During the House Armed Services Committee hearing on “National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activities in Europe,” on April 15, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Representative Speier (D-CA) pressed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, Laura Cooper on the imbalance between the U.S. aid provided to Azerbaijan and Armenia, in addition to the Armenian Prisoners of War in Azerbaijan.
“I’d like to talk to you today about the large-scale offensive that Azerbaijan engaged in against its neighbor Armenia with the coordination of Turkey over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, it caused more than five thousand deaths displaced roughly a hundred thousand people from their homes and caused immeasurable suffering,” said Congresswoman Speier. “Azerbaijan continues to hold over 200 Armenian prisoners of war and there’s been abuse and mistreatment that’s truly shocking. The U.S. provided one hundred million dollars to Azerbaijan, in violation really in defiance of nearly two decades parity in the U.S. security assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan. I think we’re sending a terrible message to Armenia and because we did not engage in terms of getting the parties to the Minsk group table for negotiations. Russia stepped in and now has yet another foothold in that region and you mentioned in your earlier comments how how critical it was for us to engage in there so my question to you is that are you clear now of the relevance of maintaining parity between the two countries in terms of aid and what are we going to do in terms of providing humanitarian assistance to all those who’ve been displaced?”
Cooper replied: “Congresswoman, thank you so much for raising this important issue. The war this fall was a tragedy on so many levels and we deplore the loss of life we have spent a lot of time trying to back then de-escalate the situation and now continuing to talk with Azerbaijan and Armenia about what we can achieve in a peaceful way forward. In terms of the aftermath of the conflict we have been urging Azerbaijan specifically to release the detainees this has been a line that not just my State Department colleagues have offered but also Defense Department, myself included.
In terms of the the paradigm for our assistance we want to have very strong and stabilizing relationships with all of the countries in the region with Armenia, with Georgia and with Azerbaijan, we believe that we can exert a positive influence on all three countries. In terms of Azerbaijan specifically our assistance has really been focused on areas that are important to U.S national security it’s been focused on the the coast guard domain.”
Speier then interjected Cooper’s weak response regarding parity. “I understand that but in the end it allows them money that they can then use as they did against Armenia so I just think we’ve got to look long and hard at their conduct and not be rewarding them for bad behavior moving forward,” the Congresswoman said.
On social media, Congresswoman Speier further elaborated on the inadequate response to her question. “Azerbaijan holds 200 Armenian POWs, subjecting many to horrific abuse. The U.S. must insist that it release all POWs now. Shockingly, the U.S. sent Azerbaijan $100m in assistance while Armenia received $0. The U.S. must return to parity in assistance to Armenia & Azerbaijan!” the statement read. “The answer wasn’t sufficient – violence & instability are not in U.S. interests. We cannot reward Azerbaijan for its all-out assault & enable further violence against the Armenian people.” she added.
Today I pressed @DeptofDefense on this disparity. The answer wasn’t sufficient – violence & instability are not in U.S. interests. We cannot reward Azerbaijan for its all-out assault & enable further violence against the Armenian people. Watch it here: https://t.co/73obCAUj7Z
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) April 15, 2021
“We commend Representative Speier, who raised the important issue of the Artsakh war, it’s ramifications, the need for humanitarian assistance and the prisoners of war who have yet to be released by Azerbaijan in spite of the signed agreement by the two states on the cessation of hostilities,” said Armenian Council of America Chair, Sevak Khatchadorian. “We expect the US government to properly classify the prisoners of war as such and demand that the Azerbaijani regime to immediately release all POWs and civilians currently detained in the aftermath of the 2020 war.”