Rep. Schiff Spearheads U.S. House Opposition to Rifle Sale to Azerbaijan

 Leads 17 Representatives in sending Congressional letter calling on Commerce Secretary Raimondo to Block Export License

Seventeen U.S. Representatives have joined with Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) in calling on the Biden Administration’s Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to block a proposed license allowing the sale of high-powered American-made rifles to Azerbaijan, an exercise of legislative oversight strongly backed by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The Schiff letter follows a similar letter sent last month by U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and an earlier ANCA letter sent in February of this year.

“We want to thank Representative Schiff and all who joined him in demanding long overdue answers from Secretary Raimondo to multiple Congressional inquiries and our own still-unanswered letter of February 13th of this year,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “Secretary Raimondo needs to get out in front of this escalating controversy by publicly announcing that any proposal to arm Azerbaijan is dead-on-arrival. Period. Full stop.”

The Schiff letter poses seven key questions to Secretary Raimondo, who previously served as Governor of Rhode Island:

1) Can you please confirm whether the Department of Commerce has received a request for an export license for lethal weapons to Azerbaijan?

2) If so, who is the intended recipient and what is the stated purpose of the weapons?

3) Has the Department of Commerce made a final decision on the license request? If no, when does it anticipate doing so?

4) Has the Department of State been consulted yet as part of this process, including the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor? Have reports from outside experts such as the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch been considered as part of the process?

5) Does the State Department concur with granting an export license?

6). How would it be possible to guarantee that U.S. weapons will not be used in the commission of war crimes, violations of human rights, or actions that will trigger full-scale war affecting the people of Artsakh and Armenia? And if it is not possible, how can the provision of such weapons be justified?

7. Have you provided a response to the Armenian National Committee of America’s February 13 letter? Will you commit to providing a response to this group?

Joining Rep. Schiff in co-signing this letter were Representatives Tony Cardenas (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Jim Costa (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Seth Magaziner (D-RI), James McGovern (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Katie Porter (D-CA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

News of a possible sale of U.S. rifles – including assault-style and semi-automatic sniper models – to Azerbaijan first broke on February 1st when Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) announced his “deep concern and strong opposition” to the proposed sale. “The export of weapons to an authoritarian country that wages war against a neighbor, blockades a vulnerable population, and commits rampant human rights violations at home is not consistent with the Administration’s commitment to democracy and human rights,” Sen. Menendez stated in a letter to Secretary Raimondo. “Further, the consideration of this export license further compounds my dismay that the Administration continues to allow the export of assault-style and sniper rifles abroad – even while supporting an assault-style rifle ban domestically – and deepens my reservations about the Department of Commerce having jurisdiction over such exports,” concluded Senator Menendez.

ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian and the local ANC chair from Secretary Raimondo’s home state of Rhode Island, Steve Elmasian, expressed similar concerns in a February 13th letter to Secretary Raimondo. “As you know, from your long friendship with Americans of Armenian heritage in Rhode Island and across the United States, our community is deeply troubled by the U.S. military aid program to Baku, and even more shocked by the possibility that American offensive weaponry may be deployed against Armenians in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) and Armenia. The victims of Azerbaijan’s attacks are, very often, the relatives and friends of Armenian American citizens,” stated Hamparian and Elmasian.

The full text of the letter is available below and here: