Members of Congress Call for Reversing Artsakh Genocide, Safe Return of Armenians to Artsakh

WASHINGTON – Armenian American community leaders and coalition partners capped two full days on Capitol Hill – featuring more than 100 constituent-led meetings with lawmakers – with a Congressional rally for the safe return of Armenians to their indigenous Artsakh homeland, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

The event, “Reversing Genocide: Securing the Rights and Safe Return of Artsakh’s Indigenous Armenians,” included Congressional remarks; a powerful keynote address by Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey,  Executive Director of the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention; a compelling legal analysis by Karnig Kerkonian Esq., an international law expert and founding member of the recently launched Committee on the Protection of the Fundamental Rights of the Artsakh People; and, an inspiring closing speech by ANC Artsakh’s Gev Iskajyan, the newest member of the ANCA national team. The invocation was given by the Very Rev. Fr. Sahag Yemishian, Vicar General of the Armenian Church of America.

Legislators who offered remarks were Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and Representatives Gabe Amo (D-RI), Judy Chu (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Seth Magaziner (D-RI), and Brad Schneider (D-IL). Coalition partners participating in the evening program and this week’s Capitol Hill advocacy efforts included the Hellenic American Leadership Council, In Defense of Christians, and the Middle East Forum.

“The road to return starts here, it starts now – with the affirmation of Artsakh’s rights in capitals around the world and the ultimate realization of these rights upon Artsakh’s sacred soil,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian, who served as master of ceremonies.

Rep. Pallone: “The People of Artsakh Have to be Able to go Back to Artsakh”
Rep. Frank Pallone started off the evening’s Congressional remarks stressing the Artsakh people’s right of return, explaining, “How that manifests itself, how we get to that point, we can certainly talk and try to find a pathway, but it has to be done.”  Rep. Pallone went on to clarify, “And I’m not just talking about reparations. I’m talking about actually being able to go back and have a life, a secure life in Artsakh. When we meet with the State Department and our leaders here in the United States, we stress that.”

Senator Markey concurred, pledging, “I will continue to work to bolster the will, the rights, the freedoms of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, including their right to return to their homeland.” Commenting on Azerbaijan’s escalating aggression against Armenia and Artsakh, Senator Markey was adamant: “I say no to changing Armenia’s constitution. I say no to surrendering sovereign Armenian lands. I say no to the ethnic cleansing of the historic Armenian Nagorno Karabakh.”  Senator Markey is co-author with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) of bipartisan legislation (S.Res.540) calling for a report on Azerbaijan’s human rights practices pursuant to Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act.

Rep. Chu, who was blacklisted by Azerbaijan for visiting Artsakh, pledged, “We will do what we can to make sure that there’s justice for the people of Artsakh and that one day they can return.”

Several members of Congress highlighted the importance of passing the supplemental aid package passed by the Senate and currently under consideration in the House of Representatives to expand U.S. aid to survivors of the Artsakh genocide. Rep. Costa announced his efforts to include language in the “Defending Our Borders, Defending Our Democracies Act,” to expand Artsakh refugee aid.  He noted the importance of holding Azerbaijan accountable for their crimes by cutting aid to Azerbaijan.  “We must send a clear message to the government of Azerbaijan and our allies around the globe that the United States stands with the people of Armenia.”

Rep. Amo, who joined Rep. Bill Lawler (R-NY) in co-authoring legislation (H.R.7288) that would cut security assistance to Azerbaijan, stressed, “We cannot allow the government of Azerbaijan to get a free pass for their brutal military aggression and blockades against the people of Nagorno Karabakh.” The Senate version of the legislation (S. 3000), led by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), was adopted by unanimous consent last November.

Fellow Rhode Island U.S. Representative Seth Magaziner was among several Congressional leaders pressing the need to send U.S. military assistance to Armenia.  “We have to get Armenia the support that it needs to defend itself because, make no mistake about it, Artsakh was just the first step in, unfortunately, a devious larger plan that Aliyev and the Azerbaijanis have.”

“The displacement of [Artsakh’s] 120,000 people cannot go without comment, cannot be left to stand,” stated Rep. Schneider, who praised the ANC of Illinois & the Illinois Armenian community for speaking with moral clarity in defending Artsakh and Armenia sovereignty.

Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey: “Armenians in the world are undergoing another genocide”
In keynote remarks offered at the Capitol Hill program, the Lemkin Institute’s Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey delivered a stark warning about Azerbaijan’s ongoing genocide targeting Armenians, referring to it as the “Second Armenian Genocide.” She underscored the threat to Armenian sovereignty, both within the South Caucasus and beyond, including regions such as Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter. “We have to be clear: The greatest threat faced today by Armenians in the Republic of Armenia and beyond is that they are up against a state – the Republic of Azerbaijan – whose President is actively claiming Armenian territory as historically Azerbaijani, who has suggested that Armenians are not indigenous to the region but rather recent immigrants, and who harbors clearly genocidal Armenophobia, which he has made sure is deeply imbricated in all of Azerbaijan’s institutions, including schools, think tanks, the military, and the press,” stated Dr. von Joeden-Forgey

Dr. Elisa von Joeden-Forgey

She condemned the international community’s past inaction and called for a robust genocide prevention strategy in the South Caucasus, including the withdrawal of support for Azerbaijan and recognition of Artsakh Armenians’ right to self-determination. “Western nations must apply real pressure against Azerbaijan by withdrawing military, economic, and diplomatic support and threatening it with legal action,” stated Dr. von Joeden-Forgey

Karnig Kerkonian, Esq.: “Allowing Azerbaijan’s occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh to persist, simply cements genocide and rewards genocidal intent.”
In his address, international lawyer Karnig Kerkonian, Esq. emphasized the magnitude of the catastrophe unfolding in Armenian history, stressing the painful truth behind the atrocities committed against the Artsakh Armenians. “It’s not never again at all. One nation, two genocides, one century. It’s a national catastrophe of epic proportion,” stated Kerkonian.

Kanig Kerkonian, Esq.

He denounced the false narrative propagated by policymakers in Washington and Brussels, which advocated for the integration of Artsakh Armenians into Azerbaijan while ignoring the genocidal intent behind Azerbaijan’s actions. He criticized the complicity of international actors in enabling Azerbaijan’s campaign of ethnic cleansing and destruction, calling the ongoing occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan as a perpetuation of genocide.

Kerkonian challenged the notion of peace treaties with genocidal regimes as ineffective in ending genocides, emphasizing the need for decisive measures to halt Azerbaijan’s campaign of destruction. “Enough is enough. We must stop fueling a petty genocidal thug from destroying what is left of the Armenian people,” stated Kerkonian.

He advocated for the establishment of an international peacekeeping mission to ensure the Artsakh Armenians’ right to return to their indigenous homeland with security and dignity, rejecting any compromise that would subject them to further oppression and violence under Azerbaijani control.

Gev Iskajyan Shares an Artsakh Mother’s Poignant Request: “Don’t Stop Fighting”
Concluding the evening, ANC Artsakh’s Gev Iskajyan – the latest addition to the ANCA’s national team – delivered powerful remarks highlighting the resilience and spirit of Artsakh Armenians. Iskajyan, who lived in Artsakh during Azerbaijan’s 10-month brutal blockade and subsequent September 2023 genocidal actions, shared a poignant encounter with a mother and her children, emphasizing the unwavering determination of her simple request: “Don’t stop fighting.”

“It is that spirit that I see in the eyes of the advocates that have gathered this week and in the eyes of the allies and U.S. Representatives and Senators and their staffers that I’ve seen,” stated Iskajyan.

He described the evening not as a commemoration or a vigil, but a call to action.  “It is this work, this call to action, that I’m sure is going to make sure that our sun rises again; it’s going to make sure that our spring blooms again; and it’s going to make sure that the Armenian nation rises again. It is the people in this room; it is the collective power that you hold. So to our allies and to our advocates, I say gear up, and to all our opponents, I say good luck.”

This week’s two-day advocacy “fly-in” was organized by the ANCA Eastern Region and Western Region.  ANCA advocates called for concrete U.S. leadership to sanction Azerbaijan for its genocide of Artsakh’s 150,000 indigenous Armenians, expand aid to survivors of this crime, and support a mechanism for their safe and dignified return to their Artsakh homes as part of a broad range of pro-Armenian policy priorities.

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