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U.S. government watchdog group adds Azerbaijan to list of world’s worst religious freedom abusers

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WASHINGTON—The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) joined In Defense of Christians (IDC) and Save Armenia in calling on the State Department to follow U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommendations to place Azerbaijan on its Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) list, along with North Korea and Pakistan.

In its annual report issued yesterday, USCIRF downgraded Azerbaijan from its Special Watch List (SWL) to the CPC designation and urged the State Department to do the same for “for engaging in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).” The report also called on the U.S. government to “allocate funding to the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Embassy in Baku to restore, preserve and protect places of worship and other religious or cultural sites in Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories.”

The ANCA joined In Defense of Christians and Save Armenia press conference at a State Department urging the Biden administration to follow USCIRF recommendations to designate Azerbaijan a “Countries of Particular Concern” and fund the protection of holy sites in Artsakh.

During a press conference organized by IDC and Save Armenia, ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian pressed the State Department to heed USCIRF’s recommendation.

“President Biden’s Department of State – like President Trump’s before him – is guilty of complicity in Azerbaijan’s genocide of Artsakh by arming Azerbaijan, emboldening their aggression and abandoning the Artsakh’s indigenous Armenian Christian population,” stated Hamparian. “We thank each of the USCIRF members who voted to red-list Azerbaijan and call upon our State Department to act on the facts, on the law, and based upon our American values by designating Azerbaijan as a Country of Particular Concern.”

Hamparian’s remarks at the press conference are available here:

Citing Azerbaijan’s ethnic cleansing of Artsakh’s 120,000 Christian Armenian population, IDC Executive Director Richard Ghazal was adamant: “As a retired member of the United States Armed Forces and as a grandchild of the Armenian Genocide, I am outraged to know that Azerbaijan is a beneficiary of U.S. military assistance. No active perpetrator of genocide should ever, EVER be enabled by American money and arms. The U.S. must discontinue military aid to Azerbaijan. The U.S. State Department must heed USCRIF’s recommendation.”

Former USCIRF Chair and current President of the International Religious Freedom Secretariat Nadine Maenza noted, “It is important that Secretary Blinken follow through with his commitment to support a strong and independent Armenia, to hold Azerbaijan accountable for any future violations of this ceasefire, and the continuing violations of religious freedom against Armenians and their religious sites in Azerbaijan.”

Former U.S. Representative Frank Wolf slammed public relations firms who whitewash the world’s worst human rights abusers, calling on Congress to limit their lobbying reach. “My own belief stands that if a country has been designated as a CPC for three consecutive years, they should be prohibited from engaging in lobbying activities. […] This policy should apply to Azerbaijan and all other countries designated as a CPC for three or more years,” stated Rep. Wolf.

The complete press conference is available here:

Later, Hamparian spoke with EWTN News Nightly’s Tracy Sabol regarding the significance of USCIRF’s CPC designation for Azerbaijan. “USCIRF has a great reputation, a well-earned reputation, as a watchdog on religious freedom. They need to keep an eye on our State Department, which sadly sometimes acts as a lapdog, insufficiently challenging the terrible abuses against Christians and others around the world,” stated Hamparian, who went on to call for U.S. sanctions on Azerbaijan and to end military and security aid to the Aliyev regime. “We can build on this [USCIRF recommendation] with a formal [State Department] designation, and then by sanctioning Azerbaijan and withholding military aid. Even to this day, after all that Azerbaijan’s done against Armenians – the massacres, the blockades, the ethnic cleansing – they’re still eligible for U.S. military assistance, and that has to end.”

Hamparian’s EWTN interview is available here:

From 2013 to 2019, USCIRF put Azerbaijan on its Special Watch List (SWL). The U.S. State Department finally took their recommendation and designated Azerbaijan on their SWL List in December 2023.

ANCA

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is the largest and most influential Armenian-American grassroots organization. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters and supporters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world, the ANCA actively advances the concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.

ANCA

ANCA

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