US Senator Robert Menendez speaks on a visit to Quito on April 10, 2023 (Rodrigo BUENDIA)

US Senator Robert Menendez speaks on a visit to Quito on April 10, 2023 (Rodrigo BUENDIA)

AFP: Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called on the United States to impose sanctions on Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, alleging that his government is conducting a campaign of "genocide" against the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. These accusations have been consistently denied by Baku.

The escalating tensions in the South Caucasus region have led to Armenia accusing Azerbaijan of provoking a humanitarian crisis by shutting down the only road that connects Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh. However, on Tuesday, the separatist authorities in the enclave announced that a Russian humanitarian aid convoy had successfully arrived, potentially mitigating some of the dire circumstances.

Senator Menendez, known for his close ties to the Armenian diaspora, welcomed the three rounds of peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, brokered by the United States. However, he also stressed the need for decisive measures against President Aliyev and his government.

"The Aliyev government in Azerbaijan is conducting a campaign of heinous atrocities bearing the hallmarks of genocide against Armenians in Artsakh," Senator Menendez declared, using the Armenian name for the self-proclaimed republic of the rebel government.

He continued, "We need to hold accountable those people who are conducting this campaign of ethnic cleansing. We need to subject them, including President Aliyev, to sanctions. We need to block their access to the wealth and oil money that they have hidden in financial institutions around the world, to their yachts and mansions all over Europe."

Senator Menendez underscored the comments of Luis Moreno Ocampo, the former prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who accused Azerbaijan of wielding a "hidden weapon of genocide" by depriving Nagorno-Karabakh of food.

Azerbaijan has vehemently denied blocking humanitarian aid to the region. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior U.S. official from the State Department expressed deep concern about the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh but pointed out the challenge of obtaining firsthand information due to the absence of personnel on the ground.

The official clarified, "We have no confirmed deaths from starvation or malnutrition."

Addressing concerns of "international complicity" in the situation, another U.S. official dismissed such claims, emphasizing the U.S. commitment to facilitating the delivery of food aid.

The backdrop to these developments is the protracted conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, which culminated in two wars, with the most recent one occurring in 2020. Azerbaijan, in alliance with Turkey, regained control of the territory, which had been under Armenian control for decades.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has issued stark warnings of a potential return to full-scale conflict, holding Russia accountable for its role as a peacekeeper and accusing it of being "unable or unwilling" to secure the Lachin corridor leading to Nagorno-Karabakh.

The first U.S. representative dismissed notions of a U.S. effort to oust Russia from the region, stating unequivocally, "This is not about Russia. We are talking about a lasting and enduring peace in the region."

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