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February 27, 2024

Rep. Schiff Releases Statement on Anniversary of the Sumgait Pogrom

Washington, D.C.— Today, Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) released the following statement to mark the anniversary of the Sumgait Pogrom. The statement was included in the Congressional Record for February 13th, 2024.

"Mr. Speaker, I rise to commemorate the 36th anniversary of the pogrom against the Armenian residents of Sumgait, Azerbaijan. From February 27 to 29, 1988, Azerbaijani mobs assaulted and killed Armenians, leaving dozens of Armenian civilians dead and hundreds injured. Women and girls were raped, and some victims were burned alive after being tortured and beaten. Those who survived the carnage fled their homes and businesses, leaving behind all but the clothes on their backs.

In a pattern all too familiar to the Armenian people, the Azerbaijani authorities made little effort to punish those responsible, instead attempting to cover up the atrocities in Sumgait to this day, as well as denying the role of senior government officials in instigating the violence.

In the years that followed this unspeakable massacre, Armenians living in Kirovabad, Baku, and Maragha suffered a similar fate. These pogroms were part of a pattern of hateful, racist anti-Armenian propaganda and activities occurring throughout Azerbaijan, dehumanizing its Armenian residents, and laying the groundwork for decades of aggression and mass violence. This brutality culminated when the Azerbaijani government initiated war against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh.

Beginning on September 27, 2020, and over 44 days, Azerbaijani forces invaded and murdered innocent Armenians in Artsakh and displaced tens of thousands more. They continued to terrorize the people of Artsakh in subsequent military attacks, and by blocking the Lachin Corridor--which left 120,000 people without access to food, water, medical supplies and services, gas, and electricity for over 9 months. 

On September 19, 2023, the Aliyev regime took full advantage of a people they had systematically starved, and launched a large-scale attack, further escalating their ethnic cleansing and genocidal campaign against the indigenous Armenian people of Artsakh. At least 200 people were killed, 400 wounded, over 100,000 ethnic Armenians were forcibly displaced, and Azerbaijan now holds Artsakh's political and military leadership, civilians, and prisoners of war hostage. With no help from the international community to confront Azerbaijan's military aggression, Artsakh was forced to negotiate under duress and consequently agreed to dissolve their democratically elected government.

There is also real and growing concern that Aliyev has his eyes set on land beyond Artsakh and will continue to seek further territory and concessions from Armenia by force. To this day, Azerbaijani forces remain present on sovereign Armenian land, in violation of Armenia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and last month, President Aliyev made alarming remarks, including his refusal to remove troops from Armenian territory. These are the horrific consequences when aggression and hatred grow unchecked and when Aliyev's hostility is met with deafening silence, emboldening him to continue, and expand, his unprovoked attacks on the Armenian people, knowing there will be no repercussions.

Azerbaijan's campaign of death and destruction against Armenians has been nothing short of deplorable, including the destruction of religious and cultural sites in Artsakh to erase or falsify history, and the torture, mutilation and killing of Armenian civilians, prisoners of war and soldiers. This February also marks 20 years of a horrific crime when Ramil Safarov, an Azerbaijani army captain savagely murdered an Armenian army lieutenant, Gurgen Margaryan with an axe while he slept. The two were participating in a NATO Partnership for Peace exercise at the time in Hungary. In 2012, Safarov was sent home to Azerbaijan, purportedly to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Instead, he was pardoned, promoted, and paraded through the streets of Baku as a returning hero. There is no more dramatic illustration of Azerbaijan's continued posture of hatred towards their Armenian neighbor than their celebration of a cold-blooded murderer.

Though the United States and international partners have condemned Azerbaijan's aggression and military assault against Armenians, the time for strong statements alone has clearly long passed. Condemnation must be followed by real consequences. The United States must hold Azerbaijan and its leadership accountable and take concrete action and press Azerbaijan to return to compliance with international law and order. Crimes against humanity cannot be ignored and cannot go unanswered.

The United States must use its immense bully pulpit to apply direct pressure to the Aliyev regime in Azerbaijan, by enforcing restrictions on additional military assistance to Baku pursuant to Section 907 and calling on Azerbaijan to immediately return all Armenian POWs, hostages, and other detainees, and provide information on the status of those still be detained or missing. Additionally, the Biden Administration should immediately implement sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against Azeri officials responsible for human rights abuses.

The United States must also demand an immediate withdrawal of Azeri forces from the sovereign territory of the Republic of Armenia, provide security assistance to Armenia including expanding humanitarian aid to assist Artsakh refugees, and help ensure the safety and security of Armenians who seek to return to their homes in Artsakh. Finally, the U.S. Department of State must continue to call attention to the destruction and desecration of Armenian religious and cultural sites by Azerbaijan, and urge their safeguarding and preservation. Only by using every diplomatic tool at their disposal, including sanctions, against Azerbaijan can we help guarantee the safety, security and continued territorial integrity of Armenia.

As we pause to remember the innocent victims of the pogroms, we are also reminded that despite the trials the Armenian people have faced, it has not broken their faith, determination, and will to survive in the face of constant threats from Azerbaijan. Today, let us recommit ourselves to doing everything we can to bring peace and justice to our Armenian brothers and sisters abroad, once and for all.”

Schiff’s 30th Congressional District, which includes the cities of Burbank and Glendale, is home to the largest Armenian diaspora community in the country.