’s distinction. The Armenian population was restive since the thaw of the early 1960s–including riots in the late 1960s demanding self-determination within the confines of the USSR.
In the late 1980s–the Armenia’s of Nagorno Karabakh were alarmed by the rise of Turkic militancy in Azerbaijan. The legacy of the 1918-1920 slaughter of Armenia’s by Turkish and Azerbaijani forces–especially the March 1920 destruction of Shoushi–an Armenian cultural center that lost its Armenian population and character until recaptured in May 1992–was revived by pogroms in Baku and ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Armenian population throughout the region since 1988. No less alarming was the Azerbaijani blockade aimed to starve the Armenian population into surrender and self-imposed exile. Hence–once the Armenia’s’ quest for self-determination was rejected by the Soviet and subsequently Azerbaijani authorities–the Armenia’s of Nagorno Karabakh embarked on their quest for independence as the sole guarantor for their self-survival.
On September 22–1991–the Armenia’s of Nagorno Karabakh declared their independence and vowed to defend the Armenian character of their land. They then withstood a three-year long brutal war in which the vastly superior Azerbaijani forces strove to destroy them completely. Presently–the population of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh is a mixture of the local population and Armenian refugees from parts of Nagorno-Karabakh still held by Azerbaijani forces–as well as ethnically cleansed Armenian communities in other parts of Azerbaijan–most notably Baku. They are trying to rebuild their country. A mere 150,000-200,000 people surrounded by a sea of hate with only a corridor to Armenia as a life-line of sustenance.
Therefore–we should recognize the determination of the Armenia’s of Nagorno Karabakh to preserve and revise their heritage and take control of their lives. In an era where the United States has stood up to the rights of endangered minorities to self-determination–stability–and betterment of life–we should not neglect the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Armenian people of Artsakh. They have already fought and sacrificed enormously in order to attain these rights. On their independence day–they deserve not only our congratulations–but our recognition and help–so that they can continue to grow and develop free of existential threats.