Ranking Member Menendez Delivers Remarks on Implications of Conflict in the South Caucasus
Stands in solidarity with Armenian diaspora in New Jersey and across the United States in calling for humanitarian support for those impacted by the violence
WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered remarks on the Senate Floor on the Turkish-backed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Senator addressed the implications for regional stability following a Moscow-brokered agreement that grants Russia another foothold in the south Caucasus, as well as the need for President-elect Biden to reassert American leadership following the Trump administration’s failure to defend ethnic Armenians and promote American values.
“We now have a trio of authoritarians running the show in the south Caucasus. It should alarm anyone dedicated to a peaceful solution of this longstanding conflict. It should alarm anyone dedicated to democratic reform in the region. And it should alarm anyone concerned about basic human rights and respect for international law,” Senator Menendez said. “All of this happened while Donald Trump slept, yet another example of diplomatic malpractice at the highest levels of an administration that will thankfully conclude in January.”
In addition to calling for a substantial assistance package to address the humanitarian needs created by this conflict and exacerbated by COVID-19, Senator Menendez called on the Trump administration to immediately suspend the provision of defense articles to Turkey and Azerbaijan, halt U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan, and confront Turkish aggression in the region.
“Under Erdogan, Turkey has engaged in unbridled aggression outside of its borders, in violation of NATO’s founding principles and international norms,” Senator Menendez continued. “By taking the steps that I have described here tonight, we can begin a new chapter of U.S. policy in the region, and right past wrongs. And I am committed, as I have always been alongside the Armenian-American community in New Jersey and across our country, to see this just work through to the end.”
Senator Menendez’s full remarks as delivered may be found below:
“I come to the floor today in solidarity with ethnic Armenians all over the world who have experienced terrible losses in recent weeks.
This is a tragic moment for Armenians everywhere.
Words cannot describe the devastation inflicted on the region by Azerbaijani President Aliyev, with the full support of President Erdogan of Turkey.
Thousands of ethnic Armenian civilians and soldiers have lost their lives due to Azerbaijan’s aggression, with an unknown number more injured. More than half of the population has been driven from their longtime homes. Every day, more are forced to leave.
Azerbaijan’s aggression has created a massive humanitarian crisis that will require a significant response, especially in light of the worsening pandemic.
The historically and religiously significant city of Shushi now sits in Azerbaijani hands, and the security of many sacred Christian sites falls to President Aliyev and his backer Erdogan. The world will be watching if these holy sites are desecrated.
These are dark days indeed – and it did not have to be this way. American leadership could have averted much of this tragedy. Unfortunately, after the conflict began in late September, the highest-ranking Trump administration officials decided to remain largely absent and silent.
Certainly, other world leaders engaged. President Macron made calls and actively pushed to reduce tensions, as one would expect from one of the leaders of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Group Co-Chair country.
Unfortunately, others with less noble goals were also at the table.
President Erdogan fueled Azerbaijan’s aggression, fanning the flames by providing devastating drone technology and Syrian mercenaries. President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov worked the phones from the early days of the conflict. The result? Russia has a new foothold in the south Caucasus. Evidently, Russia was never fully committed to the Minsk goals and now has what they wanted since the 1990’s.
All of this happened while Donald Trump slept, yet another example of diplomatic malpractice at the highest levels of an administration that will thankfully conclude in January.
But President Trump’s departure is little solace for the ethnic Armenians who have been driven from their homes and seen their livelihoods go up in flames.
So what is the region left with at the end of the day?
The security of the Armenian people, who have already suffered brutal violence at the hands of Presidents Aliyev and Erdogan, now rests with ‘peacekeepers’ sent by Vladimir Putin – a flawed agreement that does nothing about the jihadis sent there by Turkey, who if allowed to remain, could commit further atrocities against Christian Armenians.
Without any commitments to the status of Artsakh, there is no incentive for Azerbaijan to make peace with Armenia. Will we see another case of ethnic cleansing in the future? Do we sit silent?
Madam President, we now have a trio of authoritarians running the show in the south Caucasus. It should alarm anyone dedicated to a peaceful solution of this longstanding conflict. It should alarm anyone dedicated to democratic reform in the region. And it should alarm anyone concerned about basic human rights and respect for international law.
We in the United States should be concerned about national security issues that would affect us in the Caucasus. My colleagues, we are witnessing the return of great power politics in this critical region. And yet the world’s sole superpower is conspicuously absent. This needs to change.
First, and most urgently, the United States must lead a response to the humanitarian needs created by this violence, particularly for the tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians forcibly displaced from their homes by the six-week war.
Winter is fast approaching. The COVID-19 pandemic is raging. There is no time to waste. Congress and the Trump administration must act quickly to save these families.
The United States must make a substantial investment in humanitarian and development assistance along the lines of $100 million to make a difference for those on the ground.
This includes funding for efforts to demine the affected area.
