Senators Demand Azerbaijani Accountability for War Crimes During US Ambassador to Armenia Confirmation Hearing

“Without accountability, there is no justice,” says Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez

December 1, 2022

WASHINGTON, DC – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) stressed the importance of the U.S. holding Azerbaijan accountable for its war crimes and clearly condemning Azerbaijani aggression against Armenians, during the Senate confirmation hearing for Biden Administration nominees for U.S. Ambassador to Armenia and Russia, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

In questions to U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy, who has been nominated for the U.S. 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 Amb. Tracy’s reference to outreach to the Armenia 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.

Video of Chairman Menendez’s exchange with Ambassador Tracy is available here:

Later, when U.S. 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 U.S. 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.”

Video of Chairman Menendez’s exchange with Ambassador-designate Kvien is available here:

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 the 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 Sen. 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 publicly state them.”

Video of Sen. Van Hollen’s remarks is available here:

On U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

Video of the exchange with U.S. Ambassador-designate Kvien is available here:

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 U.S. ambassador to Armenia. Topics included strengthening bilateral U.S.-Armenia relations, checking Azerbaijani aggression, securing the release of Armenian POWs, facilitating U.S. assistance to Artsakh, and putting into real-world practice the Administration’s policy recognizing the Armenian Genocide. Suggested questions can be reviewed at:

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian
Email / Tel: (202) 775-1918
Armenian National Committee of America
1711 N Street NW Washington, DC 20036 | | @anca_dc

Chairman Menendez Grills State Department Officials on U.S. Aid to Azerbaijan; Lack of US assistance to Artsakh

“It seems to me, the U.S. is in bed with Azerbaijan,” stated Chairman Menendez

November 16, 2022

WASHINGTON, DC – Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) led a stinging indictment of the U.S. policy on Azerbaijan, charging that the State Department witnesses testifying at the November 16th hearing were “wholly unresponsive” to concerns about the ongoing waiver of Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan and the lack of meaningful U.S. assistance to Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) and Armenia following Azerbaijani attacks, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

“We want to thank Chairman Menendez for holding this hearing and shining a much-needed spotlight on our State Department’s deeply flawed policies in the Caucasus region,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “The inability of either witness to answer straightforward questions speaks to the incoherence of our present State Department policy – how very far the Administration’s reckless and irresponsible approach toward the region has drifted from actual U.S. interests and core American values.”

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried and State Department Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations Philip Reeker were witnesses at the November 16th Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing titled “Assessing U.S. Policy in the Caucasus.”

Chairman Menendez summed up their responses this way: “This has been one of the most disappointing hearings I’ve ever held, but it has crystalized some things for me. One is, it seems to me the United States is in bed with Azerbaijan.”

Citing Assistant Secretary Donfried’s testimony that the U.S. urges Azerbaijan to respect human rights, Chairman Menendez pushed back, “yet we give it money, and they continue to do what they want. Money is fungible, and so whether it is direct assistance that can hurt Armenia or not, money is fungible.”
Calling the Administration’s annual waiver of Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan “automatic,” Chairman Menendez asked, “how on Earth can the United State justify sending any kind of support, security or otherwise, to a regime in Baku. It’s inexcusable. I personally think it’s morally repugnant, and it makes a mockery of the FREEDOM Support Act.”
Chairman Menendez called out the false parity in U.S. statements, citing US apparent refusal to clearly and unequivocally condemn Azerbaijani aggression against Armenia and Artsakh. “You have to recognize when there is an aggressor. If I am the recipient of the violence, and you are urging both sides to stop the violence, if there is one side that is the aggressor, you should direct your comments to the aggressor. We seem incapable of doing that.”
Chairman Menendez was visibly angered by the lack of State Department investigation into Azerbaijan’s use of illegal munitions against Artsakh during the 2020 war. “We have done NOTHING to verify the videos and evidence of cluster munition, of white phosphorus – which are illegal,” stated Chairman Menendez. He also called attention State Department’s inaction in the face of Azerbaijani torture, and murder of Armenian POWs, including the mutilation of a female Armenian soldier in September. “We have done NOTHING to verify the videos of the execution of Armenian soldiers, the abuse of female Armenian soldiers – we have done nothing. I ask you, are you aware of the videos, [you respond] ‘yes’, but did we do anything to verify them, ‘no’,” stated Menendez.
Both Assistant Secretary Donfried and Senior Advisor Reeker evaded the Chairman’s questions on U.S. assistance to help the people of Artsakh and Armenia following the 2020 war and Azerbaijan’s ongoing attacks, with Reeker citing a paltry $2 million in U.S. demining assistance. “You come to a hearing in which you can’t even tell me, with any degree of specificity, what humanitarian assistance we are providing. So, it’s totally, totally unacceptable, and you can tell the Secretary I will be looking for ways to express my dissatisfaction,” stated Chairman Menendez.

