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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Azerbaijan Attacks on Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh Raised During State Department Daily Press Briefing

By Taniel Koushakjian

AAANews Blog 

July 8, 2014

On Wednesday, July 2nd, a member of Armenia’s press service in Washington, D.C. raised the issue of Azerbaijan military attacks on Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh during the U.S. State Department’s daily press briefing.

“There is a noticeable escalation of anti-Armenian rhetoric in Azerbaijan recently,” stated Haykaram Nahapetyan, Armenian Public Television’s Washington correspondent. Azerbaijan violated the fragile ceasefire agreement “not only in line of contact with Karabakh, but also across the state border with Armenia, severely shelling civilian rural settlements in northeastern part of Armenia,” Nahapetyan said.

Referring to the U.S. role as a co-chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, Nahapetyan asked State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki if she was following the situation and if the U.S. had “put any efforts to restrain Azerbaijan from belligerent statements and action?”

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Psaki reiterated that the U.S. is “committed to helping both sides reach a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  It’s our hope that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will accept French President Hollande’s invitation to hold a summit in Paris as soon as possible, and that they will agree to structured negotiations that will lead to a peace agreement.” She also called on the President’s of Armenia and Azerbaijan to “redouble their efforts at the negotiation table.”

Psaki recognized the vitriolic statements emanating from Baku. “Obviously, inflammatory rhetoric and statements run counter to the principle of reducing tensions,” she said, acknowledging that such provocation “damages the peace process.”

Days after the Azerbaijan attacks were raised in Washington the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) Defense Ministry reported that approximately 600 ceasefire violations had occurred between June 25-July 5. One of the incidents resulted in the death of NKR soldier Armen Avetisyan, 19, who was killed along the NKR-Azerbaijan line of contact. The Azerbaijan Defense Ministry denied the reports and accused the Armenian side of violating the ceasefire.

At least 17 soldiers on both sides have died from cross border violations to date this year.

A transcript of the question and answer exchange between Nahapetyan and Psaki is available below. The full transcript is available here.

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U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

Wednesday July 2, 2014

QUESTION:  Yeah, thank you.  There is a noticeable escalation of anti-Armenian rhetoric in Azerbaijan recently.  Ilham Aliyev personally called Armenia a historic Azerbaijan land this time, which analysts qualified as territorial claim.  The main question is about the violation of ceasefire recent weeks.  Azerbaijan violated ceasefire not only in line of contact with Karabakh, but also across the state border with Armenia, severely shelling civilian rural settlements in northeastern part of Armenia.  Some local authorities already have reported that full-scale war has already broken out.

So as a co-chair of OSCE Minsk Group, do you follow the situation and any do you put any efforts to restrain Azerbaijan from belligerent statements and action?  Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we are committed – as a co-chair, we’re committed to helping both sides reach a peaceful settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  It’s our hope that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan will accept French President Hollande’s invitation to hold a summit in Paris as soon as possible, and that they will agree to structured negotiations that will lead to a peace agreement.  And we call on both sides to redouble their efforts at the negotiation table and to focus on the benefits that peace will bring to people across the region.  Obviously, inflammatory rhetoric and statements run counter to the principle of reducing tensions, and so we certainly think that that damages the peace process, and that’s why we’re encouraging them to redouble their efforts.

QUESTION:  Jen, have you seen the reports that (inaudible) civilian settlements this time has been bombarded by Azerbaijan in Armenia?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any confirmation of those specific reports, but clearly, a peaceful settlement is in the interests of both countries.