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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairs Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member and Armenian Caucus Co-Vice Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) issued statements and paid tribute after hearing the tragic news that some The HALO Trust employees were killed and seriously injured while clearing landmines in Artsakh, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).
Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Pallone said: “While there is always a danger associated with removing unexploded ordnances, I am deeply saddened to hear the news of this terrible accident and offer my condolences to the families of these individuals. I hope investigators in Artsakh are able to quickly get to the bottom of what happened, and I hope these awful circumstances help to shed an international light on the vital work organizations like HALO Trust do around the world. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure demining activities are able to continue unimpeded and as safely as possible.”
Rep. Pallone visited Artsakh for the first time twenty years ago as part of an Armenian Assembly of America-sponsored delegation. The Congressman has returned to Artsakh a few times since his initial visit, where he learned firsthand about mine clearance in the region.
“I was deeply saddened to hear of the deaths of three HALO Trust workers, and injuries to two of their colleagues, while working to clear the Artsakh region of landmines. My heart goes out to the victims and their families and colleagues, all of whom are in my prayers. The people of Artsakh continue to suffer the devastating effects of war with the highest per capita incidence of landmine accidents in the world – a third of which involve children. The courage and sacrifice of these ultimate Samaritans should serve as a reminder to us all that we have much more to do to make this region safe, and I pledge to continue my support of the HALO Trust and the Artsakh region in honor of their memory,” Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Speier added.
Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Valadao stated: “My heart goes out to those killed and injured by the explosion in Nagorno-Karabakh. These individuals have dedicated their work to ensuring the safety of others and their sacrifice will never be forgotten. This tragedy serves as a stark reminder of the ever present danger in the region. We must continue our work to restore these communities so they may live without fear of mine-related accidents.”
Last September, Rep. Valadao traveled to Artsakh as part of a Congressional Delegation, where he met with The HALO Trust staff to learn more about mine clearance along the borders. Earlier that month, Rep. Valadao spearheaded a bipartisan amendment along with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), Rep. Pallone, Rep. Speier, and Rep. Schiff, to ensure continued funding for de-mining projects in Artsakh. This amendment was adopted as part of consideration of H.R. 3354, which consolidated numerous Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations bills.
Rep. Schiff stated: “I’m deeply saddened by the death of three employees of the HALO Trust who were performing demining work in Nagorno Karabakh. I am proud of the support the United States has provided in removing minefields from civilian areas in Artsakh, and this tragedy shows once again why that work is both so dangerous and yet such an important humanitarian undertaking.”
“I extend my deepest condolences to the victims’ families and the entire HALO Trust community. Today’s events highlight the need for robust support of demining efforts in Artsakh, so that these deadly explosives do not take additional lives. We thank the victims for their contributions to this important cause,” Rep. Sherman said.
During the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats hearing on July 25, 2017 entitled “Examining the President’s FY 2018 Budget Proposal for Europe and Eurasia,” Rep. Sherman urged support for U.S. funding for demining efforts in Artsakh, referencing The HALO Trust and the need for additional funding to continue its lifesaving work.
The Assembly has a long track record of advocating for Artsakh, including the historic and first allocation of $12.5 million in humanitarian aid twenty years ago in the Fiscal Year 1998 appropriations measure. In the Assembly’s testimony before the House Appropriations Committee during that time, the Assembly cited a report conducted in association with the Armenian Red Cross highlighting serious humanitarian needs, including the fact that “approximately 100,000 land mines have been laid in the interior of Nagorno Karabagh, directly threatening the lives of the population as well as an indirect threat to food production, development and the public’s health.” The Assembly concurred with the report’s findings “that there must not be further delay in providing humanitarian aid to the people of Nagorno Karabagh…”
Yesterday, the Assembly extended its condolences to The HALO Trust family upon learning the news of the tragic loss of three HALO Trust employees, Pavel Akopov, Samson Avanesyan, and Marat Petrosyan, who died while clearing mines in Artsakh, as well as Garik Ghahilyan and Aram Mkrtchyan who were seriously injured.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.