WASHINGTON — New legislation introduced by United States Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chair of the House Global Human Rights Subcommittee, aims to avert further atrocities and prevent ethnic cleansing by Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, where 120,000 Armenian Christians face an uncertain future against an Azerbaijani dictatorship that has incited ethnic hatred and committed atrocities against them, the congressman’s office said in a press release.
Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Jim Costa (D-CA) and French Hill (R-AR) are the original cosponsors of the bill.
Named the “Preventing Ethnic Cleansing and Atrocities in Nagorno-Karabakh Act of 2023 (HR 5686),” Smith’s legislation requires the State Department to create a detailed strategy to promote long-term security and well-being of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh through important security provisions, including among others:
- Dispatching US diplomats to the region to monitor the situation and immediately report any further abuse;
- Instituting 24-hour video monitoring of Armenian cultural sites;
- Authorizing humanitarian assistance to Armenians harmed by the blockade and recent attack on Nagorno-Karabakh;
- Imposing new sanctions on officials who directed the blockade and attack on Nagorno-Karabakh;
- Providing foreign military financing to the democratic Republic of Armenia, now threatened by Azerbaijan; and
- Terminating US military aid to Azerbaijan by repealing the presidential waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act.
“The people of Nagorno-Karabakh are in grave danger,” said Smith, an internationally recognized human rights defender who met with Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, twice in Baku—in 2013 and again in 2014—to discuss Aliyev’s egregious record of abuses. Smith later authored the Azerbaijan Democracy Act in 2015.
“Tragically, they have been forced to disarm and surrender their independence to a ruthless dictator whose government has repeatedly committed horrific abuses against them over many years, expressed its will to ethnically cleanse them, and even initiated a genocide by starvation with the blockade of the Lachin Corridor,” said Smith. “We must work with them to ensure that the transition is not marked by continued human atrocities.”
Smith’s legislation comes on the heels of a series of congressional hearings he has chaired examining the plight of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, including an emergency hearing earlier this month.