By Emil Danielyan
Facing strong Armenian protests, the U.S. State Department has revised a controversial passage in its latest human rights report that described Nagorno-Karabakh as an Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenia.
The original version of the annual report released on March 4 said Armenia “continues to occupy the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding Azerbaijani territories.” The statement was welcomed by many in Azerbaijan but was rejected as inaccurate by the Armenian government and Armenian lobbying groups in the United States.
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said later in March that Armenian diplomats have raised the issue with State Department officials. He said the latter admitted that it was an “obvious mistake on their part” and promised to “try to make a correction in that document.”
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) likewise expressed “profound concern” at the reference. “To say that Nagorno-Karabakh is an Azerbaijani territory and that Armenia occupies Nagorno-Karabakh and other territories is to ignore the very fundamentals of this conflict,” Ken Hachikian, the ANCA chairman, said in an April 3 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The revised version of the U.S. report’s chapter on human rights practices in Armenia does not refer to Karabakh as an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan and stops short of explicitly accusing Yerevan of occupying Azerbaijani districts surrounding the disputed enclave. “Armenian forces occupy large portions of Azerbaijan territory adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenian officials maintain that they do not "occupy" Nagorno-Karabakh itself,” reads the report posted on the State Department’s website.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry refused to comment on what is a rare change in the text of a department report made after its official release. A ministry spokesman only reiterated Oskanian’s earlier comments on the issue.
The ANCA, for its part, was only partly satisfied with the revision which it said was made public this week. "We remain concerned that the amended text continues to fall short of accurately describing the situation, as well as by the fact that the Azerbaijan section of the report continues to make incorrect assertions, thus making its text inconsistent with the State Department's own revision of the Armenia section," its executive director, Aram Hamparian, said in a statement.
Washington has always stated that it supports Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the Karabakh dispute. But that has not kept it from helping to draft over the past decade peace proposals that would essentially pave the way for international recognition of Karabakh’s secession from Azerbaijan.