Azerbaijani Border Guards’ commander’s residence near Baku includes a private lake in shape of Caspian Sea. Courtesy of Google.

The United States’ “maritime and border security cooperation programs with Azerbaijan, funded through [Pentagon’s] Building Partner Capacity program, are in the national interests of the United States, Azerbaijan, and other partners in the region,” says the June 23 letter to members of Congress from assistant secretary of state Mary Elizabeth Taylor, published by the Armenian National Committee of America on June 26.

The Focus on Karabakh reported on the programs’ existence in July 2019.

Writing in response to congressional calls to end the programs as running counter to legal restrictions known as Section 907, the State Department said that “The United States reviews such assistance thoroughly to ensure it will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan and will not be used for offensive purposes against Armenia. These program activities do not occur at or near the international border between Armenia and Azerbaijan or the Line of Contact. The nature of the training and equipment provided (e.g., radars, patrol boats, diving gear, x-ray scanners, underwater surveillance, and visit, board, search, and seizure capabilities), is such that it does not contribute to the offensive capabilities of Azerbaijan and cannot be misused to threaten Armenia or regional stability.”

Members of Congress noted in their letter that “Azerbaijan’s Border Guard and other U.S.-assisted military units have taken part in hostilities against Armenian forces.” In addition to the Border Guards that since late 2018 are deployed on the stretch of the border with Armenia where most cease-fire violations were reported in 2019-20, the 52nd Special Forces Brigade and Naval Special Forces Unit 641, whose training & equipping U.S. funded since early 2000s, have engaged in combat against Armenian forces and committed atrocities against civilians and military personnel.

Azerbaijan’s leadership, as well as senior officials in its defense and security establishment, have been frequently cited for their anti-human rights conduct, including extra-judicial killings and torture, as well as corruption.

War Games

The letter also responded to congressional concerns over Azerbaijan’s recent war games, saying that “after reviewing the available information, to date the United States has not determined that the Azerbaijani military exercises that concluded on May 22 at any point exceeded VD 11 notification thresholds.” VD 11 refers to the 2011 Vienna Document, whose co-signatories – including Azerbaijan – pledge to inform other states involved about their planned military maneuvers.

Taylor went on to say that “The United States has conveyed its concerns to Azerbaijan previously about the lack of transparency regarding large-scale exercises and will continue to highlight with Azerbaijan, bilaterally and at OSCE meetings, the importance of complete and timely notification of military activities in accordance with VD 11 commitments.”