MIAMI, FL – On Thursday, April 13, Florida Armenians hosted Mr. Robert Avetisyan, Representative of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic/Artsakh to the United States, for an economic roundtable discussion on Artsakh. Held in downtown Miami’s Brickell Financial District, Mr. Avetisyan presented the current business climate, economic development, and investment opportunities in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic/Artsakh.
“I was glad to have the opportunity to meet with business owners in South Florida,” stated Avetisyan. “Artsakh becomes increasingly attractive for investors, and we hope that our compatriots from Florida will take an active part in Artsakh’s continued success. I want to thank Florida Armenians for arranging this important meeting, and hope for continued cooperation over a range of issues on our common agenda in the future,” Avetisyan said.
The roundtable was attended by several South Florida business leaders, attorneys, and government relations professionals. Mr. Avetisyan briefed them on the economic growth of Artsakh 25 years after its independence from the Soviet Union. Participants expanded their knowledge of Artsakh’s leading industries such as agriculture, banking, construction, and the emerging hydroelectric energy field. Avetisyan also discussed regional trade mechanisms, their liberal free-market economy, and the high level of political stability in the Nagorno Karabakh Republic/Artsakh. Florida Armenians founder Taniel Koushakjian moderated the discussion.
“It was a pleasure to meet with Mr. Avetisyan and discuss Karabakh’s economic environment and future,” stated Florida Armenians Miami Chairman Harout Samra. “Economic growth is vital to Karabakh’s continued security and the government appears to be working to create a pro-investment environment,” he said.
By Taniel Shant
FLArmenians Political Contributor
Armenian American advocacy groups, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) and the Armenian National Committee (ANC), are currently urging the Armenian American community to voice their concerns to the federal government.
Last month, both groups issued ‘Action Alerts’ on issues of concern to the over 1 million strong Armenian American community. Here in Florida, there are approximately 30,000 Armenian Americans.
With the inauguration of the President Donald J. Trump and the start of the 115th Congress, the groups called on their respective members to take action to boost the Armenian Caucus membership, express opinions regarding the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General and Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State, as well as contacting the Trump Administration to advance Armenian American policy priorities for 2017.
The Assembly, an independent, non-partisan, Washington, D.C.-based organization, urged members to send messages to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding nominees Sessions and Tillerson. Tillerson was confirmed by the Senate last week and Sessions is expected to be approved this week.
The Assembly is currently seeking to boost the bi-partisan Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, which currently stands at 87 Members of Congress, a historic low. “The 115th Congress is at work, and we are turning to you to urge your Representative to join the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues,” read the Assembly statement. “We need to expand the Armenian Caucus to counter growing opposition, and hostility in the region. Our goal is to increase the number of Members who will speak up for the rights of the people of Armenia and Artsakh. Please urge your Representative to join the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues,” read the Assembly alert.
The ANC, the U.S. arm of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, a Yerevan-based Armenian political party, issued calls to its membership to outline key policy priorities to the Trump White House. “Ask President Trump to support Armenia,” reads the ANC alert. The ANC outlined three key policy areas: “Properly commemorating the Armenian Genocide as a clear case of genocide challenging Turkey’s obstruction of justice for this still unpunished crime and more broadly rejecting Turkey’s efforts to control U.S. policy on Armenian issues; Advancing a durable and democratic peace in the Caucasus by recognizing and supporting the independent Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) and; Growing the U.S.-Armenia economic military and political partnership and supporting a secure prosperous and democratic Armenia.”
By John M. Evans,
Former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia (2004-06)
We Americans are understandably focused on the multiple and interlocking tragedies that have taken place in the last month from Louisiana to Minnesota and most notably in Dallas. But half a world away a human tragedy of a different sort has been unfolding in the unrecognized Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which in Soviet times enjoyed an autonomous status, but, as the USSR was collapsing, voted for independence and fought a terrible war with post-Soviet Azerbaijan that claimed some 30,000 dead on both sides. A fragile cease-fire was signed in 1994 under Russian sponsorship, but the “frozen” conflict has in recent years seen more violations of the Line of Contact, and more victims.
The “four-day war” initiated by Azerbaijan on April 2, 2016 (no close observer of the conflict lays the blame anywhere else) was the largest escalation of military conflict between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh since the cease-fire was signed in 1994. Over ninety Armenians were killed, and more than 120, including civilians and children, were wounded. As the Armenian Ambassador to the United States said to me, on a per capita basis, this was equivalent to the U.S. losing 10,000 of its citizens. Thousands of people from the affected villages, mostly children, women and the elderly, were evacuated to the comparative safety of Stepanakert or neighboring communities, or to Armenia proper. I visited Karabakh in late June with Dr. Garo Armen of the Children of Armenia Fund in order to help him determine what COAF might do to ease the suffering of civilians that resulted from the fighting.
The Azerbaijani shelling, much of which was unleashed after the initial attack had already faltered, was most destructive to the border communities of Talish, Madaghis, Mardakert, Hadrout and Martuni. Talish has been entirely abandoned because of the risk of shelling; in fact, further shelling did occur there on June 30 when Azeri soldiers attacked three farmers in the fields. Many families, some of them grieving over their losses, are now internally displaced, still terrified from what they experienced and fearful of the future. Five hotels in Stepanakert were commandeered to house families and individuals who had no other place to go.
Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, the Yerevan office of the Children of Armenia Fund deployed two teams to Karabakh to assess the situation and, in some cases, to provide immediate assistance. The local authorities had attempted to mobilize limited resources to address the most pressing needs, and NGOs and some governmental structures from Armenia also joined in the effort to assist; however, what COAF discovered was that, while some of the emergency needs of the IDPs were partially met, psychological support for the affected people was sorely needed and there was no local capacity to address this issue.
While some efforts were made to address the needs of soldiers with psychosomatic conditions, the majority of the IDPs in the five hotels and elsewhere exhibited signs of trauma, behaving as “ghetto groups,” lost between a terrifying past and an uncertain future, closed inside their shells and praying for God’s help. Children who were enrolled to attend nearby schools feared to venture out to “life-threatening places where shooting and shelling cause death and injuries.” Images of the elderly Talish couple whose ears were cut off by the attackers, of the Yezidi soldier who was decapitated, and of other soldiers tortured and/or mutilated have not helped calm these people down. Some of the atrocities committed by the Azeris clearly were in the category of war crimes and played on the Armenians’ well-founded fear of genocide.
While we Americans have much to do to “fix our own country”, one of the responsibilities of great-power status is to prevent the world from becoming a jungle. Together with Russia and France, the United States has been attempting to mediate the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute through the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In my view and that of many others, it is high time for the Karabakh authorities, unrecognized as they may be under international law, to be brought into the peace process. The Armenians of Karabakh, or, as they call it, Artsakh, are there to stay and deserve to live in peace in their towns, cities and mountains.
John Evans was recalled from his post as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia in 2006 for publicly breaking with the Bush Administration over the Armenian Genocide. He recently published Truth Held Hostage: America and the Armenian Genocide–What Then? What Now? London: Gomidas Institute, 2016.
This article originally appeared in the California Courier and is reproduced with the expressed written consent of the author.