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Faith Leaders Coalition Stand with Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia

In a world where divisions often overshadow unity, the power of faith leaders coming together for a common cause is a beacon of hope. This sentiment was recently exemplified when Bishop Dr. Guillermo Ahumada, President of the International Multi-Faith Coalition (IMFC), joined a multi-faith letter addressed to President Biden. The letter, initiated by the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable, expressed deep concern over Azerbaijan's invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh and the looming threat to Armenia.

The Heart of the Matter


The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is not just a geopolitical dispute; it is a humanitarian crisis. On September 19-20, 2023, Azerbaijan invaded and occupied Nagorno-Karabakh, an autonomous region that has been home to Armenians for millennia. This invasion was not an isolated incident but followed a prolonged nine-month siege by Azerbaijan. During this period, the Azeri forces blocked essential supplies, including food and medicine, and disrupted vital services like water, electricity, and internet connections.


The siege was accompanied by a state-directed propaganda campaign in both Azerbaijan and Turkey. This campaign vilified Armenians, painting them as enemies and even calling for their extermination. Such incitement, based on race and Christian religion, has historical precedents that have led to large-scale atrocities.


Contrary to some news reports, Nagorno-Karabakh was not a "breakaway" region. It has been governed by and for Armenians since the dawn of recorded history. The region mirrored an autonomous Azeri region situated within Armenia. As of September 19, 2023, Nagorno-Karabakh was home to 120,000 Armenians. However, in the wake of the invasion, over half of its population has been forced to flee to Armenia.


The 2023 invasion was reminiscent of the 2020 conflict, during which Azerbaijani forces not only targeted soldiers but also civilians. The aftermath of the invasion saw the deliberate destruction of Armenian cultural heritage, including churches, ancient artifacts, and cemeteries.

The Power of Unity


In these trying times, the IMFC's decision to join the multi-faith letter is a testament to the strength of unity. The letter to President Biden is a clarion call for intervention and a plea for peace. It underscores the importance of international solidarity in the face of aggression and human rights violations.


Bishop Dr. Guillermo Ahumada's involvement is particularly noteworthy. As the President of the IMFC, his decision to sign the letter sends a powerful message about the coalition's commitment to peace, justice, and human rights. The IMFC's endorsement of the letter is a call to action for other faith leaders to join the cause and stand in solidarity with the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.


The link is an invitation for faith leaders across the globe to add their signatures to the letter. It is a testament to the belief that when faith leaders unite, their collective voice can bring about change.


A Call to Action


The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia is a stark reminder of the fragility of peace. It underscores the importance of international solidarity and the role of faith leaders in advocating for justice.


The multi-faith letter is not just a document; it is a symbol of hope. It represents the belief that, despite our differences, humanity can come together in the face of adversity. The involvement of the IMFC and its president, Bishop Dr. Guillermo Ahumada, is a testament to the power of unity.


In the words of Bishop Dr. Ahumada, "There is so much power when faith leaders stand together." This sentiment is the essence of the multi-faith letter. It is a call for unity, for justice, and for peace.


As the world watches the unfolding crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, the multi-faith letter serves as a beacon of hope. It is a reminder that, even in the darkest of times, unity can light the way forward.


In conclusion, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia is a call to action for the global community. It is an invitation for faith leaders, irrespective of their religious affiliations, to come together and advocate for peace. The multi-faith letter, endorsed by the IMFC and its president, is a testament to the power of unity. It is a beacon of hope in a world that often seems divided.






We reproduce the multi-faith letter here:



IRF ROUNDTABLE MULTI-FAITH LETTER ON AZERBAIJAN’S INVASION OF

NAGORNO-KARABAKH AND THREAT TO ARMENIA

September 28, 2023

The Honorable Joseph Biden The Honorable Anthony Blinken

The White House United States Department of State

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW 2201 C Street, NW

Washington, DC 20500 Washington, DC 20520


Re: Please Act Now to Stop Azerbaijan’s Genocide of the World’s Oldest Christian Nation


Dear President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken:


We are an informal group of organizations and individuals who advocate for international religious freedom on a multi-faith, bipartisan basis. We write to ask you to take immediate action to stop Azerbaijan’s evolving genocide1 against the world’s oldest Christian nation: Armenia. This began with its siege and invasion of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory and threatens the internationally recognized Republic of Armenia as well.


Specifically, we ask that you revoke the Administration’s 2022 waiver of Section 907 of the

Freedom Support Act until the following conditions are met:


1. All Armenians are allowed to leave Nagorno-Karabakh if they wish to do so voluntarily

under humane conditions.


