Senator Markey demands Azerbaijan release Armenian hostages

“Azerbaijan says it wants peace, but what it really wants is to act with impunity and still be rewarded by the United States and the international community.” – Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA)

WASHINGTON—Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey called on the U.S. and the international community to use every available diplomatic tool – including the upcoming COP29 Climate Summit planned for Baku – to secure the release of Armenian hostages being illegally detained and tortured by Azerbaijan’s dictatorial Aliyev regime, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

“We join with Senator Markey in demanding decisive American leadership to secure the release of Armenian hostages illegally held by Azerbaijan,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “For all the Biden administration’s big talk about no business-as-usual with Aliyev, all we have seen from the president is business-as-usual — normalizing Azerbaijan’s genocide of Artsakh, abuse of prisoners and desecration of holy sites. It’s time for Joe Biden to stop appeasing Aliyev and to start holding this dictator accountable.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) spotlights Azerbaijan’s illegal arrest and detention of former Artsakh State Minister Ruben Vardanyan during powerful remarks on the Senate floor calling for Azerbaijan’s immediate release of all Armenian hostages.

In powerful remarks on the Senate floor, Senator Markey condemned Azerbaijan’s forced deportation of Artsakh’s ethnic Armenian population in September 2023, and the subsequent illegal arrest and detention of former Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh government leaders, including former State Minister Ruben Vardanyan, ex-presidents Arkady Ghoukasian, Bako Sahakyan and Arayik Harutunyan, former Foreign Minister David Babayan, Parliament Speaker Davit Ishkhanyan and former generals Levon Mnatsakanyan and David Manukyan.  The senator went on to detail the various forms of torture Vardanyan has been subject to, including “punitive extended stays in solitary confinement, poor prison conditions, denial of water and clean clothing, and orders that require him to stand for hours on end.”

“Azerbaijan has routinely resorted to hostage diplomacy, prolonging unlawful detention and using prisoners of war as bargaining chips to impose its demands on Armenia, in clear violation of international law. In fact, Azerbaijan is still holding dozens of Armenian prisoners of war and civilian political prisoners that it took captive during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war,” stated Sen. Markey.

Among the actions Congress has already taken to address these concerns, Sen. Markey referenced an April 2024 bi-partisan Senate letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, cosigned by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Gary Peters (D-MI) and himself, calling for Azerbaijan’s immediate release of the Armenian hostages and supporting the right of return of Artsakh’s indigenous Armenian population.  “Forcefully removing and detaining the political leadership of an ethnic group is a well-known tactic of those committing ethnic cleansing. Denying their freedom and ability to participate in the peace process means that peace is being negotiated without the voice or perspective of those with key knowledge of those affected by Azerbaijan’s atrocities,” the senators stated.

Senator Markey went on to argue that Azerbaijan’s illegal detention of Armenian hostages and anti-Armenian aggression should not be rewarded by the U.S. and international community with the privilege of hosting this year’s international climate summit, COP29.  “We must ensure that we take this opportunity to put the spotlight on all of those political prisoners who are being held wrongly by the Azerbaijan government,” argued Sen. Markey, calling for their release prior to the November COP29 summit in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Sen. Markey has been an outspoken voice of justice for the people of Artsakh for decades.  In February, he and Sen. Cassidy introduced a bipartisan resolution (S.Res.540) requesting a report on Azerbaijan’s human rights practices pursuant to Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act. The resolution requests information from the State Department on Azerbaijan’s human rights abuses both within the country, as well as during its sustained military assault against Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh that last year resulted in the ethnic cleansing of its entire indigenous Armenian population.

The ANCA livestreamed Sen. Markey’s remarks on its social media platforms.  The full text of his remarks is below.

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Sen. Ed Markey’s remarks calling for Azerbaijan’s immediate release of Armenian hostages

June 11, 2024 | U.S. Senate

Mr. President, I rise today to speak out against Azerbaijan’s unlawful detention of Armenian prisoners of war and the alarming record of rampant human rights violations.

On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military attack against Nagorno-Karabakh to gain full control over the territory, causing a mass exodus of more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians, virtually all of the region’s ethnic Armenians, as well as the regional government, to capitulate. Azerbaijan then falsely denied that it forced people to leave and insincerely promised that it will peacefully reintegrate the region and guarantee the rights of ethnic Armenians. Instead, even after their surrender, Azerbaijan punitively arrested and detained leaders of the former Karabakh government, including former State Minister Ruben Vardanyan, who is here as he’s being arrested by Azerbaijan’s military officials. Also, ex-presidents Arkady Ghoukasian, Bako Sahakyan and Arayik Harutunyan, former Foreign Minister David Babayan, Parliament Speaker Davit Ishkhanyan and former generals Levon Mnatsakanyan and David Manukyan. These eight former officials have been held in pretrial detention for more than eight months. And just last month, Azerbaijani authorities extended the detention with another five months without a trial, without due process. And Azerbaijan has routinely resorted to hostage diplomacy, prolonging unlawful detention and using prisoners of war as bargaining chips to impose its demands on Armenia, in clear violation of international law. In fact, Azerbaijan is still holding dozens of Armenian prisoners of war and civilian political prisoners that it took captive during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. And additionally, widespread reporting, including from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Human Rights and the United States Department of State, call attention to the terrible treatment of political prisoners by Azerbaijan.

Former State Minister Ruben Vardanyan alone has faced punitive extended stays in solitary confinement, poor prison conditions, denial of water and clean clothing, and orders that require him to stand for hours on end.  He was also cut off from his lawyer and family for several weeks. Others are subjected to physical abuse, humiliation and cruel and inhumane treatment. Despite its clear pattern of committing human rights violations, Azerbaijan has incurred few costs from the international community for its egregious abuses against ethnic Armenians and illegal detention of political prisoners. The Aliyev regime thinks it can continue acting in flagrant violation of international and United States law, which is why it’s incumbent upon Congress to speak out and say no to Azerbaijan. No to hostage diplomacy and Azerbaijan’s taking of political prisoners. No to subjecting political prisoners to cruel and inhumane punishment. No to denying the rights of ethnic Armenians in the region. And no to Azerbaijan delaying the release of the political prisoners even one more day.

Azerbaijan must cease all of its abuse of political prisoners. It must release all political prisoners and prisoners of war. That is why I sent a letter to Secretary Antony Blinken urging the State Department to prioritize the release of Armenian prisoners held by Azerbaijan and the right of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians to return to their homes in ongoing peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan says it wants peace, but what it really wants is to act with impunity and still be rewarded by the United States and the international community, including with the privilege of hosting the next United Nations International Climate Conference, COP29, later on this year. You cannot, on the one hand, be saying you want to host the world, and then simultaneously say, but ignore our human rights violations; ignore the fact that we just arrest the political leaders of another nation, and pretend that somehow or other we’re still worthy of hosting the climate summit for the planet. I urge both Congress and the White House to insist in all interactions with the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia that the release of political prisoners must be a prerequisite to any concessions awards or peace deals reached. We must say no to Azerbaijan’s violations of international law and human rights and ensure those responsible are held accountable.

This is the perfect time to be having this conversation. Azerbaijan is getting ready to host the climate summit of the world. We must ensure that we take this opportunity to put the spotlight on all of those political prisoners who are being held wrongly by the Azerbaijan government. It is strictly a violation of international human rights and I call upon our government and I call upon the world to put a spotlight on these political prisoners so that they are released before the climate summit is held at the end of this year.

So I thank you, Mr. President, and I yield back.

ANCA
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is the largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots organization. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters and supporters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world, the ANCA actively advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

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