WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues Co-Chairs Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Armenian Caucus Co-Vice Chair Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Caucus Members Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. TJ Cox (D-CA), Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) issued statements to honor the 31th anniversary of Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian pogroms in Sumgait, Kirovabad, and Baku, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly). The Members of Congress highlighted the importance of recognizing acts of violence similar to the 1988 pogroms and holding the perpetrators accountable.
“On February 27, 1988, hundreds of Armenian civilians living in the city of Sumgait in Azerbaijan were indiscriminately killed, raped, maimed, and even burned alive for no reason other than their ethnicity. This senseless violence was instigated by hostile, anti-Armenian rhetoric from Azerbaijani citizens and officials against innocent Armenians,” Rep. Pallone stated. “That is why I continue to stand with the Armenian people in condemning this horrific massacre.”
Rep. Pallone continued: “Tragically, the Azerbaijani government’s approach toward the Armenian people has not changed much since the Sumgait pogroms were initiated. We still hear the same violent rhetoric and witness the intimidation tactics aimed at the people of the Republic of Artsakh. If we do not condemn crimes against humanity and allow them to go unpunished and unrecognized we only strengthen the resolve of those seeking to perpetrate these crimes in the future…I hope my colleagues will join me in rejecting violent rhetoric and intimidation and renewing our commitment to achieving a collective peace.”
“Today, we commemorate the 31st anniversary of the Sumgait pogroms, which saw the murder, abuse, and eventual expulsion of Armenian Christians living in Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh solely based on their Armenian identity. The Azeri government cannot be allowed to continue denying its role in instigating these atrocities and allowing them to continue, especially in light of similar efforts to target Armenians by Azerbaijan today. I hold memories of the Sumgait victims close to my heart, they motivate me to fight for the rights for Armenians and all people,” Rep. Speier told the Armenian Assembly.
Rep. Sherman, in his statement, recalled the March 1988 article in The Economist, as well as other mainstream media reports, which documented “the Azerbaijani mobs hunting down Armenian families and committing murder, rape, and property theft.”
“The government of Azerbaijan must be held accountable by the international community for the pogroms committed against its minority Armenian population, and I will continue to work in Congress to shed light on and learn the lessons of such atrocities,” Rep. Sherman concluded.
Beginning in Sumgait in 1988, and spreading to the cities of Kirovabad in 1989 and Baku in 1990, armed mobs of Azerbaijani citizens took to the streets targeting Armenian residences and destroying Armenian-owned businesses while Azerbaijan security services stood by. The Sumgait pogrom was widely reported and roundly condemned, but the violence was never contained.
Increasingly, anti-Armenian forces acted with impunity and the pogroms spread across Azerbaijan, leading to the military campaigns of the late 1980s to 1994 to deport the Armenians of Artsakh, until a cease-fire agreement was signed by Azerbaijan, Artsakh, and Armenia. Since then, the cease-fire agreement has been violated on a daily basis, and in April 2016 Azerbaijan resumed full-scale warfare for four days before it was prevailed upon to halt its aggression.
“The anniversary of Sumgait is a reminder of the consequences when aggression and hatred grow unchecked,” Rep. Schiff said on the House Floor.
In his statement, Rep. Schiff noted that “the assault on ethnic Armenian civilians in Sumgait helped touch off what would become a direct conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan which took thousands of lives and dislocated millions more.” He explained that the anniversary of Sumgait is “a reminder of the consequences when aggression and hatred grow unchecked,” also citing the upcoming day of remembrance for the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
“Madame Speaker, in two months we will mark the 104th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, an event the Turkish government, Azerbaijan’s closest ally, goes to great lengths to deny. We must not let such crimes against humanity go unrecognized, whether they occurred yesterday or 30 years ago or 100 years ago. Today, let us pause to remember the victims of the atrocities of the Sumgait pogroms. Mr. Speaker, it is our moral obligation to condemn crimes of hatred and to remember the victims, in hope that history will not be repeated,” Rep. Schiff added.
Rep. Chu similarly drew parallels between the anniversary of the Sumgait pogroms and the Armenian Genocide.
“As the lines of the Soviet Union were fading, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh were united in a call for a say in their own futures and greater independence from Azerbaijan. This peaceful movement for self-determination and freedom was followed by premeditated and government-sponsored attacks,” Rep. Chu stated. “Over the next two years, the Armenian population in the territory of Artsakh was repeatedly victim to brutal and racially motivated pogroms, darkly reminiscent of the days of the Armenian Genocide. Hundreds were murdered, thousands were displaced, and the Armenian community – both in Artsakh and in exile – continues to bear the scars from the brutal attacks in Sumgait, Kirovabad, and Baku.”
Newly joined Member of the Armenian Caucus, Rep. Cox, pointing out the Azeri violence as “just the start of continued attacks against Armenians in Azerbaijan, resulting in a war with Nagorno-Karabakh where thousands more were killed.”
Rep. Cox continued by calling upon his colleagues in Congress to join him in condemning this violence and injustice. “We must learn from this atrocity and continue to advocate for the protection of human rights for the Armenian people, and for all. I’m committed to working with my colleagues on the Armenian Caucus to always remember the victims of the pogroms in Sumgait and to ensure this history never repeats itself,” he said.
“The Sumgait pogroms are a devastating chapter in history. Thirty-one years ago, peaceful Armenian residents were racially targeted and faced brutal acts of violence, leading to the murder of hundreds and the displacement of thousands more. In honoring the memory of the victims of Sumgait Pogrom, we must remember to never let hatred or violence against humanity go unchecked and ensure such atrocities never happen again,” Rep. Crow, a freshman from Colorado, said to the Armenian Assembly.
“On behalf of the Armenian American community, I thank the Members of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues for sending a strong message of support for Armenians in Artsakh and Armenians displaced by the violence in Azerbaijan. As highlighted, Azerbaijan’s aggression continues to this day. Azerbaijan’s actions must not go unchecked. Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian rhetoric and continuous ceasefire violations are unacceptable,” Assembly Grassroots & Development Associate Mariam Khaloyan stated.
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.