Women de-miners in Karabakh whose work is partly funded by the U.S. Photo by Karl Mancini for HALO Trust.
Women de-miners in Karabakh whose work is partly funded by the U.S. Photo by Karl Mancini for HALO Trust.

On October 18, the Helsinki Commission at the U.S. Congress organized a briefing titled, “Averting All-Out War in Nagorno-Karabakh: The Role of the U.S. and OSCE.” The briefing was the first such event to be held in Congress since the April 2016 War and included two former U.S. envoys for Karabakh Carey Cavanaugh (1999-2001) and James B. Warlick (2013-16), as well as Magdalena Grono, the Europe and Central Asia Program Director at the International Crisis Group (ICG).

The briefing video is available on the Commission’s Facebook page. Speakers urged Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders to refocus their rhetoric on the benefits of peace rather than readiness for war and also to implement the previously agreed and long discussed confidence building measures that Azerbaijani leadership has refused to implement. Cavanaugh said the de-mining works carried out in Karabakh with U.S. funding – which Azerbaijan also opposes – are in the interests of all sides.

Earlier this year, Cavanaugh proposed specific penalties against cease-fire violations as part of a policy to preempt large-scale fighting and stabilize the security situation to make negotiations possible. And ICG published its report “Nagorno Karabakh’s Gathering War Clouds” on June 1, warning of potential humanitarian consequences of renewed large-scale fighting. Writing for ICG in 2007 Grono predicted that the risk of war “may reach a new level around 2012, when Azerbaijan’s oil revenues are expected to begin to decline… At that point, Baku might be tempted to conclude that the balance of power was at its most favorable and that an appeal to extreme nationalism could counteract popular disenchantment with the regime.”

The Azerbaijani government expressed some annoyance with the hearing. The state-controlled Trend news agency suggested that “The [Helsinki] Commission’s hearings aim at supporting the aggressive policy of Armenia, which causes due demur in Baku.”

Elman Nasirov, deputy head of the presidential administration’s Center for Strategic Studies agreed that hearings “serve only Armenia’s interests.” “We know about Christopher Smith, who heads the Helsinki Commission,” he said. “He holds a pro-Armenian position. Smith actively participated in the adoption of the Section 907 of the US Freedom Support Act on October 24, 1992.” That measure sanctioned Azerbaijan for its effort to capture Nagorno Karabakh and expel its population.

The Helsinki Commission is co-chaired by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Rep. Smith (R-N.J.). Separately, Congressman Smith has been a leading congressional proponent of sanctioning senior Azerbaijan officials for continued crackdown on that regime’s political opponents and critical media.