The House Rules Committee voted to allow full floor consideration of an amendment, spearheaded by Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), that would block the transfer of U.S. defense articles that strengthen Azerbaijan’s offensive airstrike capabilities, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). The initiative aims to limit Baku’s ability to act upon its standing threat to shoot down civilian aircraft operating out of Artsakh’s Stepanakert Airport.
The decision to allow consideration of the ANCA-backed measure came late Monday evening, as Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) and the Rules Committee reviewed some 600 amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R.2500). Rep. Sherman’s measure and the underlying bill are expected to be taken up by the full House this week. Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Vice-Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) also support the amendment.
“This amendment sends a strong message to Azerbaijan that it cannot threaten to shoot down civilian aircraft. Azerbaijan must not be allowed to intimidate its neighbors,” Rep. Sherman told the ANCA, upon learning his amendment was ruled “in order.” “The last thing we should do is help strengthen Azerbaijan’s air defenses in any way.”
ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian concurred, noting: “We appreciate the leadership of Chairman McGovern to allow House members to cast an up-or-down vote on this common-sense amendment, sending a clear signal to Azerbaijan that the United States stands unconditionally against any and all threats to destroy civilian aircraft. We look forward to working with Congressman Sherman and his colleagues to ensure the amendment’s thorough consideration and passage.”
In March of 2011, Arif Mamadov, the Director of Azerbaijan’s Civil Aviation Administration, reported that the Azerbaijani government had warned the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that it had not authorized flights to Nagorno Karabakh, explaining that “The law on aviation envisages the physical destruction of airplanes landing in that territory.” The Azerbaijani government has neither withdrawn this threat, nor agreed that its forces will not shoot down civilian aircraft. As a result, the civilian airport in Stepanakert has remained closed for the past eight years, depriving the citizens of Artsakh and others of their universally recognized right to travel.
The text of the Sherman Amendment states that “none of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2020 may be used to transfer defense articles or services that improve Azerbaijan’s offensive air capabilities or air defense systems, which could threaten civil aviation in the Caucasus region.”
The Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) Ministry of Foreign Affairs hailed the Sherman amendment, stating “the resuming the operation of the Stepanakert airport is a sovereign right of Artsakh and pursues purely civil and humanitarian goals, in particular, the exercise of such an inalienable right as freedom of movement.”