WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) submitted written testimony to the Helsinki Commission’s hearing entitled: “Update on the OSCE: Religious Freedom, Anti-Semitism, and Rule of Law,” citing Azerbaijan’s escalating and deadly cease-fire violations and urging additional action.
“As the Commission is aware, the Assembly remains deeply concerned about the authoritarian regime in Azerbaijan, its jailing of journalists and abandonment of democratic values, particularly for America’s ally Armenia,” Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny’s testimony stated.
Chairman Smith opened the hearing by stating his concern for human rights crises in Europe and Eurasia. Smith described repression in Azerbaijan as “rife,” especially in regards to freedom of the press. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Azerbaijan is the leading nation in Eurasia for jailing journalists. The Human Rights Watch 2016 World Report states that “the [Azerbaijan] government’s unrelenting crackdown decimated independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media,” resulting in imprisonment, criminal investigations, harassment, or travel bans.
The Assembly, for its part, highlighted Azerbaijan’s continued ceasefire violations in 2014 and 2015, which have been marked by an unprecedented increase in civilian casualties, including the targeting of a kindergarten in Armenia’s Tavush region. There have been over 54,000 cease-fire violations committed by Azerbaijan on the line of contact from 2014 through 2015, with an estimated total of nearly 1 million shots fired.
“These violations constitute a clear disregard for the rule of law and pose a direct threat to fundamental freedoms,” Ardouny said.
During the hearing, Chairman Smith noted that members of the Commission recently traveled to Baku twice, where they met with President Aliyev in rather lengthy meetings on human rights issues on both occasions. As a result of these discussions, Chairman Smith introduced the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015. Chairman Smith said the reaction by the Aliyev government and parliament was “startling.” "They claimed the Armenians put me, Chris Smith, up to it. The Armenians had absolutely no input, advance notice, or anything else about the bill,“ according to Smith. "So when I hear this coming from the parliament, and coming from major media and presidential spokesmen, I wonder about their credibility on other things,” he said.
The Assembly also welcomed the Royce-Engel initiative to U.S. Ambassador James Warlick, U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, calling for: (1) an agreement from all sides not to deploy snipers along the line of contact; (2) the placement of OSCE-monitored, advanced gunfire-locator systems and sound-ranging equipment to determine the source of attacks along the line of contact; and (3) the deployment of additional OSCE observers along the line of contact to better monitor cease-fire violations.
“We strongly urge the Commission to support this important initiative by convening a special hearing to examine the scope and nature of these violations as well as review steps needed to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” stated Ardouny.
The Assembly’s testimony is available here.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501©(3) tax-exempt membership organization.