Senior Foreign Relations Committee member Ed Markey (D-MA) noted that this September, he and several colleagues had sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austen asking them to prevent any security assistance from going to Azerbaijan until Armenia and Azerbaijan reach a permanent lasting resolution to ensure peace and stability in Nagorno Karabakh. He noted that they had not yet received any answers to several questions they had posed in the letter and proceeded to ask them the witnesses directly about US aid to Azerbaijan and the lack of U.S. assistance to Artsakh.
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked if the State Department had issued an assessment on Azerbaijan’s unilateral attack on Armenia in September. Assistant Secretary Donfried replied that, “all of these things are complicated, and our focus has been, how do we move these two countries to a peace agreement after thirty years of conflict.” Sen. Van Hollen pressed again, asking whether the State Department felt that Azerbaijan’s attack was in response to Armenian aggression. Assistant Secretary Donfried, again evading the question regarding Azerbaijan’s unilateral attack, stated, “at that time, when we spoke to both parties [Armenia and Azerbaijan] our focus was on stopping the violence. I do think we played an important role in that violence being stopped.” Sen. Van Hollen responded, “with all due respect, that did not answer my question” and stated he would follow up later.
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) focused on the impact of the Ukraine conflict and on Russia’s role as peacekeepers in Nagorno Karabakh and, politically more broadly in the region. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) asked whether the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk group mediation efforts on Nagorno Karabakh still had relevance. Others asking broader questions regarding Ukraine, Georgia, and the situation in the Caucasus region included Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Chris Murphy (D-CT).
The ANCA live-streamed the hearing in full, video of which is available here:

Earlier this week, the ANCA submitted testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which Senator Menendez announced would be included as part of the record of the hearing. ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan stated that “the oil-rich Aliyev regime must be held accountable, through the immediate cessation of U.S. military aid and the investigation of its invasions, atrocities, and war crimes. These actions must be matched with a robust aid package to meet pressing humanitarian and developmental needs in Artsakh. In terms of U.S.-Armenia bilateral ties, we seek a paradigm shift in relations that prioritizes the security and viability of Armenia and Artsakh in the face of existential regional threats.”

Yerimyan’s testimony addressed a range of ANCA policy priorities including:

— Full enforcement of Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan.
— No less than $50 million in direct U.S. humanitarian aid to Artsakh.
— Official inquiries into arms export violations related to Turkish drones.
— Strict scrutiny of ambassadorial nominations to Armenia and Azerbaijan.
— U.S. pressure on Turkey to stop obstructing justice for the Armenian Genocide.
— Investigation into Azerbaijani war crimes, including its use of prohibited munitions, recruitment of foreign mercenaries, cultural and religious desecration, and the illegal detention, abuse, and murder of Armenian prisoners of war.

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian
Email / Tel: (202) 775-1918
Armenian National Committee of America
1711 N Street NW Washington, DC 20036 | | @anca_dc