By Taniel Koushakjian (@Taniel_Shant)
On November 12th, an Azerbaijani military unit stationed near the official Line of Contact (LOC) shot down an unarmed Nagorno Karabakh (NK) army helicopter killing all three servicemen aboard. News of the incident was first reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation and soon went viral across the Internet.
“The [Armenian] Assembly strongly condemns Azerbaijan’s blatant cease-fire violation and calls upon the Administration and Congress to take strong action to ensure the safety and security of Artsakh’s citizens,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny moments after reports reached Washington.
CONGRESS CONDEMNS AZERBAIJANI ATTACK
The blatant attack on Nagorno Karabakh brought swift rebuke from all over the world including from Members of the U.S. Congress.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA), Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Armenian Caucus members Judy Chu (D-CA) and Brad Sherman (D-CA)
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) was quick to strongly condemn the attack. “The downing of an Armenian helicopter today is an indefensible aggressive action that threatens to undermine the fragile ceasefire and plunge the region back into violence,” he said. “Azerbaijan must immediately cease all such attacks and provocations and commit to concrete progress in the Minsk Group talks,” Chairman Royce said.
Since a cease-fire was signed in 1994, the Republic of Armenia has sought a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, co-chaired by the United States, Russia, and France. Both sides are technically, and legally, still at war with cross-border sniper fire occurring daily. However, 2014 has claimed more lives than the last twenty years. This past August, Azerbaijan sent several armed battalions across the LOC and attempted to penetrate different NK defense positions, the largest military offensive in the region in decades. Like the August assault, Azerbaijan’s downing of the NK helicopter was the first such incident since the 1991-1994 NK War. It appears that Azerbaijan’s aggressive tactics, which significantly impact negotiations, have reached a new level of urgency that requires a strong and unequivocal response.
Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) likewise condemned the incident. “I am outraged and saddened by the Azerbaijani attack on the Nagorno Karabakh helicopter engaged in a training flight,” he said. “This is another instance of aggression by the Azerbaijani government towards Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia and represents an escalation in their violent actions that continue to have a destabilizing impact on the region.”
Congressman Pallone, who has travelled to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh on several occasions and knows the region and its people very well, called on the White House to step forward. “There is no longer any question that President Obama must take action to discourage Azerbaijan from pursuing such violent aggression and to demonstrate our commitment to peace and stability,” he said. “I encourage President Obama to formally condemn this deadly attack.”
Furthermore, Rep. Pallone called for the “cessation of any military assistance to Azerbaijan and the strengthening of section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, which restricts aid to Azerbaijan based on its aggression toward Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia. It is time for both the President and Congress to ensure that U.S. law once again holds Azerbaijan accountable for its violent actions,” he stated. “The families of those who were killed and all of Nagorno Karabakh’s citizens remain in my thoughts and prayers,” Pallone stated.
Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), a rising voice in the Armenian Caucus, also expressed her dismay at Azerbaijani behavior. “I am deeply troubled by the latest evidence of Azerbaijan’s continued aggression with their attack on an apparently unarmed helicopter,” she said. “The people in Nagorno-Karabakh deserve and desire peace, but Azerbaijan’s disregard for the 1994 cease fire threatens both sides with conflict.
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), a steadfast defender of NK, rightfully recognized the need for Azerbaijan to be held “accountable for engaging in violence and not in peaceful negotiations,” via his Twitter account. Given the events of this year, and the recent death of three Karabakh pilots, if the international community, particularly the OSCE, United States, and United Kingdom, do not directly address Azerbaijani intransigence at the negotiating table and condemn this military act, then the likelihood of renewed war in the South Caucasus will near certainty.
STATE DEPARTMENT RESPONSE FALLS SHORT
The incident also caught the attention of the international press corps, as questions regarding the attack were raised during the State Department Daily Press Briefing on November 13. Unfortunately, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki’s response fell short of condemning the attack. “I don’t have any analysis of the exact events on the ground,” Psaki said to a reporter’s question. “We’ve seen the same reports. There are obviously comments and claims from both sides, but I don’t have any analysis beyond that.”
The reporter continued to seek clarification, stating, “Azerbaijan shooting an Armenian vessel, then it’s pretty clear which party is violating the ceasefire.”
Psaki responded, stating “We understand there are views by both sides, but I don’t have any comment from the U.S. Government on it.”
When a helicopter is shot down and three people are killed it is difficult to accept that knowledgeable people choose to interpret these facts as simply “views” shared by “both sides.” The spokeswoman’s frustration at her inability to speak openly about a blatant attack against an American ally clearly surfaced when presented with what is referred to in political parlance as a “smoking gun.”
Click on the image below to watch the video of the attack on RFE/RL.