Updated Feb 3, 2023 - World

U.S. lawmakers warn of Azerbaijan blockade "catastrophe"

Armenians protest Dec. 27 at a Russian peacekeepers' checkpoint outside Stepanakert, in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Photo: Ani Balayan/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. lawmakers are urging Azerbaijan to end the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh as the region remains cut off from food, medicine and often fuel for a 53rd day.

Driving the news: House Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) joined demonstrators at the Capitol Thursday, calling for the U.S. to hold Azerbaijan accountable for the human rights abuses against the people of Karabakh and urging support for a bipartisan House resolution.

  • The only route neighboring Armenia can use to supply Nagorno-Karabakh — where 120,000 ethnic Armenians live though it is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan — has been blocked since Dec. 12 by people claiming to be anti-mining protesters.
  • The resolution, aimed at breaking the blockade, calls for the immediate suspension of any U.S. military or security assistance to Azerbaijan; U.S. leadership in petitioning international courts to investigate Azerbaijani war crimes; and humanitarian relief to victims.
  • Azerbaijan has denied any blockade, saying the road-blocking activists are staging a legitimate protest, per Reuters.

What they're saying: "U.S. support for this warmonger Aliyev has to stop," Schiff said of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. "Not a dime more for Azerbaijan. ... Not a penny more for this war criminal who is making war on a peaceful people."

  • Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) this week called on the Biden administration to take immediate steps to end the blockade and to end all U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan. "American taxpayers shouldn't be subsidizing Azerbaijan's constant aggression against the Armenian people," she said on the House floor.
  • "For over nearly two months, the region's 120,000 Armenians have been denied food, fuel, medicine and other essentials as a result of this cruel and inhumane blockade," she said. "Azerbaijan's goal is clear: to force the ethnic Armenians of Artsakh from their homeland by imposing conditions that make life impossible. We must hold Azerbaijan accountable for its aggression."
  • Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said on the House floor that her southern California district is home to an American Armenian community formed by survivors of the Armenian genocide. "Now in the face of Azerbaijan aggression, many of my constituents fear a second genocide," she said.
  • Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said he's concerned about the worsening humanitarian crisis and urged Azerbaijan's government to "facilitate fully unimpeded free passage."

The big picture: Hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan persist despite a September ceasefire that came after Azerbaijan launched an attack on Armenia, escalating a decades-long dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the population of which is predominantly Armenian.

  • Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh have instituted a rationing system as food supply dwindles. Baby formula, diapers and medicine are now hard to come by.
  • Azerbaijan has also often cut the gas supply, leaving people without heat in the freezing winter temperatures.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with information about the blockade and Azerbaijan's denial. This story has also been corrected to reflect that the bipartisan resolution to end the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh has not yet been introduced in the U.S. House.

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