WASHINGTON, DC –Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) stressed the importance of the US holding Azerbaijan accountable for its war crimes and clearly condemning Azerbaijani aggression against Armenians, during the Senate confirmation hearing for Biden administration nominees for US Ambassador to Armenia and Russia, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
In questions to US Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy, who has been nominated for the US ambassadorial post in Russia, Chairman Menendez expressed dismay that State Department officials recently evaded inquiries about videos depicting Azerbaijan’s murder and mutilation of Armenian captives, during what the chairman described as “one of the most disappointing hearings I have ever conducted.” In response to Ambassador Tracy’s reference to outreach to Armenia’s human rights ombudsperson regarding the investigation of the videos, Chairman Menendez demanded more. “We need our ambassadors, particularly in places of conflict, to be able to pursue what the truth is, so that we, as policymakers, can decide what to do about that truth,” stated Sen. Menendez.
Later, when US Ambassador to Armenia-designate Kristina Kvien pledged to do her “best to help the Armenians with any requests they have to document” atrocities depicted in these videos, Chairman Menendez was adamant. “I don’t want requests from Armenians. I want us to be proactive so that we can make a determination,” stated Chairman Menendez, explaining that senators need the facts about the Azerbaijani war crimes and aggression when deciding the enforcement of Section 907 restrictions on US aid to Azerbaijan. “I want an ambassador who is going to pro-actively help us determine whether executions, whether these mutilations, whether these other activities are true or not […] so that we as policymakers can make a decision. Can I depend upon you to do that?” asked Chairman Menendez.
“Yes, Senator, and I will go further to say that accountability for crimes of this nature are very important to me, and I will work to make sure there is accountability as well,” stated Ambassador-designate Kvien. Offering the last word, Chairman Menendez remarked, “Without accountability, there is no justice.”
Building on Chairman Menendez’ exchange, Senator Van Hollen stressed the importance of accountability, sharing his dismay at Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried and State Department Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations Philip Reeker’s refusal to clearly identify Azerbaijan as the aggressor during the recent attacks, when they testified at the November 16th hearing. “It was very well documented in September by independent press sources that Azerbaijan launched attacks and engaged in different types of atrocities,” stated Senator Van Hollen. “I understand the importance of being a mediator, but in order to be a credible mediator, in my view, you have to at least begin with the facts – and be willing to state them publicly.”
On US aid to Artsakh, Chairman Menendez noted that he is “deeply concerned that neither the State Department nor USAID have provided the humanitarian assistance necessary to assist the 100,000 displaced by the Nagorno Karabakh war of 2020 or the current needs of those who still reside in the region.” The chairman went on to secure a public commitment from US Ambassador-designate to Armenia Kvien to support a US humanitarian needs assessment for the victims of Azerbaijan’s aggression in Artsakh and Armenia.
Regarding the proper acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide, Chairman Menendez stated, “I am glad to see a nominee who actually calls the Armenian Genocide a ‘genocide,’” noting that he had, in the past, stopped nominees who denied the Armenian Genocide in their responses to Senate inquiries.
Senators have a week to submit additional questions to the Ambassador-designates, after which time the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and later the full Senate, will have the opportunity to confirm the nominees.
Earlier this week, the ANCA shared a number of suggested policy priorities to be addressed during the Senate confirmation process for the next US ambassador to Armenia. Topics included strengthening bilateral US-Armenia relations, checking Azerbaijani aggression, securing the release of Armenian POWs, facilitating US assistance to Artsakh and putting into real-world practice the administration’s policy recognizing the Armenian Genocide.