Note: Dr. Lisa Gulesserian delivered this speech on behalf of Zoravik at the activists’ protest/vigil at the JFK Federal Building in Boston, Massachusetts on November 18, 2023.
We are here today because the international community, including our own United States Congress and State Department, failed to protect the lives and livelihoods of an indigenous people. The state of Massachusetts has failed not only the Massachusett people from whom land and resources were stolen in order for us to stand in front of this Federal Building today; Massachusetts and the United States have now failed the Armenians of Artsakh (also called “Nagorno-Karabakh”).
While the world watched and did nothing in the South Caucasus, a historically Armenian majority territory with a 4,000-year-old history was blockaded, gutted and depopulated of its indigenous Armenian population by a genocidal, authoritarian regime—Azerbaijan.
No one did anything when Azerbaijan attacked Armenians in Artsakh and bombed them for 44 days straight in 2020.
No one did anything while Azerbaijan captured, held and tortured Armenian prisoners of war, many of whom have been held captive for over three years since the end of the war in 2020.
No one did anything when authoritarian Azerbaijan challenged Armenia’s sovereignty and deployed troops into the fledgling democratic country.
No one did anything when Azerbaijan imposed an illegal blockade on Nagorno-Karabakh by closing the Lachin Corridor, the region’s lifeline to Armenia.
No one did anything when, for nine months of blockade, Azerbaijan starved and terrorized Armenians in Artsakh.
And no one did anything when on September 19 Azerbaijan launched another attack on the tired and malnourished civilian population of Artsakh. Emergency United Nations Security Council meetings did nothing.
Two separate Congressional hearings with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission did nothing. Our Congress and State Department did nothing to stop Azerbaijan from seizing Artsakh and ethnically cleansing the region of over 100,000 of its Armenian inhabitants. 100,000 Armenians are now refugees who were forced to leave their ancestral home because they would never be safe under Azerbaijani rule, under the rule of a genocidal regime hellbent on destroying them.
We are horrified by what the world and our government have allowed to happen to the Armenians of Artsakh, despite years of warnings from almost all genocide prevention experts and NGOs who foresaw the disaster taking place amid the willful blindness of the international community.
World leaders and powerful stakeholders are complicit in Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Artsakh by providing diplomatic cover for and not intervening against Azerbaijan’s violent takeover of a region that had never been under Azerbaijani rule before Stalin placed it there in order to undermine Armenian security, a region that has seen millennia of Armenian culture and history, a region where the Armenian alphabet has been continuously taught since the fifth century.
Thumbing their noses at human decency, key world leaders traded import of oil and gas from Azerbaijan for complicity in the destruction of the Armenians of Artsakh. They show every sign of doing the same as Azerbaijan now looks to do the same to the Armenian Republic, starting with its southern area.
It is not just that the U.S. Congress and State Department have done nothing to protect Armenians. The United States actively built the military of Azerbaijan over decades with hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid. The U.S. thus had a direct role in helping Azerbaijan reach its genocidal goals.
Three decades ago, the U.S. Congress passed Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, which prohibits military assistance to Azerbaijan because of Azerbaijani aggression toward Armenia and Artsakh. Yet, successive U.S. administrations have used their waiver power to continue the immense military support of Azerbaijan.
This includes the Trump administration, which did so even as Azerbaijan launched a massive military invasion of Artsakh and Armenia in 2020, and the Biden administration, as Azerbaijan continued military operations against Armenia and Azerbaijan, imposed a military blockade to starve the Armenians of Artsakh out and, when that failed, launched another massive military operation to complete the ethnic cleansing of Armenians.
The U.S. administration and Congress should not stand idly by while Azerbaijan completes its genocidal goals. The United States can and should permanently cease all security assistance and weapons sales to Azerbaijan in light of its human rights violations and repeated hostilities. This is the least we can do, and we demand that our executive and congressional representatives do something: Enforce Section 907 and stop sending money and selling arms to a genocidal regime!
Along with ceasing all monetary and military aid to Azerbaijan, we also call on Congress and the administration to immediately sanction Azerbaijan for its crimes. We have used sanctions against Russia and Russian oligarchs for their aggression against Ukraine. It’s time to use the same strategy against another authoritarian, power-hungry leader and his family and cronies. We demand that our congressional representatives and administration do something: Sanction Ilham Aliyev and his family NOW!
With sanctions against the Aliyev clan and no more aid for Azerbaijan, Armenians might have a future. But the Armenians of Artsakh who fled Azerbaijani persecution need help NOW. The elderly sleeping in the streets and the malnourished children need immediate humanitarian assistance, and the paltry 11.5 million that USAID just promised to send to help ease the plight of Armenians is not enough. We demand that our congressional representatives do more: Send more humanitarian assistance to Armenia NOW! If we could give hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Azerbaijan to help cause this catastrophe, the least we can do is send adequate aid to save the lives of those directly victimized by it.
The U.S. Congress and State Department have the chance to right their wrongs. We demand that our congressional representatives and the administration do something to help the beleaguered Armenians of Artsakh and the besieged country of Armenia.
You can do something too: call your representatives and demand they support bipartisan HR 5686, which calls for sanctions against Azerbaijan and $30 million in humanitarian aid to Armenians.
Call your representatives to support HR 5683, which authorizes military financing for Armenia and repeals section 907, ending military aid to Azerbaijan.
To learn more ways to support Artsakh Armenians, visit ArtsakhSOS.com.