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Senate Votes 100-0 To Cut Off Aid to Azerbaijan Amid War Concerns

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The Senate voted 100-0 last week in a rare moment of widespread bipartisanship to cut off aid to Azerbaijan for the next two years amid fears the country may invade neighboring Armenia soon.

According to Defense News, senators passed the Armenian Protection Act by unanimous consent on Wednesday. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced the legislation, which prevents President Joe Biden from issuing a waiver in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 in order to continue providing security assistance to Azerbaijan.

The bill’s passage comes after more than 100,000 Armenians left the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region as a result of an Azerbaijani siege that has lasted more than nine months. Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of ethnic cleansing.

“We must send a strong message and show our partners around the world that America will enforce the conditions that we attach to military aid,” Peters, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “If we do not take action when countries willfully ignore the terms of our agreements with them, our agreements will become effectively meaningless and toothless.”

In mid-October, Politico reported that Secretary of State Antony Blinken advised a small group of lawmakers that officials were tracking the possibility that Azerbaijan was preparing to invade its neighbor in the coming weeks.

The outlet added:

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Azerbaijiani President Ilham Aliyev has previously called on Armenia to open a “corridor” along its southern border, linking mainland Azerbaijan to an exclave that borders Turkey and Iran. Aliyev has threatened to solve the issue “by force.”

In an Oct. 3 phone call, lawmakers pressed Blinken on possible measures against Aliyev in response to his country’s invasion of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in September, the people said, who were granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive call.

Blinken responded that the State Department was looking at avenues to hold Azerbaijan accountable and isn’t planning to renew a long-standing waiver that allows the U.S. to provide military assistance to Baku.

“Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O’Brien told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday before the Senate vote that the Biden administration does not intend to renew the waiver needed to provide security aid to Azerbaijan,” Defense News added. “The waiver is a longstanding point of contention between the State Department and the Congressional Armenian Caucus, which boasts more than 100 lawmakers.”

In 2002, Congress passed the Freedom Support Act, which bars U.S. administrations from providing military assistance to Azerbaijan amid its ongoing territorial dispute with Armenia. Every year, however, the government has issued a waiver, with the current one lapsing in June.

The waivers were issued “amid mounting tensions at the time between Azerbaijan and neighboring Iran over energy exploration in the Caspian Sea,” Defense News explained, adding that the GOP-controlled House has yet to take up the Senate-passed legislation.

The recent military intervention by Azerbaijan into the Nagorno-Karabakh region resulted in the displacement of over 100,000 ethnic Armenians. Local leaders, under a Russia-brokered surrender, capitulated and consented to dissolve their unrecognized state that had endured for three decades. Subsequently, Azerbaijani forces have apprehended more than a dozen former leaders, Politico reported.

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In a Sept. 20 statement, Blinken noted that he was “deeply concerned by Azerbaijan’s military actions” and declared that “the use of force to resolve disputes is unacceptable.”

However, the territorial dispute extends beyond Nagorno-Karabakh between the two Caucasus countries. Baku has suggested a path to the Nakhichevan exclave that would traverse Armenia’s southern Syunik region, referred to as Zangezur in Azerbaijani, facilitating road traffic to bypass Iran.

Aliyev has said, “We will be implementing the Zangezur Corridor, whether Armenia wants it or not.”

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