Nagorno-Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian leader Bako Sahakian visited the U.S. Congress on Wednesday as part of his ongoing trip to Washington opposed by Azerbaijan.
Sahakian’s administration said that at the Capitol the Karabakh leader met “with a group of members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, discussed issues related to the Nagorno-Karabakh-U.S. relations, the settlement of the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict and issues related to regional processes.”
According to the report, a reception devoted to the 30th anniversary of the 1988 Karabakh movement was organized at the Congress.
In his speech Sahakian highlighted the importance of the meetings organized by the supreme legislative body of the United States, noting that they also “enhance the degree of our responsibility in the course of carrying out hard and painstaking work, further deepening and developing bilateral relations.”
“I am optimistic – it will be definitely so, for we consider the United States to be a friendly country, a state which has become a second homeland for millions of Armenians. I am optimistic because we have here devoted, sincere and honest friends, who have been standing by Karabakh for many years, supporting our people, providing objective information about our country worldwide. We highly assess our friendly ties, considering them to be a precious asset,” stressed the Karabakh leader in his speech, as quoted by his press office.
Sahakian reportedly added that Karabakh “greatly acknowledges the support rendered by the American people” and emphasized “the special role that the House of Representatives, the Senate, our congressman and senator friends have in this process.”
The Karabakh leader also stressed Washington’s “considerable contribution to maintaining peace and stability in our region, to the peaceful and fair settlement of the Azerbaijani-Karabakh conflict.”
“Cementing and deepening ties with the United States have always been and will remain among the fundamental directions of our foreign policy,” Sahakian underscored.
According to the report, Sahakian handed “Nagorno-Karabakh state awards” to a group of U.S. congressmen and senators for “supporting Karabakh” and for “their tangible contribution to the development of Karabakh-USA relations.” The report did not give any names.
The Armenian National Committee of America, which is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots organization in the United States, stressed that Sahakian’s was the first-ever visit to the U.S. Capitol paid by a Karabakh leader.
Ahead of Sahakian’s visit to the United States that began on March 13, Baku summoned the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, Robert Cekuta, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and handed him a note of protest addressed to the U.S. Department of State.
In the note, Azerbaijani authorities urged the United States “to adhere to the norms of international law and not to allow on its territory activities aimed at violating the sovereignty of Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Hikmet Hajiyev claimed the visit would “seriously harm the negotiating process [over Nagorno-Karabakh] and increase tensions in the region.”
Azerbaijan and Armenia have been locked in a conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh for years.
Nagorno-Karabakh, populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, declared independence from Azerbaijan during 1988-94 ethnic tensions and a war that claimed an estimated 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Three decades of internationally-mediated diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the conflict have brought little progress.
Along with Russia and France, the United States co-chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group, the main international format helping broker a peaceful solution to the protracted conflict.