Friday, October 10, 2008

Congress marks Artsakh freedom anniversary

First published in Sept. 27, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Artsakh’s freedom celebrated on Capitol Hill
Speakers call for U.S. recognition, support for NKR
by Lusine Sarkisyan and Emil Sanamyan

NKR Rep. in U.S. Barseghian (left) with Armenian caucus co-chairs Reps. Pallone (right) and Knollenberg (center).

- About 100 supporters of Artsakh attended a September 19 Capitol Hill program that featured remarks by members of Congress, a keynote address by community activist and lawyer Mark Geragos, and calls for formal U.S. recognition and greater assistance to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

The event, "Nagorno Karabakh Republic/Artsakh: 20 Years of Freedom, Democracy, and Progress," was hosted by the co-chairs of the Congressional Armenian Caucus in cooperation with the NKR Office in the United States and the Embassy of the Republic of Armenia.

The gathering was part of conferences and events worldwide timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the movement for Artsakh's freedom and the 17th anniversary of the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, formally proclaimed on September 2, 1991.

In their remarks, Ambassador Tatoul Markarian of Armenia and Vardan Barseghian, NKR representative in the United States, reviewed the history and recent developments in Karabakh and in talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Mr. Barseghian used the opportunity to advocate for formal U.S. recognition of NKR's independence as well as an expanded U.S. assistance package to the Armenian republic.

"We expect the United States and other nations to formally recognize the independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, thereby affirming the right of the people of Artsakh to live in freedom without fear of violence, oppression, and persecution," Mr. Barseghian said.

Now, he added, is the "time to expand the nature and scope of [U.S.] assistance to avail Karabakh residents to the type of U.S. assistance - business advice, education, and exchanges - others in the Caucasus have had access to for over a decade."

In light of the recent crisis in Georgia, he also called for international diplomacy that would have "Azerbaijan commit in writing to the nonuse of force" to strengthen the relative peace in the region and create an atmosphere of trust conducive to a peace agreement.

In his keynote address, Mr. Geragos challenged members of Congress to increase U.S. support for Karabakh, suggesting that $35 million in humanitarian aid allocated over 10 years was far from enough, and that a democracy in a troubled region should be getting substantially more U.S. support.

In addition to Armenian Caucus co-chairs Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.), members of Congress who spoke included Reps. Shelly Berkley (D.-Nev.), Gus Bilirakis (R.-Fla.), Jim Costa (D.-Calif.), Barney Frank (D.-Mass.), Patrick Kennedy (D.-R.I.), George Radanovich (R.-Calif.), Steven Rothman (D.-N.J.), Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.), and Tim Walz (D.-Minn.)

In their remarks, members of Congress touted NKR's successes, held up the Armenian republic as an example to be followed by others, and argued for expanded U.S. engagement up to full recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

Reps. Pallone and Knollenberg were presented with a book of letters and drawings from children of Artsakh, prepared by Nelly Martirosian, a Columbia University student who spent two months volunteering in Artsakh. Other members of Congress in attendance also received memorable photos, including those of Artsakh children standing in formation to spell out "thank you" for U.S. help to NKR.

Those in audience also viewed a documentary on Artsakh produced by Peter Musurlian, while human right activist Kathryn Porter talked about her first-hand experiences in Artsakh.

Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate, and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, the Diocesan legate in Washington, offered invocations.

Along with annual congressional commemorations of the Armenian Genocide held every April, events dedicated to Artsakh's successes in preservation of peace and security and efforts to win formal international recognition of its independence - typically held every September - are the largest Armenian events regularly organized on Capitol Hill.

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