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June 26, 2024

Schiff and 47 Bipartisan Representatives Call for Swift Action to Protect Armenian Cultural Heritage Sites in Nagorno-Karabakh

Washington, D.C.— Today, Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Vice Chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus, and 47 bipartisan Members of Congress, called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to take immediate action to prevent the continued destruction of Armenian cultural, historical, and religious sites by Azerbaijan in the ethnically Armenian region of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh.

Schiff led the bipartisan group of lawmakers in expressing their deep concern over Azerbaijan’s ongoing efforts to erase Armenian culture in the region. According to Cornell University’s Caucasus Heritage Watch (CHW), Azerbaijan was responsible for the destruction of 98 percent of Armenian cultural heritage sites in the Nakhchivan exclave between 1997 and 2011. This pattern of destruction has continued with the recent Azerbaijan military offensive against Artsakh in September 2023 that has led to over 100,000 displaced refugees.

“[...] there is already evidence Azerbaijan is continuing its strategy of erasing Armenian culture within and around this region as well. In many cases, Azerbaijan has attempted to mask the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage by calling its activities “restoration” of historical sites and has made efforts to claim Armenian heritage sites have “Caucasian Albanian” origins or simply do not exist. Azerbaijan’s recent reconstruction of the St. John the Baptist Church, also known as Kanach Zham/Green Church, located in Shushi is an example of the quiet destruction of sites that have significant value to Armenians. These activities are not benign and ultimately result in the erasure of Armenian culture and a systematic cleansing of the region of its historic Armenian roots,” the lawmakers wrote.

“In the face of these significant risks to Armenian cultural heritage, we write this letter to express our deep concern that the Department of State must do more to prevent Azerbaijan’s actions. Even as your senior diplomats meet with Azerbaijani officials, it is unclear if these concerns are being raised, or are raised with the appropriate level of seriousness that the issue deserves,” the lawmakers continued.

“For this reason, we urge the Department of State to ensure that all U.S. diplomats prioritize this issue by raising the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage at every meeting with officials at all levels of the government of Azerbaijan. We ask that you urge the government of Azerbaijan to fully comply with the ICJ provisional measures and to refrain from actions that would lead to the further destruction of Armenian cultural heritage. It is vital that the Administration calls for an immediate cessation of Azerbaijani activities that would eradicate the rich history and culture of the Armenian people. These sites must be protected,” the lawmakers concluded.

The letter was also signed by Representatives Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-Ga.), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), J. Luis Correa (D-Calif.), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-Va.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Sean Casten (D-Ill.), Jonathan L. Jackson (D-Ill.), Gabe Amo (D-R.I.), Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Robert J. Menendez (D-N.J.), Scott H. Peters (D-Calif.), Bradley Scott Schneider (D-Ill.), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Haley M. Stevens (D-Mich.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Brendan F. Boyle (D-Pa.), Linda T. Sánchez (D-Calif.), Seth Magaziner (D-R.I.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), David G. Valadao (R-Calif.), Greg Casar (D-Texas), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.), John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.), Grace F. Napolitano (D-Calif.), Susie Lee (D-Nev.), John B. Larson (D-Conn.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), and Andy Kim (D-N.J.).

Read the full letter here.

Schiff’s 30th Congressional District, which includes the cities of Burbank and Glendale, is home to the largest Armenian diaspora outside of Armenia. He serves as Vice Chair of the Congressional Armenian Caucus.