WASHINGTON—House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-Calif.) this week urged the State Department to rally a joint protest of NATO allies against Azerbaijan and to block that country’s participation in NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) initiatives in response to the Aliyev government’s recent pardon and promotion of convicted axe-murderer Ramil Safarov, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
In a strongly worded letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Berman acknowledged the strong Obama Administration condemnation of Azerbaijan’s release of Safarov, but added that “the abhorrent nature of this pardon, as well as the gruesome nature of the original crime and the context in which it occurred, demands something more. It demands a strong and meaningful response.”
Berman went on to outline concrete actions that the State Department can undertake including arranging for a joint protest to Aliyev by all members of NATO; calling on NATO to suspend Azerbaijan from all participation in PfP events unless and until Aliyev rescinds the pardon and promotion and re-incarcerates the killer, or returns him to Hungary, to serve the remainder of his life sentence; immediately halting all military assistance and arms transfers to Azerbaijan.
“Rep. Berman is on the mark with his calls for cutting all U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan and demanding concrete steps to confront the Aliyev regime’s grave threats to peace,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “The pardon, promotion, and praise of a convicted axe-murderer, and the ongoing ceasefire violations–that took the life of an Armenian soldier just this week–proves, once again, Azerbaijan’s utter disregard for the peace process. Selling arms to Aliyev’s army would only threaten an already fragile ceasefire.”
Immediately after Safarov’s release on Aug. 31, Berman had condemned Aliyev’s action, stating, “The Azerbaijani government’s decision to free Safarov is contemptible and a serious blow to hopes for Armenian-Azerbaijani peace.”
Berman has been outspoken about cutting all military assistance to Azerbaijan, given that regime’s belligerence toward Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh. In a May 29 letter to Clinton, Berman raised alarm bells about the announcement of a sale of military hardware, which could be used in conjunction with Azerbaijan’s military helicopter fleet for “border surveillance and ‘police-type’ activities.” In addition to possible attacks against Armenia, Berman expressed concern about the “message that such a sale would send to the regional parties, both in terms of perceived U.S. even-handedness and in terms of our seriousness about persuading Baku to cease its bellicose rhetoric and agree to Minsk Group co-chair demands that it remove its snipers from the ‘line of contact’ in the Nagorno-Karabagh region.” Following Congressional pressure, the sale did not go through.
A complete list of statements by U.S. leaders condemning the Safarov release is available at www.anca.org/safarov.
The complete text of Berman’s letter to Clinton is provided below.
Dear Madam Secretary,
The recent pardoning by President Aliyev of the Azerbaijani axe-murderer Ramil Safarov—and his promotion to the rank of major in the Azerbaijani military—was indeed appalling. Aliyev’s action makes a mockery of justice and shows contempt for NATO and its members, as well as for NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) program and all states that participate in it. The State Department appropriately issued a strong condemnation of Azerbaijan’s pardon. In my view, however, the abhorrent nature of this pardon, as well as the gruesome nature of the original crime and the context in which it occurred, demands something more. It demands a strong and meaningful response.
Accordingly, in light of the fact that this unprovoked and horrific murder occurred at a PfP event, I urge you to arrange for a joint protest to President Aliyev by all members of NATO. Second, I urge that NATO suspend Azerbaijan from all participation in PfP events unless and until Aliyev rescinds the pardon and promotion and re-incarcerates the killer, or returns him to Hungary, to serve the remainder of his life sentence. Further, I strongly encourage you immediately to halt all military assistance and arms transfers to Azerbaijan. President Aliyev’s action, in its callous disregard for Armenian life, obliterates any near-term hopes for building trust between Armenia and Azerbaijan. It thus undermines attempts to foster peace in the volatile Caucasus region. It likewise serves to remind us that a peaceful resolution regarding Nagorno-Karabagh must provide adequate security safeguards against Azerbaijani aggression.
I look forward to your response.
U.S. Congressman Howard L. Berman