Rival Congressmen Agree on Artsakh’s Independence, Aid to Syrian Armenians


By Harut Sassounian, Publisher, The California Courier

In this third and final article on the debate organized by the Armenian National Committee of America, Western Region, Congressmen Howard Berman and Brad Sherman answered questions from panelists Harut Sassounian and Ara Khachatourian on the safety of Syrian Armenians, the Safarov scandal, the independence of Nagorno Karabagh (Artsakh), and Israel’s arms sales to Azerbaijan.

Cong. Sherman acknowledged that some of the opposition elements in Syria “are extremely hostile to Christians in Syria.” He warned that there would be “consequences for not treating with respect the human rights of the Christian minority.”

When asked what specifically Congress could do to assist Syrian Armenians, Cong. Berman stated: “There are direct USAID relationships, and there are more covert kinds of ways to ensure that the Christian communities in Syria are being sustained and are being helped.”

Cong. Berman expressed his concern about Israel’s sale to Azerbaijan of more than one billion dollars of sophisticated weapons which could be used against Armenia. When he indicated that there was a similar relationship between Armenia and Iran, panelist Harut Sassounian challenged the accuracy of that statement. Cong. Berman withdrew his statement, acknowledging that he was not aware of such “ongoing relationship between Iran and Armenia.”

Cong. Sherman objected to the US sale of weapons to Azerbaijan: “We should not be providing any military aid to Azerbaijan, period, and based on what happened in Hungary and based on how this murderer was treated when he returned to Baku, we should not be conducting NATO exercises knowing that perhaps the next soldier, who is hit with an axe in the head and killed, might very well be an American soldier.”

Cong. Berman: “We want to make sure that Armenia is secure and that the people of Nagorno-Karabagh get to determine their own future. … Azerbaijan, with its resources, ends up getting stuff they don’t financially need, for security threats they don’t really have, because of their economic clout.”

When asked why most of the aid allocated by Congress for Artsakh was being withheld by the State Department, Cong. Sherman stated: “I’ve requested language to be included in the foreign operations appropriations bill to require USAID to actually spend money on humanitarian development for the people of Artsakh, for the people in the Republic of Nagorno-Karabagh, and I’m pleased to report that the committee has included that language in its report.”

Questioned on the need to recognize Artsakh’s independence, Cong. Sherman stated: “I think Nagorno-Karabagh is an independent state, period. It’s time to put an embassy in Stepanakert. Nagorno-Karabagh is a state because that’s what its people have clearly indicated they want.”

Cong. Berman, on the other hand, was a little more cautious: “The people of Los Angeles don’t get to decide for Nagorno-Karabagh, the people of Nagorno-Karabagh get to decide. Self-determination for the people in Nagorno-Karabagh is the critical issue. I have no doubt that they want independence and that’s where I’d like to see the process headed, but we are in a negotiation process that the government of Armenia and the government of Azerbaijan have agreed to.”

Cong. Sherman retorted: “I agree with Howard [Berman]. It’s for the people of Artsakh to decide whether they’re an independent country. They’ve decided! They are -- and its time for Howard to acknowledge that Nagorno-Karabagh is an independent republic.”

Regarding Hungary’s extradition of the Azeri axe murderer to Azerbaijan, Cong. Sherman was certain that this action would “affect our military relationship with Hungary…. Several days ago, I sent a letter to the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense saying that Azerbaijan should certainly be suspended from this kind of military cooperation.”

Cong. Berman added that “every single NATO country, and that includes Hungary, has now an obligation to suspend Azerbaijan from participation in partnership for peace activities until this wrong is righted.”

In his closing statement, Cong. Berman promised to continue fighting “for the US recognition of the genocide as we approach the 100th anniversary. It’s not just my commitment as a congressman, but as a Jew whose own people suffered its own genocide. Because the world ignored yours, I will continue to fight for the rights of the Armenian Church and Armenian people who live in Turkey…. I’ll fight for the right of self-determination and well-being of the people of Artsakh which was part of the ancient kingdom of Armenia.”

Cong. Sherman concluded the debate by pledging: “I’m with you seven days a week, and with your help, I’ll be there with you for seven days a week for another 20 years!”

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