WASHINGTON, DC –Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the powerful Ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operation, is urging her Congressional colleagues to call on the Biden Administration to end all US military aid to Azerbaijan, in light of President Aliyev’s ongoing six-month brutal blockade of Artsakh’s 120,000 indigenous Armenian Christian population, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“The Biden-Harris Administration’s military aid to Azerbaijan pours fuel on the fire – emboldening its Aliyev regime to further escalate its aggression and tighten its blockade of Artsakh,” said ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian. “Take a moment today to call, tweet and write your US Representatives to join with Congresswoman Lee and her colleagues to end all US security and military aid to Baku – then ask your friends and family to do the same.”
Pro-Artsakh advocates can write, tweet and call their US Representatives to co-sign Rep. Lee’s letter by visiting https://anca.org/Lee.
Rep. Lee’s congressional letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, an initiative strongly supported by the ANCA, comes as the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan are scheduled to hold another round of talks in Washington, DC as early as next week. The letter stresses that “Azerbaijan’s prolonged blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh and its continued occupation of Armenian sovereign territory not only threatens to jeopardize tenuous conflict resolution efforts, but gravely endangers the security and welfare of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenian population.”
“Dismay” at State Department’s Weak Response to Azerbaijan’s Anti-Armenian Threats
The Congressional letter goes on express “dismay” at the State Department’s reticence to forcefully reject President Aliyev’s recent threats against Artsakh’s authorities. “Either they [Artsakh] will bend their necks and come themselves or things will develop differently now. If I say that amnesty can be an option, they should not miss this opportunity. They have missed many opportunities, a number of opportunities, and each time, as they say, we had to knock them over to bring them to their senses,” stated President Aliyev in remarks on May 28. Instead of condemning the statement, a State Department spokesman “welcomed” President Aliyev’s remarks.
Calls on Biden Administration to Enforce Section 907 Sanctions on Azerbaijan
Rep. Lee’s congressional letter states, “In the context of this ongoing blockade and President Aliyev’s continuing threats, extending the Presidential waiver of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act would send a dangerous message to Azerbaijan’s government – that there will be no repercussions for its attempts to impose its will on the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh by intimidation, starvation and deadly force.”
The Biden Administration is currently deciding whether to reauthorize of the Presidential waiver of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act. Enacted in 1992, the law establishes statutory restrictions on US assistance to the Government of Azerbaijan “until the President determines, and so reports to the Congress, that the Government of Azerbaijan is taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.” Congress included a Section 907 waiver in the FY2002 Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act.
The Section 907 waiver and subsequent extensions require a number of certifications, including that granting the waiver “will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia.” A US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, issued in 2022, revealed that the State Department consistently failed to inform Congress of the impact of over $164 million in assistance to Baku on the military balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
US presidents – Republican and Democrat – have waived Section 907 annually since 2001, including President Biden, who, as a candidate, called on the Trump Administration to enforce Azerbaijan sanctions and apply the measure.
Rep. Barbara Lee: A Champion of US Assistance to Artsakh
Rep. Lee’s congressional letter is a continuation of her leadership of sending expanded aid to Artsakh in the face of increasing Azerbaijani aggression.
With strong support from the ANCA, Congresswoman Lee was successful late last year in including language in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L.117-103) directing that the US Department of State and US Agency for International Development provide Congress with an “assistance strategy for addressing humanitarian and recovery needs arising from the [Artsakh] conflict” that identifies the US “resources and programs,” available for this purpose. This Artsakh aid provision, now signed into law, was made possible only because of the determined leadership of Congresswoman Lee – who during the 117th Congress – served as the Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, which is responsible for foreign aid. The Artsakh provision included a sixty-day timeline for the Biden Administration to report back to Congress – a deadline that must be met by the end of February of 2023. In response to public questioning by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ), USAID Administrator Power confirmed that they have conducted the Artsakh needs assessments. The State Department has failed to make the review publicly available. No US humanitarian assistance programs have been implemented in Artsakh since President Biden’s election.
Earlier this year, Congresswoman Lee spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference held in the Press Triangle at the foot of the US Capitol Building and called on the Biden Administration to stop US military aid to Azerbaijan and send emergency aid to Artsakh in response to the devastating humanitarian crisis in Artsakh caused by Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin (Berdzor) Corridor. “I have long been a strong advocate for humanitarian support and recovery needs arising from the Artsakh conflict,” explained Rep. Lee. “As we all know, Artsakh is enduring a major and growing humanitarian crisis caused by Azerbaijan’s illegal blockade of the Lachin Corridor, Artsakh’s only humanitarian lifeline to Armenia. So yes, like all of you, I strongly condemn Azerbaijan’s blockade of the vital corridor connecting Armenia and Artsakh and call for the immediate opening.” Rep. Lee applauded the leadership of the Armenian American community for working with her committee to include language in the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus funding bill calling for a comprehensive strategy to address Artsakh’s humanitarian needs. “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the Administration to get this done,” stated Rep. Lee.