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A Christian advocacy group submitted a letter to the U.S. Congress this week urging action to help Armenians still cut off in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
“Washington’s lax approach has only emboldened Azerbaijan, who since December has been holding 120,000 Armenian Christians hostage in an attempt to extract concessions from Armenia in the long-delayed, oft-promised talks to normalize relations,” Robert Nicholson, president and CEO of Philos Project, wrote in the letter.
“It’s done nothing to relieve pressure on the beleaguered people of Artsakh.”
The Philos Project submitted the letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Friday, addressing Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, and ranking member Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y.
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, speaks during the bilateral peace negotiation closing session with Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and Azerbaijan Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov at the George Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Va., May 4, 2023. (Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars in the past 30 years over Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but home to a large Armenian population in the Caucasus Mountains. Tensions have spiraled between the two ex-Soviet neighbors over the blockade of the only road giving direct access to Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia.
The Philos Project made an appeal, alongside Armenian-Americans and other advocacy groups, directly to Biden for action to help the stranded Armenians, but the administration has provided only a “muted response,” the group said.
“Instead of acting decisively in response to a clear crisis, one that many see as the unfolding of a second Armenian Genocide, the U.S. government has, by all appearances, treated the situation as business as usual,” Nicholson wrote. “The President has been markedly silent, failing to acknowledge the current crisis even when issuing an anniversary message on the Armenian Genocide of 1915.”
President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan and President of the European Council Charles Michel arrive to a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, May 14, 2023. (Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Nicholson noted that following his previous letter to President Biden, the State Department replaced the senior adviser for Caucasus negotiations, which created “an unfortunate setback.”
One of the longstanding concerns surrounding the conflict is Turkey’s involvement, seen to back the Azeri position. The day before the talks occurred with Blinken, Turkey closed its airspace to Armenian aircraft in a perceived response to a monument, a move the Philos Project argued “could easily be viewed as an attempt to further pressure the Armenian side and maximize Azeri leverage.”
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan attend a meeting held in Moscow May 19, 2023. (Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A ceasefire brokered in 2020 by Russia between Armenia and Azerbaijan following a particularly violent clash left Armenia vulnerable to the political ambitions of longtime adversary (and U.S. ally) Turkey, which now seeks to use Armenia as land access to trade with Azerbaijan. That access also provides Turkey a stronger foothold in the Caucuses, bordering Iran and just a little south of Russia.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier this month hosted the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan for face-to-face talks, and Blinken claimed the ministers made “tangible progress.” The secretary claimed a deal between the two nations to end the blockade was “within sight, within reach,” but Nicholson said that no announcement materialized.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan pose for a photo during their meeting on the sideline of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Sept. 7, 2022. (Valery Sharifulin/TASS News Agency Host Pool Photo via AP)
“The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh has challenged administrations of both parties, but the Biden team is handling it with the unique indifference and slowness with which they’ve addressed other foreign policy disasters,” Morgan Ortagus, founder of Polaris National Security and a former State Department spokesperson.
“Their actions over the past five months show their apathy towards religious liberty and their fundamental misunderstanding of leverage.”
Nicholson urged the HFAC to help “reassert” American leadership by bringing immediate relief to the residents of Artsakh and no longer “turn a blind eye as purported partners and allies attempt to negotiate with another partner through violent or coercive means.”
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A U.S. congressional delegation led by Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi arrives in Yerevan for her first visit to Armenia Sept. 17, 2022. (U.S. Embassy in Armenia)
“Negotiations toward peace made under these conditions are bound to foster resentments that will be their undoing in the long run,” Nicholson argued. “America can do better.”
In response to a Fox News Digital request for comment on the blockade earlier this year, the Azerbaijan Embassy in the U.S. sent a “fact sheet” addressing “baseless claims on ‘closure’ of Lachin road and ‘humanitarian crisis’ faced by ethnic Armenians” in the region.
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“As repeatedly stated by Azerbaijan, no restrictions have been applied to movement on the Lachin road for humanitarian purposes,” a statement from the embassy said. “However, the Armenian side and the illegal regime created by it in the territories of Azerbaijan prevent the movement of local residents in order to abuse the situation.”
In response to a Fox News Digital request for comment, the State Department pointed to Blinken’s comments made following the May 4 negotiations. McCaul did not respond by time of publication.
Peter Aitken is a Fox News Digital reporter with a focus on national and global news.