“Here we are, before our plain eyes, seeing history unfold in a way that defies our supposed commitment to ‘Never again,” said Chairman Menendez
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening statement at this morning’s full Committee hearing, “Assessing the Crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.” Testifying before the Committee was the Honorable Yuri Kim, Acting Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
“I have to be honest with you,” said Chairman Menendez. “I don’t understand when we come together and we say ‘Never again. Never again.’ And here we are, before our plain eyes, seeing history unfold in a way that defies our supposed commitment to ‘Never again.’ Is it so important to us, despite Aliyev getting closer and closer to Russia, that we cozy up with someone who is in the process of creating ethnic cleansing? Is that the history the United States wants? Is that the side of history we want to stand on?”
A copy of the Chairman’s remarks, as delivered, are provided below.
In the stores of Nagorno-Karabakh, the shelves are empty. Ambulances don’t have gas. Miscarriages have nearly tripled and the BBC reports that a third of all deaths there are now from malnutrition.
For months, Azerbaijan has blocked access through the Lachin Corridor to Armenia, keeping out humanitarian aid to this ancient Armenian community that is starving to death. Now my understanding is that one truck went through the Agdam Corridor. One truck. For a population of 120,000 Armenians.
Before the blockade there were 120 trucks passing through each day. So let’s not be fooled by the regime’s attempt to muddy the waters. President Aliyev says he’s “not organizing ethnic cleansing” but that is exactly what he is doing. By leveraging humanitarian aid he aims to either coerce the people of Artsakh into political submission, or starve them to death. And given that he is reportedly amassing forces along the border, we must be vigilant about military action.
So as we sit here today—with the lives of so many people hanging in the balance—time is of the essence. The former prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo recently wrote and I quote—“Starvation is the invisible genocide weapon. Without immediate dramatic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a few weeks” close quote.
A few weeks. That is how long we have. I would ask our witness to speak to what the Department is doing, what the Biden Administration is doing, and what the international community must do, to avert this atrocity from being carried out before our own eyes.
I was pleased to see that Secretary Blinken has recently personally gotten involved, but let me be clear. Our message from the highest levels must be unequivocal: Stop the blockade. Stop threatening the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. Stop threatening Armenia. Open the Lachin Corridor immediately. Uphold the commitments that Azerbaijan itself made in the November 2020 ceasefire.
Now I understand the dynamics of the broader region are complicated, but the fundamental principles underlying our approach and this crisis should not be. We must stand up for peace, security, and the defense of human rights, which is in stark contrast to Russia who is not only an unreliable and incapable partner, but is an obstacle to peace and security. As Azerbaijan’s forces moved in 2022, Putin’s so-called “peacekeepers” were responsible for upholding the 2020 ceasefire. They stood idly by. Because of the implications for our own moral fortitude and broader stability throughout Europe, the United States and Europe have a responsibility.
Over the past year, the United States has been helping facilitate a longer, more durable agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. I support any efforts that provide for the lasting peace, security, and fundamental rights of all people in the region. But the reality is this—talk is worthless when one participant in those talks is carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
So I hope our witness will tell us what options she thinks we have to alleviate the immediate humanitarian crisis of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. What options do we have to compel the government in Baku to finally open access through the Lachin Corridor? What are we doing to dissuade Aliyev from starting yet another conflict? Why are we not more publicly considering sanctions for activity that I think we can all agree is clearly sanctionable?
For too long we have hedged on Aliyev. I have repeatedly expressed my deep opposition about waiving section 907 of the Freedom Support Act allowing the United States to send assistance to his regime. This clearly alters the balance of military power between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Aliyev’s favor. I think Azerbaijan’s actions over the past three years have vindicated my skepticism.
I hope the international community is watching: because when President Aliyev is tried for crimes against humanity—as I think he should be—the burden of proof will be very high.
Right now, the burden of proof is not about convicting him of a crime. It is about preventing this crime. And I’d like to hear about how the Department is seeking to do that.
I have to be honest with you. I don’t understand when we come together and we say ‘Never again. Never again.’ And here we are, before our plain, eyes seeing history unfold in a way that defies our supposed commitment to ‘Never again.’ Is it so important to us, despite Aliyev getting closer and closer to Russia, that we cozy up with someone who is in the process of creating ethnic cleansing? Is that the history the United States wants? Is that the side of history we want to stand on?
I hope not.
But I fear, based upon what’s happened today, that this is the path we’re headed on. And so to the extent whatever resources I have to try to get the Department to act, I intend to use them. And I look forward to your testimony today.