Reed Discusses Humanitarian Crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh
REED: Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the humanitarian crisis happening right now in the Nagorno-Karabakh region in South Caucasus. It is a tragedy unfolding before our eyes, with reports from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees stating that over 65,000 ethnic Armenians fled to Armenia from Nagorno-Karabakh since September 23. I expect the number of refugees will continue to rise rapidly in the coming days. They need immediate humanitarian aid: food, water, shelter, and clothing. Sadly, this is not the first time in history that the Armenian people have faced this kind of violence, aggression, and worse.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region has a long and complicated history. Armenia and Azerbaijan were both a part of the Soviet Union. As the USSR collapsed, conflict broke out and Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a bloody war in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It left tens of thousands of people dead, millions of civilians displaced, and the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh in flux but under the rule of a de facto Government of the Republic of Artsakh. Violence largely stopped in 1994. However, deep tensions remain.
I may be one of the few Members of this body or either Chamber of Congress who visited the region following the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. During my visit in 1997, I met with local leaders and civilians impacted by the conflict and saw firsthand the impact of the fighting.
Today, we are witnessing a new tragic chapter for the people of this region as the Government of Azerbaijan is moving to not only control the territory but to drive out the ethnic Armenian population from the region in the process. I have serious concerns that this may not be the end; that the aggressors may once again subject this region to a campaign of ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide on the ethnic Armenians who remain in Nagorno-Karabakh or decide they have future territorial aspirations in the region.
After years of uneasy peace, the Government of Azerbaijan began a 44- day war in 2020, seizing much of the territory around Nagorno-Karabakh. This left Nagorno-Karabakh further isolated. Russian peacekeepers, under the terms of an agreement they helped broker, were supposed to secure the Lachin corridor, which is the only humanitarian supply line between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Azeris asserted control over the corridor in December 2022, set up a military checkpoint, stopped the flow of commercial goods, food, and medicine, and ultimately prevented the flow of humanitarian aid to the region, setting the stage for the final set of hostilities that we saw on September 19 and the complete defeat and surrender of local security forces of Nagorno-Karabakh.
I say this because it is important to recognize the actions of the Azerbaijan Government were deliberate and calculated and I believe meant to achieve the outcome we are seeing today: tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh for their lives.
I know the Azeris have very different feelings of the conflict and the outcome, but the United States cannot sit by and tolerate atrocities by either side in armed conflict. That cannot be the way to move forward because it does nothing to resolve differences and will never allow people and families to have any sort of reconciliation and closure after decades of conflict.
In light of Azerbaijan's renewed aggression, the U.S. Government must respond. I was relieved to see the State Department and USAID announce $11.5 million for the humanitarian response that is needed in Armenia. I fear, however, this is only a small portion of the actual need so I urge additional funds be readied to support the refugees quickly.
We need to do more. It is very clear the Azeris have not met the conditions for waiver of section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act. Therefore, I have called for the immediate cessation of all U.S. security assistance to Azerbaijan.
My colleague Senator Whitehouse and I have pressed the State Department and the Treasury Department to use its existing authority to issue Global Magnitsky Sanctions on those responsible for the human rights abuses against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Given the change in the situation on the ground, I believe that the administration needs to exert more pressure and, indeed, take a more active role in ensuring that the government of Azerbaijan understands that there are consequences for its actions and that the United States is watching.
The region is at an inflection point. After decades of conflict, I understand the skepticism of both sides grounded in centuries of mistrust, but the process for a durable peace has to begin somewhere. The governments in Baku and Yerevan must take this window seriously and avoid divisive and hateful rhetoric that only fans the flames of mistrust and conflict. Without it, I worry only future bloodshed will follow.
I will continue my longstanding support for the Armenian people from Nagorno-Karabakh, and I call on my Senate colleagues to urge the administration to do the same.
We cannot sit idly by while a nation defines the world, claims territory that is in dispute, and has a systematic policy which appears to be emerging of ethnic cleansing.
We must stand up against this, and I urge all my colleagues to urge the administration to take a strong and vigorous stand against what is, I think, deplorable, despicable conduct by the government of Azerbaijan.