2. Armenians who chose to remain in Nagorno-Karabakh (or return) are guaranteed that

they will possess full legal, political, and human rights, including religious freedom,

without discrimination, and be able to live in peace with full access to food, medical

supplies, electricity, water, internet, and other necessary conditions of life.


3. Those who leave permanently are given full compensation for their lost property and

possessions.


4. There is a full international investigation and accountability for reported war crimes.


5. Azerbaijan agrees to and does comply with past (and any future) orders of the

International Court of Justice.


6. Azerbaijan and Turkey commit to not invade or threaten the existence of the Armenian

nation, including efforts to create a land corridor that would connect the two nations by

bifurcating Armenian territory.


On September 19-20, 2023, Azerbaijan launched an unprovoked war on Nagorno-Karabakh, an

autonomous enclave with 120,000 residents populated by Armenians for millennia. Contrary to

its characterization as a “breakaway” region, it was intended to be autonomous when it was taken from Armenia by Joseph Stalin and placed inside the newly created Azerbaijan Republic in 1918 just as he created Nakhchivan as an Azeri autonomous region inside Armenia. The invasion followed a nine-month siege--blocking food and medical shipments, disrupting water, electricity, and internet connections. Azerbaijan threatened to shoot down humanitarian flights and flouted orders of the International Court of Justice (February 2, and July 6, 2023) to stop the blockade. It increased rather than stopping (as the ICJ ordered) its promotion and incitement of racial and religious hatred and discrimination against Armenians.2


Armenians fear that they have no future in Nagorno-Karabakh under Azeri control. They are

leaving as rapidly as clogged roads and Azeri checkpoints permit.3 International monitors are not yet permitted to enter Nagorno-Karabakh to protect against widely reported atrocities, despite a recent agreement to allow them after pleas from your Administration.4 Over 50,000 refugees have already entered Armenia. At this rate, there will be no Armenians left in Nagorno Karabakh in a few days.5


This Administration was shamefully silent or even complicit prior to this invasion.6 Yuri Kim,

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, met with an

Azerbaijan official shortly before it started and signaled the US position by proclaiming his

nation an important, “valuable partner” and U.S. ally. 7 Azerbaijan clearly believed that this was a signal that they could invade with impunity, just as they had blockaded Nagorno-Karabakh for

10 months without impositions of sanctions or other consequences. Calls for peace and all parties to return to negotiations rang hollow on the day following the military invasion.8 And perhaps most astounding was the President’s decision to receive Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister in New York for a smiling photo op with the First Lady on the day after the invasion.9


This Administration was commendably the first to recognize the 1915 Ottoman Empire

Armenian Genocide in 2021, something Turkey has never admitted. It did so soon after Azerbaijan’s 2020 invasion and occupation of significant Nagorno-Karabakh territory displaced over 90,000 indigenous Christian Armenians with many documented war crimes. It has been clear since then, from Azeri and Turkish statements and propaganda, that a second invasion was planned encompassing all of Armenia—to finish the job started by the Ottoman Turks. In the days before the invasion, there were ample warnings of Azeri troop movements encircling Nagorno-Karabakh.


Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan repeatedly

threatened to remove Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh and indeed to remove Armenia itself

from the map because it inconveniently separates the two nations.10 President Aliyev said on

December 24, 2022 after initiating the blockade: “No-one can influence us. There may be calls,

there may be some statements, but we don't need to pay attention to them. We answer these calls simply out of political courtesy, but this will not change our position in the slightest.”11

Warnings about an impending invasion were communicated to the Administration with

increasingly desperate requests for strong intervention over the last ten months. Genocide Watch, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, and Luis Moreno Ocampo, founding International Criminal Court Prosecutor, all reported on Azerbaijan’s clear intentions,12 along with many other informed observers, military and legal experts, this Roundtable, and the American Armenian diaspora. Our Roundtable wrote asking for actions similar to those proposed here in February 2023.


On the day following the invasion, President Erdogan said, in a speech to the UN General

Assembly, that Turkey and Azerbaijan act as “one nation, two states” and that Turkey fully supports the invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh.13 Later that day, he announced it was time occupy all of Armenia--regularly referred to as “Western Azerbaijan” in Azeri and Turkish state-

controlled media.14 He said flatly: “Armenia is our land. We need to jointly develop the concept

of returning to Western Azerbaijan.”


Government propaganda in both countries have ignited hatred of Armenians to a fever pitch.

