U.S. Congressmen call on White House to stop Azeri war machine

PanARMENIAN.Net - During the House "The Caucasus: Frozen Conflicts and Closed Borders" hearing, in addition to Chairman Berman who correctly pointed out that progress on Turkey's lifting of the blockade should not be linked to the Nagorno Karabakh peace process, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) stated that the blockade "violates U.S. policy," the Armenian Assembly of America reported.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), while expressing support for the self-determination of the people of Nagorno Karabakh, stated that we have to fight against the blockade and that "there is no excuse for it." Sherman asked what pressure the Administration was putting on Turkey to lift the blockade, of which Assistant Secretary Fried responded that the Administration wants to see lifted and has encouraged both sides to normalize relations.

In addition to the blockade issue, Members were also deeply concerned about Azerbaijan's ongoing warmongering and bellicose statements. Rep. Ed Royce's (R-CA) concerns were echoed by Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Frank Pallone, Jr (D-NJ) and Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI). Rep. Knollenberg noted that Azerbaijan is a dictatorship that continues its bellicose statements unabated and asked what the Administration is doing to stop the Azeri war machine. Rep. Pallone also raised this critically important issue and called upon the Administration to ensure greater contact between the Nagorno Karabakh government and the Azerbaijani government, as well as confidence building measures.

Rep. Pallone further noted his concerns about Azerbaijan's pressure on the State Department with respect to U.S.-Nagorno Karabakh contacts. Fried for his part, responded that bellicose statements are not helpful and added that the Azeris deny that they have any intention of resuming hostilities. Fried also believed that increased contacts overall were important and noted that a solution to the peace process, which the U.S. and the parties are working toward, will be the best way forward.

In perhaps the most intense exchange during the hearing, Rep. Diane Watson (D-CA) focused her attention on the Armenian Genocide and questioned the State Department's policy on instructing its staff not to use the term genocide. In his response, Secretary Fried said that the Administration does not deny the historical events, but fell short of employing the proper term. Stating that the Armenian Genocide, with its "mass killings, murder, mass exile, brutality" is "beyond denial," the Congresswoman asked "Why does the United States not recognize that it was genocide?"

"Was it genocide? Yes or no?" Watson demanded. After several attempts to receive an answer, Watson yielded back her limited time stating, "it is clear that I am not going to get an answer to my question."

Reinforcing Watson, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) recalled the efforts and reports of then Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, who described in great detail the horrors of 1915. Fried noted that he was very familiar with Morgenthau's reports stating that they were "stark, stunning and sadly accurate and that the intent was not to move people in a peaceful way."

Adding to questions in regard to genocide, Rep. Schiff asked Secretary Fried, "Would you describe the mass killing during the holocaust as a genocide?" "Yes," Fried responded. Schiff then asked, "Would you describe the mass killing in Cambodia as a genocide?" Fried responded, "I'd like to reserve only because I am not as familiar with that." Schiff then asked, "Would you describe the mass killing in Rwanda as a genocide?" Which Fried said "We have used that word, the administration has used that word, yes." Moving on, Schiff asked "Would you describe the mass killing in Darfur as a genocide?" "I'd like to reserve on that but I believe we have used that word," Fried responded. Schiff quickly added, that "You have used that word, I can tell you have, and we should."

In closing his questions, Schiff then asked, "Would you describe the mass killings of the Armenians as a genocide?" Fried responded "This Administration and the President's policy is not to use that word, although I want to be clear, we have never denied the historical facts of the mass killings, murders, forced exiles and brutality that occurred in those years as a matter of historical fact."

On other policy matters, Rep. Sherman (D-CA) discussed Section 907, calling it another part of the embarrassing history of the administration in evading laws passed by Congress and then asked Fried if the State Department counsels its employees to avoid using the term genocide. And again, Secretary Fried reiterated that the State Department follows the President's policy, therefore, since the President does not use the term, neither will the State Department. Sherman also took the Secretary to task on the Administration's proposed assistance cut to Armenia, noting that it was more than fifty percent, from fiscal year 2008. Sherman also sought clarification on whether the Millennium Challenge Account funding served as a replacement or supplement to the Freedom Support Act, of which Fried indicated that it was supplemental.

Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny, who attended the hearing along with Assembly Congressional Relations Associate Bianka Dodov and Assembly Associate Director of Grassroots Taniel Koushakjian, stated that "We applaud the leadership of Chairman Berman in holding this important and timely hearing in which these critical policy issues were raised. For too long, these issues have been on the backburner and I want to thank the members of the Committee for placing them in the forefront. In a region where the U.S. is facing competition for influence, this hearing sends a clear message that the U.S. is deeply interested in and concerned about developments in the region."
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