Executive Director of the Armenian Assembly of America
Testimony to the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
"Conflicts in the Caucasus: Prospects for Resolution"
December 7, 2011
Chairman Smith, Co-Chairman Cardin, distinguished Commissioners, on behalf of the Armenian Assembly of America, I want to thank you for holding today’s important hearing. Also, as we pause today to remember the victims of the devastating earthquake that struck Armenia in 1988 and claimed the lives of 30,000 people, we recall with great pride the outpouring of support and assistance offered by the United States to help Armenia rebuild.
Mr. Chairman, we appreciate the efforts of the Helsinki Commission to examine where the conflicts in the Caucasus region stand today; what factors impede settlement; whether the resumption of armed hostilities is a serious threat; whether changes in the negotiating format might yield a better outcome; and what should the United States do to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the conflicts therein. We also look forward to hearing the views of the panelists assembled and to work with you on ways to achieve a lasting and just peace in the South Caucasus region.
The primary focus of this testimony will be on the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. Having overcome the war launched against them by Azerbaijan, the people of Nagorno Karabakh continue to develop as an open and democratic society. Since the 1994 cease-fire agreement, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) Minsk Group through its three permanent Co-Chairs, the U.S., France and Russia has mediated the Karabakh conflict. The confidence-building measures proposed by Nagorno Karabakh in 2001 and backed by the OSCE mediators, the basic principles put forward by the Minsk Group, other attempts at reducing tensions in the region through cultural and humanitarian approaches, efforts at eliminating the risk of flare-up on the frontlines, and steps to strengthen the cease-fire regime along the line of contact have been undermined or rejected by Azerbaijan.
In fact, this past summer at a summit meeting in Kazan, Russia, Azerbaijan rejected the latest OSCE-mediated proposal, while Armenia signaled its acceptance. According to an article in RFE/RL entitled "Can The ‘Medvedev Moment’ Be Saved For Karabakh?" by Thomas de Waal, multiple sources, including those in Baku, confirmed "that it was the Azerbaijani side that blocked agreement in Kazan." The article further noted that it appeared that president of Azerbaijan Ilham "Aliyev came to the meeting with a list of nine or 10 amendments to the latest draft document," and instead of reaching a resolution, the meeting "was pretty much over as soon as it began."
In addition to rejecting the proposal on the table at Kazan, Azerbaijan, as part of its continued aggression against the people of Nagorno Karabakh, threatened to shoot down any civilian aircraft taking off from Karabakh's capital city, Stepanakert.
Moreover, throughout this conflict, despite Congressional authorization and approval year after year for funding for confidence-building measures, Azerbaijan has consistently rejected such measures.
Every year that the Nagorno Karabakh conflict continues without a solution, the risk of resumption of hostilities remains, and we have already witnessed several deadly cease-fire violations this year alone. Such cease-fire violations should not come as a surprise given that Azerbaijani President Aliyev has repeatedly declared that Azerbaijan could launch a new war in Karabakh, and for example, in 2004 at Columbia University in New York stated that it reserves the right to take back Karabakh "by any means." As recently as last month with respect to Nagorno Karabakh, Aliyev declared that “if not through the negotiations, then we will be obliged to solve it through the military way…Political, economical and military power also make Azerbaijan’s superiority.”
The United States as a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group has a vested interest in advancing peace and bringing stability to the region. In fact, promoting regional cooperation and economic integration in the South Caucasus is a strategically important goal for the United States. The government of Armenia has repeatedly indicated its desire to peacefully resolve the conflict, and along with Nagorno Karabakh has offered confidence-building measures to help reduce tensions and build trust. Azerbaijan, however, has chosen a different path – one of blockade, bellicose statements, and attempts to isolate Armenia as evidenced by Azerbaijan's counterproductive stance to the Protocols signed by the Republic of Turkey and the Republic of Armenia in 2009 to normalize relations between the two countries. Having torpedoed the Protocols, Azerbaijan undermined U.S. policy in the region once again.
Azerbaijan’s rapid expansion of its offensive military capacity, disproportionately to Armenia’s defense forces, coupled with the ongoing war rhetoric and previous pogroms against innocent Armenians in Baku and Sumgait, represent a troubling pattern of the objectives that are being pursued by the government of Azerbaijan. As reported in 2004 by RFE/RL, then Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman, Ramiz Melikov, threatened the very existence of Armenia, stating that “in the next 25-30 years there will be no Armenian state in the South Caucasus. This nation has been a nuisance for its neighbors…” While the OSCE mediators have, as recently as December 6, 2011, reiterated that “there can be no military solution,” Azerbaijan marches forward with its rhetoric and military procurement program.
This continued pattern of aggression raises serious questions about Azerbaijan’s commitment to reaching a peaceful and lasting solution to the Karabakh conflict. The OSCE Co-Chairs should directly and publicly condemn such statements emanating from Azerbaijan and call upon the government of Azerbaijan to desist from making further threats against Armenia and Karabakh. In addition, the U.S. government should carefully review its policies in the region and seek measures that increase regional cooperation while at the same time address Azerbaijan’s actions that thwart U.S. objectives. Failure to do so can have negative repercussions on an already fragile cease-fire.
As the process moves forward, we strongly support the inclusion of Nagorno Karabakh in the direct talks. In addition, it is vitally important that measures are implemented to ensure the safety and security of the people of Karabakh, who were left with no choice but to defend themselves against Azeri armed forces and the specter of another genocidal campaign; the first being the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.
In conclusion, Chairman Smith, Co-Chairman Cardin, we commend you for bringing the Caucasus region into focus today, and look forward to working with the Helsinki Commission on the challenges ahead and the important U.S. objectives before us.