Calls for beheading, mutilating, and raping of Armenian men, women, and children with

payment of bounties are widespread on Azeri social media.15 There is a clear religious aspect to this campaign in which dominance of Islam and Turkic ethnicities over Christianity and non-

Turkic ethnicities is articulated. History has been re-written to suggest that Armenians 6,000 year history as an indigenous presence in the region never happened. A policy of demolishing

Armenian churches and other cultural relics in occupied Nagorno-Karabakh since 2020 and in

other parts of Azerbaijan is a means of erasing the history and faith of this people group.

Azerbaijan has refused to guarantee the security of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh.16

Instead, it says it plans “integration” of Armenians into Azerbaijan. Sadly, it is clear that this

currently means a continuation of what happened in areas conquered by Azerbaijan in 2000.

They are now devoid of Armenians, and all ancient churches and cultural/historical sites have

been utterly destroyed. There is nothing in public statements by Azeri leaders or recent history to suggest that they have any intention of dealing fairly or even humanely with the Armenian

citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh.


Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act provides that “United States assistance under this or any other Act (other than assistance under title V of this Act) may not be provided to the Government of Azerbaijan until the President determines, and so reports to the Congress, that the Government of Azerbaijan is taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.” Such a certification is impossible in the current context.


Your administration’s waiver of Section 907 on June 21, 2022 said it “will not undermine or

hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia.”17 Recent events show that efforts to negotiate peace have failed. The GAO reported in 2020 that the US had given almost $1 billion to Azerbaijan, including military assistance, under waiver authority since 2002.18 Continuing this assistance is unconscionable in light of Azerbaijan’s aggression.


Whether or not Azerbaijan has assisted in the US fight against international terrorism or is a

needed source of gas and oil amidst Russia’s war on Ukraine, it is conducting terrorism of its

own and threatens to do more. Your Administration looked the other way as Azerbaijan

swallowed up Nagorno Karabakh. Will it intervene or look away again as it unites with Turkey to

fully occupy the internationally recognized Republic of Armenia? Ignoring a genocide and

failing to exercise the duty to protect vulnerable populations constitutes complicity under

international law.19


If the US abandons its past track record of standing firm on human rights and religious freedom violations, there will be no nation strong enough to stop the lawless nations that increasingly believe that might and money gives them the right to trample the rights of minority communities and smaller nations. We are at the point of no return with threats to religious minorities emerging all around the world.


In closing, we would note that three bills have been introduced in Congress that will eliminate

the President’s right to waive Section 907 and put strong requirements on the Administration to address the issues raised here, impose sanctions, and more.20 We sincerely hope that the

Administration will initiate the needed actions on its own.


Respectfully,

[signatures]


1 The Genocide Convention says that an act of genocide is "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." (Genocide Convention, Article II (c)). It does not require immediate mass killing. Starvation, deprivation of medicine, heat, water, and other necessities of life are sufficient. This is what happened over the last 10 months, and many Armenians died, along with miscarried babies.

https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/genocide.shtml Ethnic cleansing can also be considered a type of genocide as well as a war crime and a crime against humanity. https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/ethnic-cleansing.shtml. Armenians are also entitled to protection as a racial and religious group under numerous other

international conventions and treaties.


2 ICC orders against Azerbaijan on petition of Armenia ordering compliance with the International Convention on The Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:


3 https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-azerbaijan-karabakh-erdogan-aliyev/32607769.html At least 200 gravely injured or killed in an explosion at a fuel station amidst panicked civilians trying to escape from Azeri occupied areas. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/09/25/nagorno-karabakh-armenia-azerbaijan-russia/

4 https://www.france24.com/en/tv-shows/focus/20230921-documenting-suspected-war-crimes-from-nagorno-

karabakh-conflict

5 https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/tens-thousands-ethnic-armenians-rush-flee-nagorno-karabakh-2023-

09-27/

6 https://time.com/6316001/us-failures-nagorno-karabakh/

7 https://armenianweekly.com/2023/09/17/biden-administration-dodges-senate-demands-for-u-s-action-to-break-

azerbaijans-genocidal-blockade-of-artsakh/, reporting on Senate Foreign Relations Hearing on September 17, 2023.

