Washington, D.C. - The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) welcomed the efforts of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) hearing this week titled, "Targeted Sanctions: Implications for International Religious Freedom," of which the Assembly submitted a statement for the record. The hearing focused on how the U.S. government can advance international religious freedom through targeted sanctions, via the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which states that the U.S. government can issue visa bans and asset freezes against foreign persons in "serious human rights abuses," including over violations of religious freedom. In its statement, submitted by Congressional Relations Director Mariam Khaloyan, the Assembly emphasized the human rights abuses committed by Azerbaijan, particularly against the Christian Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh during last Fall's 44-day war. The Assembly also stressed its support of efforts by Congress and the Administration to "combat the serious dangers of corruption and corrupt practices as well as identify autocrats such as Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, who poses a direct threat against the Armenian people and democracy in Armenia and Artsakh." The Assembly's statement also elaborated on the continued corrupt activities of Azerbaijan, particularly in relation to the Pandora Papers, released to the public last month by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which revealed the extent of the Aliyev regime's corruption and exposed the depth of involvement by his family and close associates. In particular, the documents reveal that Aliyev and his family have been systematically robbing their own country's wealth since Aliyev's first term in office in 2003, and that they have over the years acquired approximately $700 million worth of real estate in the United Kingdom alone, in addition to registering scores of offshore companies and running a $2.9 billion money laundering scheme, known as the Azerbaijani Laundromat. It was also specified that the Crown Estate, which owns and manages property on behalf of the Queen of England, bought a £66.5 million ($91 million) property from the Aliyev family in 2018, in which they made a £31 million ($42 million) profit. Khaloyan continued: "The revelations in the Pandora Papers, demonstrate the urgent need for the United States to take action." In addition to the tools already available, as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern offered an amendment, which the Assembly strongly backed that 'modifies the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Subtitle F of title XXI of PL 114-328) to authorize sanctions for serious human rights abuse, any violation of internationally recognized human rights, or corruption.' The amendment, which was adopted by the House, "authorizes the President to impose sanctions on individuals accused of committing human rights abuses or engaging in corruption, both of which are boxes that Azerbaijan’s Aliyev checks off." "Corruption by the Erdogan regime is another prime example for the United States to expand the legal tools at its disposal," Khaloyan added. Khaloyan also highlighted Azerbaijan's "unprecedented war" against the Armenian people in the Fall of 2020 despite obligations to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict peacefully through the mediation efforts of the U.S., French, and Russian Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group. Instead, Azerbaijan, with the full and open support of Turkey, and the "use of over 2,500 jihadist mercenaries transported to and deployed in Azerbaijan...attacked and targeted the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia." The war resulted in the deaths of nearly 4,000 Armenian soldiers and over 100 civilians, with dozens "falling victim to Azerbaijani extrajudicial executions, including beheadings (according to Human Rights Watch, and as documented by Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights and its "Project on Atrocities in Artsakh") and bodily mutilations. Azerbaijan continues to unlawfully hold Armenian POWs with reports of prisoner abuse by Azerbaijan's military. The Assembly expressed that it remains "deeply concerned that Azerbaijan received over $100 million in U.S. security assistance during the previous Administration, some of which was ultimately used against the Armenian people in the war that Azerbaijan launched against Armenia and Artsakh in complete disregard to the provisions of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act." Khaloyan concluded by reiterating her hope that the hearing "introduces new mechanisms to hold human rights violators and corrupt leaders accountable, to safeguard and protect vulnerable populations, and to assert America's leadership for the betterment of humanity."
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 non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.