For a president who entered office claiming human rights would be the central tenet of his foreign policy, President Joe Biden has had a mixed record halfway through his presidency. There's no question that his leadership on the world stage in defending and supporting countries like Ukraine has sent a strong message to autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin that their nefarious actions will not be tolerated.
President Biden's willingness to stand up to bullies both here and abroad has the potential to be a key hallmark of his presidency. But his administration's handling of Azerbaijan's illegal war and unprovoked attacks on Armenia promises to derail any of those accomplishments.
Put simply, Azerbaijan is committing war crimes and atrocities. Despite overwhelming evidence, the Biden administration has done next to nothing in holding Azerbaijan accountable and keeping them in check.
Taking a page out of Vladmir Putin's playbook, Azerbaijan's petro-dictator Ilham Aliyev used the pretext of historical revisionism to start an unlawful war in 2020 against Armenians living in their ancestral homeland of Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh to Armenians.
And while a tenuous ceasefire remains in place, Azerbaijan continues to violate the terms of the peace agreement by attacking the territorial integrity of Armenia. Last month, Azerbaijan fired artillery and drone strikes against Armenian border towns including Vardenis, Goris, Sotk, and Jermuk while killing hundreds of Armenian soldiers and forcing Armenian civilians to evacuate.
It was during those recent clashes where Azerbaijan troops mutilated a female Armenian soldier who was subsequently stripped naked with text written across her breasts and stomach. A stone was placed in her eye socket and a severed finger in her mouth. And video evidence recently emerged showing Azerbaijani troops executing a small group of captured Armenian soldiers.
This patten of illicit behavior led Genocide Watch to issue a genocide warning against Azerbaijan with a recommendation that Western countries stop all military sales to Baku, and a warning that sanctions be placed on Azeri oil and gas exports if attacks continue.
In recent days, we have also seen a chorus of bipartisan support from members of Congress condemning these latest Azerbaijani crimes including new legislation from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and senior member Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that calls for an end to military aid to Azerbaijan and potential sanctions on the Aliyev regime. These efforts come on the heels of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's historic visit to Armenia, where she highlighted the United States' "firm commitment to a peaceful and democratic Armenia, and a stable and secure Caucus region" and strongly rebuked Azerbaijan for their "illegal and deadly attacks" on Armenia.
While this type of congressional support is welcoming, the silence coming from the White House is deafening.
Armenians see these latest acts of aggression by Azerbaijan as a continuation of the 1915 Armenian genocide and an existential threat to their very existence. In many ways, history is repeating itself.
But what is happening to Armenians is no different to what is happening to Ukrainians. These events are not mutually exclusive, yet the Biden administration is approaching them differently.
No more is this evident than in the disparity in foreign aid. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has committed more than $16.9 billion in security assistance to Kyiv while unleashing a raft of economic sanctions against Moscow. In contrast, the Biden administration's 2023 budget proposal includes a 47 percent cut in U.S. aid to Armenia ($24 million) and no specific dollar amount for Artsakh, while calling for $164 million in U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan.
In fact, days after officially recognizing the Armenian genocide, Biden waived Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act that bans foreign aid to Azerbaijan. While Armenian Americans welcomed this historic and long overdue recognition, the spirit of its intent was short-lived. In essence, Biden recognized a genocide, only to allow another one to continue.
There was a false narrative being floated that Azerbaijan's attacks last month were over the territorial dispute in Nagorno-Karabakh. Nothing could be further from the truth. Aliyev has been on record claiming that parts of Armenia's territory are Azerbaijan's historic lands. He has defended this belief in speeches and has gone as far as to say that Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, belongs to Azerbaijan.
In other words, Azerbaijan wants Armenia while Armenia wants peace.
This should not be a zero-sum game. The people of Ukraine deserve all the help and support that the world can give them. But so do the people of Armenia. The parallels between Ukraine and Armenia could not be starker. Both are fledgling democracies who are under threat from countries who are led by autocrats. And by focusing on just one group only undermines another while giving depots cover to commit wanton acts of violence with no consequences.
There's still time for the Biden administration to get things right. The State Department's recent statement that the U.S. is "deeply disturbed" by reports of Azerbaijani soldiers executing unarmed Armenian POWs and calling for a full and impartial investigation is certainly a positive sign. But it does not go far enough. Actions speak louder than words. It is time for the Biden administration to treat all human rights equally and hold Azerbaijan accountable.
Stephan Pechdimaldji is a communications strategist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He's a first-generation Armenian American and grandson to survivors of the Armenian genocide.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.
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