Letter Text (PDF)

Washington (April 4, 2024) - Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) sent a letter today to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Department of State to prioritize the release of Armenian political leaders currently being held illegally by Azerbaijan as prisoners, including as a condition of any peace deal reached by Armenia and Azerbaijan, which the United States is helping to facilitate. The letter also calls on Secretary Blinken to advocate for the right of Nagorno-Karabakh's Armenians to return to their homes under international guarantees, as well as to impose sanctions against Azerbaijani officials responsible for the human rights violations perpetrated by Azerbaijan during its attack on the region in September 2023. 

In the letter to Secretary Blinken, the senators wrote, “In late September and early October, current and former leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh’s government were detained, such as Ruben Vardanyan, former State Minister; former Presidents Arkadi Ghukasyan, Bako Sahakyan, and Arayik Harutyunyan; Davit Babayan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs; and Davit Ishkhanyan, former Speaker of the Parliament, among others. Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General Kamran Aliyev indicated that this was just the beginning, as criminal investigations had been opened against a total of 300 former Nagorno-Karabakh officials.”

The lawmakers also noted, “Denying their freedom and ability to participate in the peace process means that peace is being negotiated without the voice or perspective of those with key knowledge of those affected by Azerbaijan’s atrocities...Requiring the release of political prisoners and prisoners of war is a critical step to achieving a sustainable peace.”

This letter is cosigned by Senators Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.).

After a nine-month blockade of the Lachin Corridor that prevented food, aid, medicine, and other critical goods from reaching Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military attack against Nagorno-Karabakh on September 19, 2023. The attack resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians and caused over 100,000 ethnic Armenians in the region to flee for fear of further persecution and violence. Azerbaijan claimed the territory, declared the dissolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh government, and arrested and imprisoned the former government’s political leaders.

In February 2024, Senators Markey and Dr. Cassidy introduced a bipartisan resolution to require that the Secretary of State provide a report on Azerbaijan’s human rights practices, with Representative Adam Schiff (CA-30) introducing a companion version of the resolution in the House of Representatives. In September 2022, Senator Markey and his colleagues led a letter calling for the U.S. to cease any security assistance to Azerbaijan until Armenia and Azerbaijan reach a permanent resolution that would ensure peace and stability in Nagorno-Karabakh. In November 2020, Senator Markey, then-a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his concern about the Russian-brokered agreement signed between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia to end the fighting in Nagorno Karabakh and surrounding areas. In October 2020, he urged then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to seek an immediate ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan while pushing for a negotiated resolution to the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh.