Congress, Armenian Assembly Condemn Azerbaijan Downing of Armenian Helicopter in Karabakh

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By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)

AAANews Blog

November 20, 2014

On November 12th, an Azerbaijani military unit stationed near the official Line of Contact (LOC) shot down an unarmed Nagorno Karabakh (NK) army helicopter killing all three servicemen aboard. News of the incident was first reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation and soon went viral across the Internet.

“The [Armenian] Assembly strongly condemns Azerbaijan’s blatant cease-fire violation and calls upon the Administration and Congress to take strong action to ensure the safety and security of Artsakh’s citizens,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny moments after reports reached Washington.

CONGRESS CONDEMNS AZERBAIJANI ATTACK

The blatant attack on Nagorno Karabakh brought swift rebuke from all over the world including from Members of the U.S. Congress.

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House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) was quick to strongly condemn the attack. “The downing of an Armenian helicopter today is an indefensible aggressive action that threatens to undermine the fragile ceasefire and plunge the region back into violence,” he said. “Azerbaijan must immediately cease all such attacks and provocations and commit to concrete progress in the Minsk Group talks,” Chairman Royce said.

Since a cease-fire was signed in 1994, the Republic of Armenia has sought a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France. Both sides are technically, and legally, still at war with cross-border sniper fire occurring daily. However, 2014 has claimed more lives than the last twenty years. This past August, Azerbaijan sent several armed battalions across the LOC and attempted to penetrate different NK defense positions, the largest military offensive in the region in decades. Like the August assault, Azerbaijan’s downing of the NK helicopter was the first such incident since the 1991-1994 NK War. It appears that Azerbaijan’s aggressive tactics, which significantly impact negotiations, have reached a new level of urgency that requires a strong and unequivocal response.

Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) likewise condemned the incident. “I am outraged and saddened by the Azerbaijani attack on the Nagorno Karabakh helicopter engaged in a training flight,” he said. “This is another instance of aggression by the Azerbaijani government towards Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia and represents an escalation in their violent actions that continue to have a destabilizing impact on the region.”

Congressman Pallone, who has travelled to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh on several occasions and knows the region and its people very well, called on the White House to step forward. “There is no longer any question that President Obama must take action to discourage Azerbaijan from pursuing such violent aggression and to demonstrate our commitment to peace and stability,” he said. “I encourage President Obama to formally condemn this deadly attack.”

Furthermore, Rep. Pallone called for the “cessation of any military assistance to Azerbaijan and the strengthening of section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, which restricts aid to Azerbaijan based on its aggression toward Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia. It is time for both the President and Congress to ensure that U.S. law once again holds Azerbaijan accountable for its violent actions,” he stated. “The families of those who were killed and all of Nagorno Karabakh’s citizens remain in my thoughts and prayers,” Pallone stated.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), a rising voice in the Armenian Caucus, also expressed her dismay at Azerbaijani behavior. “I am deeply troubled by the latest evidence of Azerbaijan’s continued aggression with their attack on an apparently unarmed helicopter,” she said. “The people in Nagorno-Karabakh deserve and desire peace, but Azerbaijan’s disregard for the 1994 cease fire threatens both sides with conflict.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a steadfast defender of NK, rightfully recognized the need for Azerbaijan to be held “accountable for engaging in violence and not in peaceful negotiations,” via his Twitter account. Given the events of this year, and the recent death of three Karabakh pilots, if the international community, particularly the OSCE, United States, and United Kingdom, do not directly address Azerbaijani intransigence at the negotiating table and condemn this military act, then the likelihood of renewed war in the South Caucasus will near certainty.

STATE DEPARTMENT RESPONSE FALLS SHORT

The incident also caught the attention of the international press corps, as questions regarding the attack were raised during the State Department Daily Press Briefing on November 13. Unfortunately, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki’s response fell short of condemning the attack. “I don’t have any analysis of the exact events on the ground,” Psaki said to a reporter’s question. “We’ve seen the same reports. There are obviously comments and claims from both sides, but I don’t have any analysis beyond that.”

The reporter continued to seek clarification, stating, “Azerbaijan shooting an Armenian vessel, then it’s pretty clear which party is violating the ceasefire.”

Psaki responded, stating “We understand there are views by both sides, but I don’t have any comment from the U.S. Government on it.”

When a helicopter is shot down and three people are killed it is difficult to accept that knowledgeable people choose to interpret these facts as simply “views” shared by “both sides.” The spokeswoman’s frustration at her inability to speak openly about a blatant attack against an American ally clearly surfaced when presented with what is referred to in political parlance as a “smoking gun.”

