Congressional Armenian Caucus demands sanctions on Azerbaijan ahead of Biden-Erdoğan meeting
Members of the U.S. Congress are calling for President Joe Biden to sanction Turkey unless its ally Azerbaijan exits Armenian territory, Armenian Weekly reported on Saturday.
In a letter from five members of Congress’ Armenian Caucus, a bipartisan bloc of lawmakers concerned with issues related to Armenia, lawmakers urged Biden to use his meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on June 14 to pressure Azerbaijan to withdraw from Armenian territory and release prisoners of war captured during the 44-day war last year between the neighbours.
Specifically, they request Biden inform Erdoğan that the United States will withhold security aid and implement targeted economic sanctions on Azerbaijan unless it commits to these requests.
“We strongly urge you to use your upcoming meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to address his regime’s direct military and economic support of Azerbaijani aggressions against Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Armenia,” the letter read, using the Armenian term for the disputed territory situated along the border with Azerbaijan.
The congressmen point out that inaction from the U.S only emboldens Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Turkey’s Erdogan to continue “destabilising actions” and “violations of international law”.
“We urge you to use your upcoming meeting with President Erdoğan as an opportunity to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to fostering democracies throughout the world and our willingness to stand up for human rights, especially in Armenia and Artsakh,” they continued.
In recent weeks, Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers have skirmished along their frontier, resulting in some cases fatalities. Turkish and Azeri media frame Armenia as the aggressor while Armenian sources point to the presence of Azerbaijan’s forces on Armenian territory beyond Nagorno-Karabakh as proof of Baku’s belligerence.
Relations between the two sides remain very tense after a truce brokered by Russia ended last year’s conflict. One of the most trying issues remains the return of Armenian prisoners of war held by Azerbaijan with an unclear number still held by Baku. The truce explicitly calls for the return of war dead and prisoners after hostilities came to an end, but some estimates put the number of Armenian soldiers still held by Azerbaijan at 249.
On Saturday, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said that it returned 15 Armenian prisoners in exchange for a map containing locations of land mines the Aghdam region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), one of the sponsors of the letter to Biden, wrote on Twitter that news of the returns was welcome, but indicative of what he said was Aliyev’s “calculated use of them [prisoners of war] as leverage”. He echoed the letter by saying the U.S should do more to secure the release of Armenian prisoners held in Azerbaijan.
“We need the US and others to continue condemning these illegal acts and ensure the return of every single one of these individuals,” Pallone tweeted on Sunday.
Following the NATO summit, Erdoğan is due to travel to Baku on June 16 where he will meet with Aliyev. On the same day, Biden will be in Geneva where he will sit down in a much anticipated meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.