A bipartisan group of senators pressured the Biden administration Thursday to take more decisive action to protect Armenian Christians at risk of genocide.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing to discuss the ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Armenia. The blockade has left an estimated 120,000 Christians living in the region at risk of starvation, as reported by The Dallas Express.
Several senators expressed disappointment in the Biden administration for what they described as a lack of urgency to prevent an attempted “ethnic cleansing” by Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev against the Armenian people.
“I’ve listened to our president, who both when I sat over there when he was the chairman of this committee, and when he was vice president, and of course as president, has spoken about the importance as a part of the fabric of our foreign policy in terms of human rights,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the chair of the committee, said. “But speaking of it is meaningless — it is a hollow promise without action.”
A cease-fire in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia was established in 2020.
The committee hearing included one witness, Yuri Kim, the acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs for the Department of State. Kim emphasized that the State Department takes the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh seriously and has worked directly with foreign administrative officials of both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Menendez, after the committee hearing, told The Dallas Express he was not satisfied with the State Department’s testimony on how to better address the issue of starvation in the region.
“I just hope you’ll tell the secretary on my behalf that I would hate to see this administration stand by and allow ethnic cleansing to take place on their watch and under their eye,” Menendez said during the hearing.
One other State Department official was initially scheduled to testify but later did not appear on the online list of witnesses. The agency told The Dallas Express that the official is overseas this week in an attempt to establish peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations Lou Bono is traveling in the region this week, stopping in Baku and Yerevan, to meet with key stakeholders to discuss the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and U.S. support for the parties in reaching a durable and dignified peace,” a State Department spokesperson said. “The United States has been consistently engaged on this issue, and we will continue to strongly support efforts by Armenia and Azerbaijan to resolve outstanding issues through direct dialogue, with the aim of achieving a dignified and enduring peace.”
Menendez expressed his frustration at the close of the hearing when Kim, in response to his final question, refused to explain the State Department’s view on why the corridor is blocked.
“Why do you think that despite its signed commitments and a ruling by the International Court of Justice to open the Lachin corridor, that Aliyev is not opening the corridor?” Menendez asked.
“We should probably have that discussion in a different setting, sir,” Kim responded.
“What would be classified about a simple question?” he asked.
“I think that there are elements, Mr. Chairman, that I would like to discuss with you in a different setting,” she said.
“Well I’ll give you an unclassified answer: he doesn’t want to open the corridor because he is in the process of trying to subjugate these people by starvation, or by the threat of starvation at the end of the day, and subject them to his will,” Menendez said. “That doesn’t have to be classified.”
“I’m amazed sometimes at what the department in this committee says,” he added.
Senators in the hearing expressed their concerns and frustrations with Russia claiming to act as a peacemaker in the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia as it struggles to open the Nagorno-Karabakh. U.S. intervention in the region would have to be strategic, Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) said, to avoid conflict with Russia.
“Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Armenia has become an important security partner for Russia and houses one of the few military bases the Kremlin retains on foreign soil,” Ricketts said. “Armenia prioritizes its relationship with Russia mainly because it’s the only game in town for security on the Nagorno-Karabakh.”