Click on the image below to watch the video of the attack on RFE/RL.

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U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairmen “Speak Out” About Azerbaijan’s Declining Human Rights Record, Call on President Obama to Appoint Special Envoy to Nagorno Karabakh

By Taniel Koushakjian

AAANews Blog

July 2, 2014

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recently concluded their annual Parliamentary Assembly meeting, held this year in Baku, Azerbaijan. The OSCE-PA consisted of approximately 300 Members of Parliament from over 50 participating member states from June 28 – July 2, including U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman and Co-Chair, respectively, of the U.S. OSCE Helsinki Commission.

Speaking to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Khadija Ismayilova in Baku, Sen. Cardin noted that “Azerbaijan has a strategic partnership with the United States" in dealing with international security issues, but added that Washington will continue to raise human rights and press freedom concerns with the Azerbaijani government. “When it comes to the last presidential election [in Azerbaijan], it was not rated to be ‘free and fair,’” Cardin said, stressing that Azerbaijan has “serious issues” when dealing with opposition political parties. Also, regarding the Azerbaijan government’s 2009 ban on radio broadcasts by RFE/RL, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and Voice of America (VOA) in Azerbaijan, Cardin said that “We [the U.S.] continue to speak out about that,” before Ismaliyova finished her question. “We want an open media… open internet,” he said, calling the Azerbaijan government’s actions as potentially violating the “basic rights that the people of Azerbaijan deserve.”

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In a separate interview with Ismayilova, Rep. Smith stressed the urgency of resolving the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and called on President Obama to appoint a special envoy to usher in a breakthrough in the now 20 year-old negotiations. Smith said he suggested in Baku that a “very high-profile, international personage” be “tasked” with seeking a resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Smith cited President George W. Bush’s appointment of a special envoy to Sudan and President Clinton’s appointment of a special envoy in Ireland as examples of the “high-level personal interest by the President of the United States,” that helped bring about a resolution in those conflicts. Smith said that President Obama “could play that role,” if he appointed a special envoy, warning that “this could break out into a very hot war, very quickly.”

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You can watch Ismayilova’s interview with Senator Cardin here and her interview with Rep. Smith here, or by clicking on the respective images above.

A full transcript of the interviews are available below.

Mariam Pashayan, Peter Kechichian and Gevorg Shahbazyan contributed to this report.

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Khadija Ismayilova, RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service, Interview with U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) in Baku, Azerbaijan

Published June 30, 2014

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD): Azerbaijan has a strategic partnership with the United States dealing with security issues. Their cooperation in Iran and Afghanistan is important. Their energy policies are important, but when it comes to the last presidential election it was not rated to be ‘free and fair.’ They have serious issues as to how they treat the opposition. So there are human rights issues that we have raised, and continue to raise, as a friend, trying to get the type of improvements we think would be beneficial to Azerbaijan and help in regards to their relationship with other countries.

Khadija Ismayilova: Radio Free Europe, among other foreign radios, BBC and Voice of America, is banned on local frequencies in Azerbaijan-

Senator Ben Cardin: And we speak out against that. We want to open media, open coverage, open internet, all that we believe are basic rights that the people of Azerbaijan deserve.

Khadija Ismayilova: There are journalists and bloggers in prison and election monitors-

Senator Ben Cardin: We have spoken up about that also. We have spoken out about areas that we think need to be improved.

Khadija Ismayilova, RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service, Interview with U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) in Baku, Azerbaijan

Published June 30, 2014

Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ): The two parties, you know, have been poles apart, and that’s always a problem. I have suggested that, in addition to the Minsk group and the other mechanisms that exist for trying to get a resolution, that a very high-profile international personage might be tasked, as we saw with Sudan. Senator Danforth was picked by George Bush after years of conflict, you know, what something in the order of four million, two to four million nobody knows the exact number, died in South Sudan and with Darfur thrown in, huge loss of life. When Senator Danforth became special envoy for President George W. Bush, he got the parties together and stayed in that room until they hammered out an agreement and it’s known as the comprehensive peace agreement, the CPA. That would have not have happened with Bush’s extraordinary efforts. The same thing happened in Northern Ireland where the troubles had killed thousands, the Protestants and the Catholics couldn’t have been poles apart, and in this case President Clinton tasked another U.S. Senator, former, who got the parties together, stayed in that room until came and hammered out the Good Friday agreement. But it took that high-level, personal interest on the part of the President of the United States, and that’s not to say some other world leader could play that role, but I think the President could play that role. So a special envoy with the idea of saying let’s solve this, because this could break out into a very hot war very quickly.