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Democrats warn Turkey over involvement in Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict

Democrats warn Turkey over involvement in Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict
© Greg Nash

Congressional Democrats are warning Turkey against getting involved in the contested southern caucus territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, where renewed fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia threatens a wider regional conflict.

Rep. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Trump, Biden set to meet in final debate | Explicit Fort Bragg tweets were sent by account administrator | China threatens retaliation over Taiwan arms sale Is Trump a better choice for Jewish voters than Biden? Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that “the influence of external actors such as Turkey recklessly meddling in the conflict is troubling” and called for all sides to end hostilities and resume negotiations.

Long-simmering tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan escalated into open conflict on Sunday in the contested area of Nagorno-Karabakh, with some of the fiercest fighting the region has seen in years and reports of dozens killed and hundreds wounded, including civilians.

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The contested status of the territory, claimed by Azerbaijan but administered and occupied by ethnic Armenians, had been under a decades-long mediation process by the Minsk Group, part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and co-chaired by the United States, France and Russia.

The co-chairs issued a statement Sunday to cease fighting and return to negotiations.

But the violence has already drawn a response from Turkey, with Ankara throwing its support behind Azerbaijan and deploying Syrian fighters to help its regional ally, Reuters reported on Monday.

Turkey's actions were followed by pledges of support from Russia and Greece for Armenia — increasing the risk of armed conflict between Ankara and Moscow in addition to increased tensions and possible fighting among NATO allies.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are NATO partners, while Turkey is a NATO member.

Engel said the international community must remain committed to the peace process. 

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“As a co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the United States should not tolerate Turkey disrupting the peace process and exacerbating a conflict already careening toward drastic escalation,” Engel added.

Two days earlier, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for a cease-fire.

“I strongly condemn Azerbaijan’s attack on Nagorno Karabakh, yet another act of aggression supported by Turkey,” Menendez tweeted on Sunday. “The Trump Administration should suspend security assistance to Azerbaijan and engage through the OSCE Minsk Group to bring about a ceasefire.”

Other Democrats in Congress who have called for a de-escalation of tensions include Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanOvernight Defense: Congress recommends nuclear arms treaty be extended | Dems warn Turkey | Military's eighth COVID death identified Democrats warn Turkey over involvement in Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict Sherman joins race for House Foreign Affairs gavel MORE (D-Calif.), the second most senior Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who blamed Azerbaijan for instigating the attacks and Turkey for inflaming the fighting.

“At this sacred time for my family and co-religionists, I’m troubled by the recent Azeri attacks on [Nagorno-Karabakh],” Sherman wrote on Twitter over the weekend.

“We must condemn this aggression and urge Baku to cease offensive military action and return to the peace table. We should halt military aid to Azerbaijan and urge Turkey to abstain from sending arms or fighters.”

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues, blamed Azerbaijan and Turkey for the outbreak of violence.

“For months, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have increased their use of combative rhetoric and provocative actions toward Artsakh and Armenia,” Pallone said in a statement while calling on the State Department to hold Azerbaijan and Turkey accountable.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE said on Sunday that his administration was looking at the situation “very strongly” given that the U.S. has relations with both Baku and Yerevan. 

“We have a lot of good relationships in that area. We’ll see if we can stop it,” he said. 

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the same day that Deputy Secretary of State Steve Biegun had spoken with the foreign ministers of both Azerbaijan and Armenia in an effort to de-escalate tensions.

“The United States believes participation in the escalating violence by external parties would be deeply unhelpful and only exacerbate regional tensions,” Ortagus said.

“We urge the sides to work with the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to return to substantive negotiations as soon as possible. As a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the United States remains committed to helping the sides achieve a peaceful and sustainable settlement to the conflict.”