Sen. Anthony Portantino, left, with David Babayan

Portantino and Archuleta Urge Azerbaijan to Immediately Release Armenian POWs


SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Senate Joint Resolution 11, authored by Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – Burbank) and Senator Bob Archuleta (D – Pico Rivera) was introduced on February 13, calling on President Joseph Biden to take immediate steps to address the ongoing illegal detention of Armenian POWs, civilians, and government leaders by Azerbaijan. The resolution is particularly personal for Senator Portantino, as several of those being held are friends and associates with whom he has met and socialized with, both in Artsakh and in his Glendale District Office. Senator Portantino had recently hosted former Artsakh Foreign Minister and Advisor to the President David Babayan in Glendale, after being briefed in Artsakh by Babayan shortly after the 44-Day War. Minister Babayan is one of the government officials being illegally held by Azerbaijan. Senator Portantino was invited to go to Artsakh after the 44-day war by the Human Rights Ombudsman Artak Beglaryan.

“It is unacceptable that we are allowing Azerbaijan to continue their genocidal policies and illegally hold and detain innocent Artsakh residents,” stated Portantino. “It is beyond sad that concrete steps have yet to be taken to address the ethnic cleansing of Armenians and the continued illegal detention of Armenian POWs, civilians and leaders. Azerbaijan and the Aliyev regime must be held accountable for these atrocities and the US and the international community should and must be more strident in its defense of Artsakh and Armenians being illegally held.”

In September 2020, Azerbaijan launched a war of territorial expansion against the Armenians of Artsakh that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of over 70 percent of Artsakh territory. Azerbaijan perpetrated widely documented human rights abuses, including the unlawful targeting of schools, homes, hospitals, and churches with prohibited weapons. For more than eight months, Azerbaijan held 120,000 people under a blockade, in isolation from food, water, medical supplies, fuel, electricity, and other basic needs. Following the illegal blockade, the Armenians of Artsakh endured a large-scale assault by the genocidal Aliyev regime in September 2023, resulting in the forced exodus of more than 100,000 people.

Currently, dozens of Armenian prisoners remain in Azerbaijani custody, with more than 80 Armenian soldiers and civilians still missing. Additionally, Azerbaijan has held eight former military and political leaders of Artsakh captive since September 2023. According to the Third Geneva Convention, to which Azerbaijan is a signatory, the release of POWs and captured civilians upon the cessation of hostilities is required. Azerbaijan has still not fulfilled its international legal obligations.

SJR 11 calls on the Biden Administration to urge Azerbaijan to immediately return all Armenian POWs, hostages, and other detained persons. It also calls on Biden to impose Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act violations on Azerbaijan for the illegal detention, torture, and extrajudicial killing of Armenian POWs and hostages.

SJR 11 calls on the Biden Administration to suspend all United States military and economic assistance to Azerbaijan and to collaborate with the international community to ensure the protection and preservation of Armenian cultural heritage sites now under Azerbaijani control.

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Portantino chairs the Senate Select Committee on California, Armenia, and Artsakh Mutual Trade, Art, and Cultural Exchange, which was first established in 2017 at his request to expand business opportunities through trade, economic development, cultural awareness, and education between California, Armenia, and Artsakh. California has the largest population of Armenian Americans in the country, with the 25th Senate District having the largest concentration. In 2014, the California State Legislature adopted AJR 32, which recognized the Republic of Artsakh as a free and independent nation.

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