In April, I sent a letter co-signed by 30 other Senators calling for the Senate to appropriate $1.5 million in FY21 funds for demining; robust funding for rehabilitation services in Nagorno-Karabakh; and money for an independent assessment of remaining mine contamination to help inform future efforts. Given the widespread use by Azerbaijan of cluster munitions, rockets, and other such weapons in this conflict, I again urge this body to include those provisions in the final appropriations bill.
Second, the United States must immediately suspend the provision of defense articles to Turkey and Azerbaijan. We cannot and must not enable any future atrocities by either of these authoritarian countries. Either we had a tremendous intelligence failure or the State Department lied when it issued the waiver to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act.
Either way, we shoulder be gravely concerned about reports that Azerbaijan has utilized U.S.-origin defense equipment in this conflict.
The administration must fully investigate these reports and respond appropriately to any violations of U.S. law.
Indeed, Canada suspended arms sales to Turkey in response to the conflict for this very reason, and I applaud Prime Minister Trudeau for doing so.
The United States must do the same, and work diplomatically to encourage others to join us in common cause.
To that end, I have introduced two resolutions that will require the State Department to report on human rights abuses by Azerbaijan and Turkey, and on the role U.S. security assistance and arms transfers may be playing in those abuses. I urge my colleagues to support those resolutions.
Third, the administration must follow the law. It should not waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which states that Azerbaijan should ‘cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force’ against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh as a condition to receive U.S. assistance.
The facts tell us that the Government of Azerbaijan has done the exact opposite. America has no business rewarding this kind of aggressive behavior. I call on the administration to terminate the waiver of Section 907. Congress can also address this injustice in the FY21 appropriations bill by stripping the existing waiver authority so that this security relationship stops. It needs to stop once and for all.
In addition, at my request, the Government Accountability Office is currently reviewing the impact of U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan, which has skyrocketed under the Trump administration.
The Pentagon alone has provided more than $120 million in equipment to the Aliyev regime in recent years.
This is simply unacceptable and must change. The GAO review will shed light on the impact of the repeated waivers of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act.
Fourth and finally, Turkey’s aggression in this conflict must be addressed. President Erdogan clearly aspires to be a modern-day Ottoman sultan, putting down stakes in Libya, in Syria, across the Eastern Mediterranean, and now in the south Caucasus.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has engaged in unbridled aggression outside of its borders, in violation of NATO’s founding principles and international norms.
Here’s what we know.
This Turkey is proving to be an unreliable ally in NATO. It is not a democracy. And it is not a responsible actor on the world stage.
The aggression unfolding in Azerbaijan should make crystal clear what we have long known: Erdogan is, without a doubt, trying to claim the title of most destructive actor in the region today. Without a strong response, he will continue these advances and aggression. I urge the incoming Biden administration to stop him, and Congress has a role to play as well.
We must finally sanction Turkey for its purchase of the S400 from Russia, which is a clear violation of the CAATSA law. I expect that the FY21 NDAA will take this long overdue step and result in S400 sanctions on Turkey.
I would also urge the incoming Biden administration to reassert American leadership in the region. The United States must join with Europe in solidarity against Turkey’s violations of the sovereignty of Greece and Cyprus, which destabilize the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Sanctions against those conducting illegal exploration activities on behalf of Turkey would be a strong show of support for our European allies, not to mention for the rule of law.
Indeed, I have every confidence that President-elect Biden and his team will live up to America’s responsibilities on the world stage by actually engaging on all of these issues.
Though the OSCE Minsk Group Process appears to be on life support, we can and must reinvigorate it with senior level engagement. We must send a clear message to Ankara, Baku, and Moscow that violence as a means to ‘solve’ the conflict will not succeed, and pressure on Armenia from its eastern and western borders will not be tolerated.
I would like to close with this.
Above the road between Yerevan and Stepanakert lies the ancient monastery of Dadivank. Father Hovannes, a priest at the monastery, has vowed to stay, even though the area has fallen under Azerbaijani control. His neighbors have mostly fled, on their way to Yerevan, displaced by weeks of horrific fighting.
The courage of Father Hovannes is hard for most of us to understand, to even comprehend. It comes from a place of deep connection to the land, deep connection to one’s culture and deep connection to one’s faith. The world will be watching as to what happens to Father Hovannes and the ancient monastery of Dadivank.
A neighbor of Father Hovannes who also committed to stay in the area, said, ‘We are here to stay until the end. This is our God. It’s our church. Our cross bears a heavy weight. We are here to carry that weight.’
Throughout this war, Armenians across the region have carried that weight, under relentless assault from Azerbaijan and Turkey. The Trump administration let them down.
The horror of recent weeks will be very difficult to undo. But we must start the work. We must start the work.
By taking the steps that I have described here tonight, we can begin a new chapter of U.S. policy in the region, and right past wrongs. And I am committed, as I have always been alongside the Armenian-American community in New Jersey and across our country, to see this just work through to the end.”
Juan Pachon 202-224-4651
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