Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Kornidzor, Armenia

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you all for joining us here today. We're obviously standing near the Lachin Corridor, which for so long, was a critical lifeline connecting the ethnic Armenians who live in Nagorno-Karabakh with the Republic of Armenia. During the nine months that the Government of Azerbaijan blocked this corridor, it created excruciating humanitarian conditions for the people living in Nagorno-Karabakh. Blockages of food, medicine, and supplies created dire shortages inside Nagorno-Karabakh. Humanitarian organizations, independent eyes and ears were shut out. The Government of Azerbaijan, not allowing independent access and entrée to be able to meet the humanitarian needs of people in Nagorno-Karabakh. 

As you all know, the military attacks of last week have made a dire situation even worse. It is absolutely critical that humanitarian organizations be granted full and unimpeded access to Lachin Corridor and into the villages and towns of Nagorno-Karabakh. I have spent the last couple days talking to Armenian government officials, to nongovernmental organizations, and now most recently, people who are fleeing the – [pause for emergency vehicle].

We know that there are injured civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh who need to be evacuated and it is absolutely essential that evacuation be facilitated by the Government of Azerbaijan. Given the scale of the needs that the Karabakh are facing, the United States will provide $11.5 million in humanitarian assistance. This assistance will be used to provide everything from food to psychosocial support, given again, the grave psychological wounds that so many citizens are carrying. 

I have also met many individuals who don't know where certain members of their families are. This assistance will also be used to support efforts to reunite families. There are many unaccompanied children who have crossed into the Republic of Armenia and it is absolutely urgent that they be reunited with their families. We have heard of the longing already, that people who have crossed into the Republic of Armenia and been displaced – we have heard of their longing to be able to go back to their homes to be able to visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried. This freedom of movement is absolutely critical.

So even as we focus on meeting the immediate needs of vulnerable, exhausted, in some cases injured people, we must also think about the medium and the long term needs of these individuals. And the United States will continue to stand with the Republic of Armenia, the local authorities, the local volunteers – who are showing great generosity and solidarity with ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh – and we will work with those same communities and those same authorities to provide ongoing support to the vulnerable individuals who now so desperately needed.

And with that I'm happy to take a few questions.

QUESTION: Ms. Power, you quite literally wrote a book on ethnic cleansing standing surrounded by people who fled the house. Are you ready to say that's what this is?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: We need to ensure that the international community gets access into Nagorno-Karabakh. There are still tens of thousands of ethnic Armenians who are there living in very vulnerable conditions. And already you are seeing, as well the gathering of testimonies from people who have fled, violence, deprivation, and with the fear of living under the Government of Azerbaijan.

Our focus again, right now and, I'm USAID Administrator, is meeting the humanitarian needs of individuals in really vulnerable circumstances and looking out for and securing access to individuals who are either unable to proceed on the Corridor because it is blocked with traffic, or, in some cases, too scared to make the journey to where we are today.

QUESTION: Ms. Power, do you have reason to believe that Azerbaijan committed atrocities whether against its civilians or against combatants inside Nagorno-Karabakh?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: We have heard very troubling reports of violence against civilians. At the same time, given the chaos here, and the trauma, the gathering of testimonies, and the understanding of the experiences of people who have come across, is something that is just beginning. The reports only underscore, again, how essential it is that independent eyes and ears gain access to Nagorno-Karabakh now.

QUESTION (via translation) So you're talking about the access of humanitarian organizations and we are also seeing that at the moment ethnic cleansing is happening. Don't you think that it's time for the United States to resort to more tougher actions like sanctions?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you for that question. President Biden sent me here to talk to government officials, to nongovernmental organizations, and to civilians fleeing horrific circumstances in Nagorno-Karabakh. I, and President Biden, certainly very much appreciate the urgency of being able to identify what exactly the form of consequences is that so many of you have asked about. But that is why I'm here – is to gather the facts, to hear the testimonies of civilians, and what they have been through, to consult with leaders across the region, including, of course, here in Armenia. 

And when I get back to Washington, and relay the testimonies that I've heard, I believe it will very much assist in helping the President and the broader Administration determine which options, which are under consideration, should be pursued. And I want to underscore there are a range of options under active consideration. And I look forward to bringing back the experience and the testimonies, and being able to describe for my colleagues in government, just how grave the circumstances have been and remain for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.

At the same time, we dedicate ourselves to meeting what are truly urgent needs for people who have fled absolutely impossible circumstances, sometimes over many days, and who need urgent support now. And on that score, I hope the additional resources that we, the United States, are investing in meeting those humanitarian needs can make a difference.

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