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Sumgait Pogroms

Rep. Howard L. Berman

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Mr. Speaker, two of the least noticed and most dangerous trends of recent years have been Azerbaijan's rapidly growing military budget and its increasing bellicosity toward Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh. Last June, during Azerbaijan's largest military parade since the Soviet era, President Aliyev vowed to avenge the deaths of Azerbaijani soldiers killed during the 1988 1994 Nagorno-Karabakh war and declared that ``the war isn't over yet; only the first stage is over.'' He then boasted that Azerbaijan's defense budget is twenty times larger than it was just eight years previously and larger, in fact, than the entire budget of Armenia. Mr. Speaker, it is particularly appropriate that today, February 27--the anniversary of the 1988 Azerbaijani pogrom directed against its own Armenian population in Sumgait--that we commit ourselves to stopping these ugly threats. Armenian history is drenched in tragedy. Everybody knows about the Armenian Genocide, even if, sadly, only a minority of my colleagues has been willing to recognize it officially. But fewer know about the hundreds of thousands of Armenians murdered under the Ottoman regime in the nineteenth century. And fewer still, it seems, know about the pogroms and ethnic cleansing that Armenians living in Azerbaijan suffered at the hands of Azerbaijanis as the Soviet Union was breaking up. The Sumgait pogrom that we recall today lasted three days and resulted in the murder of hundreds of Armenian civilians. Other anti-Armenian pogroms took place in Kirovobad November 21 27, 1988, and in the Azerbaijani capital Baku January 13 19, 1990. During this era, there were media reports of Armenians being hunted down and killed in their homes. The systematic pattern of all these attacks suggested that something even more sinister than a mob uprising was at work. Mr. Speaker, Azerbaijan seems bent on destroying every last vestige of the Armenian presence in Azerbaijan. For example, there is videotaped evidence of the Azerbaijani government's December 2005 systematic desecration and destruction of an ancient Armenian cemetery, including thousands of intricately-carved grave-stones in Djulfa, in a section of Azerbaijan near the Turkish border. I believe our State Department still has not adequately examined this incident, and I call on it to do so. Today is a solemn day as we recall this history of murder, displacement, and destruction, but it is this very history that underscores the importance of self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh. I call on the Administration to press the Azerbaijani government to cease its bellicose rhetoric and to stop its headlong rush to war now and to adhere strictly to the principled basis of the Minsk Process, namely, the search for a peaceful, negotiated solution for Nagorno-Karabakh. I likewise call on the Administration to redouble its efforts to achieve a solution for Nagorno-Karabakh. And, on this day when we once again reflect on the brutality Armenians have suffered, and endured, for centuries, I once again call on the Administration simply to acknowledge history and to recognize the Armenian Genocide.