WASHINGTON, DC–Ambassadorial nominees to Azerbaijan and Cyprus have been under intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill. Facing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S Ambassador-designate to Azerbaijan Earle Litzenberger has pledged to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict while nominee to Cyprus Judith Gail Garber ultimately admitted Turkey’s invasion of northern Cyprus.
When Ranking Democrat Bob Menendez (D-NJ) pressed Mr. Litzenberger about President Ilham Aliyev’s violent strategies, he referred to Aliyev’s tendencies as “bellicose rhetoric and sporadic outbursts of violence.” The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) reports that Litzenberger said he would urge the Azerbaijani government to step back from behaviors that would disrupt the line of contact. He also said the U.S. is working along three lines – the non-use of force, respect for territorial integrity, and the right to self-determination.
Litzenberger also referred to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, which condemns “any violence and any threat of the use of violence along the line of contact” without specifically citing Azerbaijan’s attacks.
Also at issue has been U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan. Senator Menendez asked whether that type of aid should be curtailed based on human rights violations; Litzenberger responded that the State Department will be careful to ensure its decisions do not undermine efforts to reach a peaceful settlement. He also mentioned an increased focus on training in human rights, a point of heightened concern since the Ramil Safarov axe murder scandal.
When Garber (the ambassadorial nominee to Cyprus) faced the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she too was questioned by Senator Menendez, who began, “unless we reconcile ourselves with the past, it is difficult to move forward.” Menendez simply wanted Garber to admit whether or not Turkish troops are occupying northern Cyprus right now. After three clear and pointed questions, Garber finally acknowledged Turkish occupation. “I appreciate the nuances,” said Menendez, “but there are just certain things that are just real. Turkish troops that were not existent prior to this time [on the island] invaded Northern Cyprus and have continued to be there.”
Senator Menendez proceeded to ask Garber about access to Turkish zones where missing Greek and Cypriot persons may be buried. Garber said that is an important issue and she will ensure the Committee on Missing Persons is able to gain access to all burial sites and efficiently do its work.
“Along with our Hellenic allies, we were grateful for the Senator’s aggressive line of questioning on Cyprus, which revealed just how very afraid U.S. leaders remain of crossing Ankara’s red lines against any honest discourse on its occupation of Cyprus and obstruction of justice for the Armenian Genocide,” noted Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA.
When Mr. Litzenberger’s nomination was announced in early September, the ANCA encouraged Armenian Americans, friends of Armenia, human rights activists, and advocates for peace to call on their U.S. Senators to carefully scrutinize President Trump’s nominee. Thousands took action through the ANCA’s “March to Justice” action portal. In the coming weeks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have the opportunity to vote on the various ambassadorial candidates, after which the full Senate will review the matter.