USAN participates in the U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing on the Security, Economic and Human Rights dimensions of US-Azerbaijan relations

On June 11, U.S. Azeris Network (USAN) participated in the hearing held by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) on U.S.-Azerbaijan relations on Capitol Hill. The purpose of the hearing, titled “The Security, Economic and Human Rights Dimensions of U.S.-Azerbaijan Relations” and opened by Senator Ben Cardin, the Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, was to discuss key issues in the U.S.-Azerbaijani relations before the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session which will kick off in Baku at the end of June. The witnesses invited to testify were Tom Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary at Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the U.S. Department of State; Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary from the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs of the U.S. Department of State; Miriam Lanskoy, Director for Russia and Eurasia at National Endowment for Democracy (NDI); and Brenda Shaffer, Visiting Researcher at Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies of Georgetown University.

In his opening remarks, Senator Cardin appreciated the efforts and assistance of Azerbaijan in Afghanistan. Calling Azerbaijan “a strategic important partner to the United States,” Senator Cardin expressed appreciation for the position of Azerbaijan and its vote at the United Nations General Assembly on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The chairman of the commission noted the importance of the oil and gas resources of Azerbaijan and commended Azerbaijan for being EITI-compliant.

Speaking before the commission, Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary from the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, stated that the partnership of the United States with Azerbaijan remained “an important aspect” of Washington’s engagement in the Caucasus. He said that with 94 troops currently on the ground in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan has already committed to remain to post-2014 Afghanistan. It was noted that among the top priorities for the United States in its relationship with Azerbaijan are the cooperation of Azerbaijan on counterterrorism, Caspian security and enhancing maritime domain awareness.  Touching upon the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, Mr. Rubin said that the United States, as co-chair to the OSCE Minsk Group worked diligently with its Russian and French co-chairs to facilitate a peaceful settlement to the conflict. DAS underlined the importance of having realized the BTC project that had then become the basis for such important projects as the Southern Gas Corridor which will deliver 10 bcm of gas to Southern Europe. Considering the importance of Azerbaijan, Mr. Rubin stated that “supporting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and independence should be of high priority” for the United States. Tom Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary at Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the U.S. Department of State, spoke of the human rights dimension in the U.S.-Azerbaijan relations. Mr. Melia stated that the United States government recognized that Azerbaijan was located in a very difficult neighborhood and supported Azerbaijan’s long-term stability, security and prosperity. In response to the question from the chairman of the commission on reforms to tackle the corruption problems, Tom Melia stated that like in many other countries there is an anti-corruption legislation in Azerbaijan, including the National Action Plan on fighting the corruption, and there have been steps taken on local levels to eliminate corruption. Miriam Lanskoy, Director for Russia and Eurasia at National Endowment for Democracy (NDI) and Brenda Shaffer, Visiting Researcher at Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies of Georgetown University, spoke in the second panel of the hearing, speaking on human rights and religious tolerance in Azerbaijan. Professor Shaffer spoke extensively about Azerbaijan’s ability in stopping the efforts of outside powers to use religion as a tool to destabilize the country. The hearing was attended by staffers of officers of legislators, government officials and constituents.

The U.S. Azeris Network (USAN) has also submitted its testimony to the U.S. Helsinki Commission. In its testimony, USAN laid out the key components of the U.S.-Azerbaijan relations, underlining the details of the energy ties, developing economic ties in on-oil sectors, progressing security ties, and the importance of the resolution of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. It was brought to the attention of the commission that the biggest violation of human rights has persisted for over two decades when more than 600 thousand Azerbaijani IDPs joined the overall one million refugee camp of Azerbaijan as a result of Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan, losing their fundamental rights to live and prosper on the lands of their ancestors. USAN then listed all international laws and norms which Armenia continues to violate and urged the U.S. Helsinki Commission to have the U.S. government pressure Yerevan to implement its obligations, withdraw from Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region and allow the return of Azerbaijani refugees.