8 https://news.am/eng/news/781925.html; https://am.usembassy.gov/statement-by-secretary-2/

9 https://www.azerbaycan24.com/en/azerbaijani-fm-meets-president-biden-photo/

10 For example, a map displayed by the Turkish Minister of Defense in 2019 showed Turkey and Azerbaijan sharing

a common border. There is no trace of Armenia, Georgia, and Russian territory in the caucuses.

https://gagrule.net/turkish-defence-minister-posts-map-of-turkey-that-includes-pieces-of-syria-iraq-bulgaria-greece-

and-all-of-cyprus/?fbclid=IwAR2xLCCGuQxyw6mLzavvEwqdtYOJqDd9wlS2NIixddDrw2d6sSGLt1hnB0k

11 https://en.azvision.az/news/164663/-second-karabakh-war-and-the-two-years-after-the-war-have-shown-that-no-

one-can-influence-us-%C2%A0.html

12 Luis Moreno Campo, the first ICC prosecutor, issued a report on August 7, 2023 Expert Opinion: Genocide

Against Armenians in 2023; https://luismorenoocampo.com/lmo_en/report-armenia/ . The Lemkin Institute for

Genocide Prevention issued a Red Flag Alert for Genocide-Azerbaijan-Update #8 on June 12, 2023,

https://www.lemkininstitute.com/red-flag-alerts/red-flag-alert-for-genocide---azerbaijan---update-%238; a 128 page

report Risk Factors and Indicators of the Crime of Genocide in the Republic of Artsakh: Applying the UN

- 5 -

Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes to the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict on September 5, 2023,

https://www.lemkininstitute.com/_files/ugd/9bc553_2e3babd9d7834d7fbcfa262f88c9fa74.pdf; and a final SOS for

the Armenians of #Artsakh on September 19, 2023, https://www.lemkininstitute.com/sos-alerts-1/sos---artsakh.

Genocide Watch issued a genocide warning on Nagorno-Karabakh back in 2021 saying it had reached the stage of

extinction! https://www.genocidewatch.com/single-post/genocide-emergency-alert-on-the-war-in-artsakh-nagorno-

karabakh Among many other hearings and presentations, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing

on September 6, 2023, featuring remarks by Co-Chairs Congressmen Chris Smith and James McGovern, Mr.

Campo, and David Phillips, who all noted the imminent threat to the enclave.

https://humanrightscommission.house.gov/events/hearings/nagorno-karabakh-update. And the Senate Foreign

Relations Committee held a hearing on September 14, 2023 at which AAS Yuri Kim testified and heard strong

member demands for immediate Administration action given the imminent threat to Nagorno-Karabakh.

https://armenianweekly.com/2023/09/17/biden-administration-dodges-senate-demands-for-u-s-action-to-break-

azerbaijans-genocidal-blockade-of-artsakh/

13 https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2023/09/turkeys-erdogan-backs-azerbaijans-offensive-nagorno-karabakh-

us-russia-urge

14 https://x.com/agbu/status/1704154582564376927?s=20

15 The calls and videos over the last few weeks have disappeared from X but are still on Telegram and similar

channels. https://x.com/hovhaDovah/status/1705231216591458684?s=20

16 Baku Borrows From Assad’s Blueprint, 9/25/2023; https://carnegie-

mec.org/diwan/90625?utm_source=rssemail&utm_medium=email&mkt_tok=ODEzLVhZVS00MjIAAAGOa-

YRZem-ISsW6KOJIxjnFn8D8A--8sxt-v_YmWUcCuNkJYqwLS65rng9King6xc2kMo-0KAtR70mmnX_DmiEj7O-

goloLe8YB_-U9_DB

17 https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/07/05/2022-14190/extension-of-waiver-of-section-907-of-the-

freedom-support-act-with-respect-to-assistance-to-the

18 https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-22-104619.pdf

19 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/09/22/nagorno-karabakh-genocide-armenia/

20 Introduced by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) H.R.5686 - To prevent ethnic cleansing and atrocities against

ethnic Armenians, promote accountability for the same, protect and provide humanitarian assistance to Armenians in

Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh impacted by actions taken by the Government of Azerbaijan, and for other

purposes. https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/house-

bill/5686?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%22Azerbaijan%22%7D&s=1&r=1;

https://chrissmith.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=411679

Introduced by Frank Pallone, D-NJ and four other members of Congress:

H.R.5683 - To protect and provide humanitarian assistance to Armenians in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh

impacted by actions taken by the Government of Azerbaijan, and for other

purposes. https://www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/house-

bill/5683?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%22Azerbaijan%22%7D&s=1&r=2

Introduced by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ):

S.2900 - A bill to protect and provide humanitarian assistance to Armenians in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh

impacted by actions taken by the Government of Azerbaijan, and for other purposes. Text here:

https://anca.org/assets/pdf/092123_Menendez_AzerbaijanSanctionsBill.pdf;



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