WASHINGTON—Nagorno Karabakh Republic Foreign Minister Georgi Petrossian joined with members of the Congressional Armenian Caucus Monday evening at a Capitol Hill remembrance honoring the victims of the Azerbaijani pogroms in Sumgait and Baku, reported the Armenian National Committee of America.
“In marking this solemn occasion, we are reminded of the terrible costs of Azerbaijan’s aggression for all the peoples of the region. We draw from this remembrance an added measure of devotion to defending the hard-earned liberty enjoyed today by the free citizens of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “Sadly, the Aliyev neo-monarchy running Azerbaijan shares neither our commitment to peace nor our devotion to democracy, and – with little protest from the U.S. government – has openly opted -through its vast military build-up, threatening and hateful rhetoric, and outright acts of aggression – for a path toward renewed war.”
Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) joined in commemorating the Azerbaijani attacks against Armenians in Sumgait in 1988 and Baku in 1990, which set the stage for over two decades of Azerbaijani violence against Armenia and Karabakh. Rep. Engel explained that “Whether it is massacres in Sumgait or Baku or any place else, or whether it is the Armenian Genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire, it’s something that we have to always remember and always recall and never forget it and teach it to our children and teach it to our children’s children – so that things like this will never happen again and tyrants will know that we can’t sweep things like this under the rug.”
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone concurred, noting that “those who say that somehow not talking about the Genocide is a good thing need to be reminded that it is not in the past for Armenians and it is not in the past for the victims of genocide.” Rep. Eshoo focused on the important role Armenian Americans play in ensuring not only that the Sumgait and Baku pogroms are not forgotten but in securing a strong U.S.-Armenia relationship. “We have our work cut out for us in Congress – and that work is to ensure that Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh maintain our full and robust support. That is something that is not a given. We have to fight for that. We have to earn that support. We have a lot of new members of Congress now and they need to be educated as well. That means keeping the pressure on Azerbaijan through the Freedom Support Act, even as two presidents have waived that.”
Foreign Minister Petrossian, noting that he wished he could address attendees on a happier occasion than one marking the tragedies of Sumgait, Baku and Maragha, stated, “On February 20, 1988, the people of Karabakh expressed their will, and utilizing the relevant legal framework, petitioned the Soviet authorities of the time to resolve the Karabakh issue. The events in Sumgait took place exactly eight days later. To this day, Azerbaijan argues that Sumgait and Baku were a chapter in their struggle for independence from the Soviet Union and that Armenians were somehow hindering that effort. The Bible says that there is no secret which can be hidden permanently, and God willing, the truth and the perpetrators of these heinous crimes will one day be brought to light and justice.” The Foreign Minister went on to explain that the Sumgait massacres were the beginnings of broad ethnic cleansing efforts in Azerbaijan that the Azerbaijani government intended to extend to Karabakh as well. “Every person, every nation, has the right to live free; every person, every nation has the right to defend itself,” noted Petrossian. “The people of Karabakh asserted that right – that God-given right – and will never give it up.” Earlier in the day, Minister Petrossian had an opportunity to meet with regional experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he discussed the current status of the Karabakh peace process.
In his remarks, Armenian Ambassador Tatoul Markarian decried Azerbaijani Government efforts to subvert the truth regarding the massacres in Sumgait and Baku – spending millions internationally to advance their distorted view of history. “Inspired by oil revenues, exploiting our constructiveness, our focus on negotiations, the Azeris have unleashed an entire propaganda war, trying to buy international loyalty, revise history and create a favorable atmosphere for themselves,” noted Markarian, who pledged increased efforts worldwide to bring the truth to light about the Azerbaijani crimes against the Armenian people.
Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Diocesan Legate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, thanked the Congressional organizers of the event and offered a closing prayer.
Participants viewed a moving video presentation detailing the events of the Sumgait pogroms at the beginning of the program, which was organized by the Congressional Armenian Caucus, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia, Office of the Nagorno Karabakh Representative in the U.S., along with the Armenian National Committee of America and the Armenian Assembly of America.
Days earlier, the Greater Washington DC area Armenian Youth Federation had teamed up with the St. Mary’s Armenian Church Youth Organization in holding a protest in front of the Azerbaijani Embassy in memory of the victims of Sumgait and Baku pogroms and calling attention to Azerbaijan’s ongoing threats and aggression against Armenia and Karabakh. Similar protests and vigils have been held in capitals around the world including Ottawa, Athens, Moscow, Armenia, and the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, among others.
On the evening of February 27, 1988, a three-day rampage against Armenian civilians living in Sumgait, Soviet Azerbaijan began. Armenian civilians, whose calls for help from police were ignored, were at the mercy of Azerbaijani rioters, who murdered, raped, and maimed Armenians, throwing women and children from windows and burning victims alive, as Azerbaijani authorities watched for three days, even though the capital Baku was only a half hour away. Reports from the Financial Times and New York Times noted Armenians being “hunted” down and killed in their homes. A review of the events of Sumgait and Baku massacres, as well as the U.S. response, is available on the ANCA fact sheet.
Video and photos from the event are posted on the ANCA website