Washington, D.C. – Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, referred to the humanitarian crisis in Artsakh, where Armenians face daily violent threats by Azerbaijan. Chairman Menendez further questioned the wisdom of the State Department’s ongoing waiver of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act during an SFRC hearing on Wednesday, November 16, 2022, which assessed U.S. Policy in the South Caucasus with Karen Donfried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Ambassador Philip Reeker, Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations from the U.S. Department of State, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).
In his opening remarks, Menendez stated that the “people of this region don’t want to live under the threat of violence and they don’t want autocratic rule imposed on them by the barrel of a gun.” He stressed that the Armenian people “deserve to live in peace and they deserve freedom and security. And that means ensuring that a peace deal does not lead to ethnic cleansing for the Armenian people of Nagorno-Karabakh. It means tackling the needs of the humanitarian crisis there. It means holding accountable those who order and carry out the violence we’ve seen in this region.”
Addressing the root of the conflict in the region, Menendez noted that “dictators with imperial aspirations have victimized those living in the South Caucasus.” He cited the Russian-backed aggression in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Turkish-supported Azerbaijani aggression in Armenia and Artsakh, where “disregard for human life has been clear,” most recently during the 44-day War on Artsakh in the Fall of 2020, when Azerbaijan’s unprovoked assault uprooted over 100,000 Armenians from their homes in Artsakh, and resulted in the deaths of 6,500 people in total.
Menendez noted that the “Armenians in Artsakh still face an acute humanitarian crisis, including threats of ethnic cleansing, and chronic shortages of water, energy, health care, and food.”
Menendez has continuously pushed for robust humanitarian assistance to help victims in Armenia and Artsakh. He admonished the U.S. humanitarian response as being “insufficient,” and expressed outrage over its continued, annual provision of security assistance to Azerbaijan. “How on Earth can the United States justify sending any kind of support, security or otherwise, to a regime in Baku? It’s inexcusable. I personally think it’s morally repugnant. And it makes a mockery of the FREEDOM Support Act.”
Menendez continued: “Section 907 of this Act is meant to ban security assistance to Azerbaijan until Azerbaijan is ‘taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.’ And yet the Department of State has waived Section 907 over and over again. It requested $600,000 for Fiscal Year 22 to provide Azerbaijan with international military education and training – a program meant to ‘provide a professional military education to countries selected by the Secretary of State.'”