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Honoring The Victims Of Sumgait

Rep. Adam B. Schiff

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Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commemorate the scores of Armenian lives lost in the vicious attacks perpetrated by Azerbaijani pogroms against Armenian civilians in the town of Sumgait, Azerbaijan 24 years ago. Beginning on February 27, 1988 and for three days, Azerbaijani mobs assaulted and killed Armenians. Hundreds of Armenians were wounded, women and young girls were brutally raped, and victims of all ages were beaten and tortured and eventually burned to death. Thousands were driven from their homes and forced to become refugees. Armenian homes and businesses were left to be looted and destroyed.

In the years that followed this heinous event, Armenians living in Kirovabad and Baku suffered a similar fate. These pogroms were only part of a pattern of anti-Armenian activities occurring throughout Azerbaijan, setting the stage for two decades of aggression during which the Azerbaijani government initiated a war against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thousands of people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of Armenians were displaced as a result of the fighting. A once thriving population of 450,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan virtually disappeared.

A cease-fire agreement, brokered in 1994, remains in place today. However, Azerbaijan's continued war-mongering, recent cease-fire violations, and dramatic increase of its military budget threaten to destabilize the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks. In January 2008, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev warned Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, ``We are reinforcing our army because we must be ready to free our lands . . . at any moment and by any means.'' Such rhetoric is detrimental to the peace process and is further evidence that this conflict is ongoing and must be resolved. It is my sincerest hope that a democratic and peaceful resolution can be reached, and Nagorno-Karabakh's right to self-determination affirmed.

This April will mark the 97th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, an event the Turkish government, Azerbaijan's closest ally, goes to great and tragic lengths to deny. We must not let such crimes against humanity go unrecognized. Today, let us pause to remember the victims of the atrocities of the Sumgait pogroms. Mr. Speaker, it is our moral obligation to condemn crimes of hatred and to remember the victims, in hope that history will not be repeated.