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Pallone Recognizes 17th Anniversary of Nagorno Karabakh's Movement Towards Liberation

February 17, 2005
Press Release

"Mr. Speaker, this Sunday, February 20th, 2005 will mark the 17th anniversary of the modern day liberation movement of the people of the Nagorno Karabakh (NK). Seventeen years ago the people of NK petitioned the Soviet government to correct historical injustices and reunite them with their compatriots in Armenia.

"The Armenians of NK were placed within the borders of Azerbaijan in 1921, as one of many ethnic groups that were separated by Joseph Stalin through his 'divide and conquer' strategy. Armenians of NK were subjected to brutal Soviet Azerbaijani rule for 70 years.

"It is imperative that we recognize the fact that NK's referendum to secede from Azerbaijan in 1988 was pursuant to Soviet law. NK was already operating as an autonomous region and therefore had the right and the power to secede if they chose to.

"In fact, during the seven decades of Soviet rule, the Armenians of NK repeatedly stated to each successive Soviet regime their desire to be joined again with Armenia. These peaceful and legal maneuvers were met with violent repression and forced settlement of ethnic Azeris into NK.

"In 1988, when the Armenians of NK heard of the Mikhail Gorbachev's democratization agenda, they began to again move peacefully for reunification with Armenia. At this time, the Soviet and Azeri armies would not even to entertain this request and immediately resorted to violence. Public expressions of determination by the Armenians of NK were met with a campaign of ethnic cleansing, deporting the Armenians of NK and Azerbaijan.

"In 1991, as Armenia and Azerbaijan followed most soviet states in succession from the USSR, NK also voted to succeed. In an internationally monitored referendum, the NK population overwhelmingly voted to establish an independent Nagorno Karabakh Republic, currently known as NKR.

"Following this referendum in which the country was established, the Azeri army began a full-scale war on the Armenians of NK, which took thousands of lives over three years, but eventually ended up with NKR repelling Azeri forces. This victory was gained with an army that was out-manned and out-gunned, but had desire and guile that proved to be overwhelming. This conflict had a terrific human cost, leaving 30,000 dead and over one million displaced. Thankfully, although small skirmishes have broken out from time to time, the peace has been kept since an agreement ceased hostilities in 1994.

"Mr. Speaker, I have repeatedly come to the House floor to speak of the plight of the Armenians of NKR. I can now speak from personal experience about NKR, having traveled there. I had the opportunity to travel to NKR to witness the Presidential elections there, where we served as official monitors. I am proud to say that all election observers that participated in this historic event gave an overwhelmingly positive response. One group in particular, headed by the Baroness Cox from England stated that, 'Our overall conclusion is one of congratulations to all the people of Artsakh (NKR) for the spirit in which the elections have been conducted, their commitment to the democratic process and their pride in their progress towards the establishment of civil society.'

"This process is astounding considering that NKR is not recognized internationally; that they still must deal every day with Azeri aggression, and that their economy is still devastated from the war. The elections were reported to have met, if not exceeded international standards. All this just 9 short years removed from all-out war.

"Congress recognized this consistent move towards democracy, granting NKR 20 million dollars in humanitarian assistance in FY '97, an additional 5 million dollars in FY '03 and 3 million just last year. This assistance has not just been crucial for needs of the people of NKR, but has also fostered the beginnings of an excellent relationship between our two countries.

"Mr. Speaker, I would like to end with a final example of what I saw during my visit to NKR. During the elections, as I visited the capitol city and small villages alike, everyone I spoke to was incredibly excited about the prospect of voting. They viewed the vote not only as a choice of the leader of their country for the next five years, but a statewide referendum on the democratic process and independence of NKR.

"I congratulate the people of NKR for the 17th anniversary of the Nagorno Karabakh Liberation movement and their incredible determination to establish a free and open democratic society."