A Time of Hope for Nagorno-Karabagh

Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, this week I had the pleasure of meeting with Nagorno-Karabagh's Foreign Minister George Petrosian and National Assembly Speaker Ashot Ghulian. I have long supported the right of self-determination for the people of Nagorno-Karabagh and greatly admire the efforts of the people of this historically Armenian region to build democracy and a market economy in the face of hostility from Azerbaijan.

It is a time of hope for a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict that has plagued the South Caucus for 15 years.

The Armenian and Azeri leadership have, for several years, been negotiating to turn a ceasefire into a more durable peace. It is a process that has been long, tiring and frustrating. I applaud the persistence and commitment of the Nagorno-Karabagh authorities and the government of Armenia and I hope that all of their efforts are slowly, but surely, paying off.

In the last week, the new U.S. Co-Chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group Matthew Bryza announced the framework of an agreement that Armenian and Azeri political leaders will soon discuss in an effort to settle the conflict once and for all. In a statement that was issued by the U.S. embassy in Yerevan yesterday, the Minsk Group's American, French and Russian co-chairs said the proposal envisages a self-determination referendum to be held in Karabagh after the redeployment of Armenian troops from Azerbaijani territories surrounding Karabagh.

I hope that this announcement will clear the way for a brighter future for the Karabagh people and for the people of Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is a sad consequence of the war that Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh have been subjected to a cruel and illegal blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan, a blockade that continues to undermine the prospects for peace.

Armenia and the government of Nagorno-Karabagh have persisted in looking for ways to ease regional tensions, but the Azeris have too often responded by walking away. It is also not helpful that Azerbaijan has persistently talked of a military build-up even as it ostensibly negotiates with the Karabagh and Armenia. Last December's desecration of Armenian khatchars in Azerbaij an also poisoned the atmosphere surrounding the talks.

I am pleased that the Azeri hostility has not gone unnoticed by our government. Last Thursday, Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza spoke to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In response to a question about whether the conflict could resume, he said that it is from the Azeri side ``where you most often hear those sorts of threats.'' And in light of the oil revenues, he went on to say that ``It's really quite unhelpful make statements that imply that this increased wealth is going to lead to purchases of arms and military threats.''

In my meeting with them, I told Foreign Minister Petrosian and Speaker Ghu1ian how much I admire their commitment to peace and their leadership. Too many families have lost loved ones as a result of this conflict. It has been far too long that displaced refugees have been homeless.

We seem to be at a real turning point in the history of the Caucus region and I am proud that the United States is playing a significant role in the peace process.