Senators Urge Administration to Secure the Release of Armenian POWs and Ensure Artsakh’s Right to Return as Precondition for Peace Talks

Bipartisan Letter Highlights Illegal Detention of Artsakh’s Political Leadership; Calls for Sanctions and Official Determination of Ethnic Cleansing

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Gary Peters (D-MI) called on the Biden Administration to prioritize the release of Armenian prisoners of war and Artsakh’s political leadership illegally detained by Azerbaijan as a precondition for negotiations, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

“The Biden-Harris Administration’s failure to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its genocide of Artsakh, occupation of Armenian territory, and ongoing detention of Armenian prisoners and political leaders has not only undermined efforts to ensure a durable and just peace, but also emboldened Azerbaijan’s escalating threats of renewed aggression,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We thank Senators Markey, Cassidy, Tillis, and Peters for pressing the Administration to hold Azerbaijan accountable and ensure that any negotiated settlement upholds the fundamental rights of Artsakh’s Armenians to live in peace and security in their indigenous homeland.”

The letter, which calls for the State Department to label what took place in Nagorno-Karabakh as an act of ethnic cleansing, highlighted the need to ensure the Biden Administration forcefully advocates for the right of Armenians to return to their homes under international guarantees. While the Biden Administration has formally affirmed the right of return in several public statements, it has undertaken no tangible action to guarantee the safe and secure conditions required to ensure Armenians would be free from persecution and subjugation should they be allowed to return to their homes.

Commenting on the status of peace talks, the Senators noted that Azerbaijan’s efforts to decapitate the political leadership of Artsakh was a “well-known tactic of those committing ethnic cleansing.” They expressed concerns over “denying their freedom and ability to participate in the peace process.” Specifically, the letter highlights the ongoing illegal detention of the current and former leaders of Artsakh, including former Presidents Arkadi Ghukasyan, Bako Sahakyan, and Arayik Harutyunyan; former State Minister Ruben Vardanyan; former Foreign Minister Davit Babayan, and former Speaker of the Parliament Davit Ishkhanyan, among others.

Noting that Azerbaijan has “incurred few costs from the international community for their continued detention,” the Senators concluded their letter by urging the Administration to “insist in your interactions with the Governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia that the release of prisoners must be a prerequisite to, or at least a condition of, any peace deal reached,” as well as to impose sanctions on Azerbaijani officials responsible for gross human rights violations.

Senators Markey and Cassidy have recently led efforts in the U.S. Senate to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its ethnic cleansing of Artsakh through the introduction of S.Res.540, which would require the State Department to provide a report on Azerbaijan’s human rights violations pursuant to Section 502B(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act. This powerful, privileged resolution would force the Administration to reassess its security assistance to Azerbaijan and open a legislative pathway to restoring Congressional oversight over U.S. military assistance.

Senator Tillis also recently highlighted Azerbaijan’s egregious human rights record with the introduction of a resolution (S.Res.616) calling for the release of Azerbaijani opposition activist and academic Gubad Ibadoglu, who has been illegally detained by Azerbaijan since July 2023 and faces abuse and the denial of medical care in detention.

In November, Sen. Peters led the unanimous U.S. Senate passage of the “Armenian Protection Act of 2023” (S.3000), which aims to block all U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan by removing President Biden’s authority to waive Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act for fiscal years 2024 and 2025.

The Markey-Cassidy-Peters-Tillis letter came ahead of a trilateral meeting between the European Union, United States, and Armenia, set to take place on April 5th in Brussels amid renewed fears of war. Despite the State Department’s insistence that progress has been made in negotiations, Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly rejected third-party mediation in the peace process, forcing Armenia to negotiate under conditions of extreme coercion, including Azerbaijan’s occupation of sovereign Armenian territory and attacks on Armenian border villages.

The Senate letter follows a recent letter from ANCA Chairman Raffi Hamparian calling on lawmakers to urge the Biden Administration to take immediate action to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its genocide of Artsakh, ensure the immediate release of Armenian prisoners, and reassert the need to advocate for a safe and secure right of return for Armenians forcibly displaced from their homes.

A full copy of the Markey-Cassidy-Peters-Tillis letter is available here and provided below:


Text of Markey-Cassidy-Peters-Tillis letter to Secretary of State Blinken

The United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

April 4, 2024

The Honorable Antony Blinken
U.S. Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Blinken,

We are writing to express our concern regarding the peace negotiations currently underway between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the aftermath of Azerbaijan’s military assault on Nagorno- Karabakh in September 2023. Specifically, we are concerned that key political leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh are currently held illegally as political prisoners by Azerbaijan and their release may not be part of any peace agreement.

Forcefully removing and detaining the political leadership of an ethnic group is a well-known tactic of those committing ethnic cleansing. Denying their freedom and ability to participate in the peace process means that peace is being negotiated without the voice or perspective of those with key knowledge of those affected by Azerbaijan’s atrocities.

On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh in clear violation of the 2020 ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Azerbaijan had already caused a “dire humanitarian situation”[1] in the region through its nine-month blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which prevented food, medicine, and other essential goods from reaching Nagorno-Karabakh. [2] Within a matter of weeks, some 120,000 people – almost the entire population of Nagorno-Karabakh – were forced to flee. [3] The European Parliament and other experts have described Azerbaijan’s actions as ethnic cleansing. [4]

While most of those forcibly displaced were allowed to cross the border into Armenia, there were several notable exceptions. In late September and early October, current and former leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh’s government were detained, such as Ruben Vardanyan, former State Minister; former Presidents Arkadi Ghukasyan, Bako Sahakyan, and Arayik Harutyunyan; Davit Babayan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs; and Davit Ishkhanyan, former Speaker of the Parliament, among others. Azerbaijan’s Prosecutor General Kamran Aliyev indicated that this was just the beginning, as criminal investigations had been opened against a total of 300 former Nagorno-Karabakh officials. [5]

Requiring the release of political prisoners and prisoners of war is a critical step to achieving a sustainable peace. Yet, to date, Azerbaijan has incurred few costs from the international community for their continued detention, much less for the brutal ethnic cleansing of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. Instead, it has been awarded the privilege of hosting the next COP29 meeting, just months after its ethnic cleansing campaign and continued detention of these political prisoners.

We therefore urge you to insist in your interactions with the Governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia that the release of the political prisoners must be a prerequisite to, or at least a condition of, any peace deal reached. Given the serious human rights violations perpetrated by Azerbaijan, we further urge you to label what took place in Nagorno-Karabakh in September 2023 as an ethnic cleansing and advocate for the right of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians to return to their homes under international guarantees.  The United States should also urgently impose sanctions against those responsible.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues.


Edward J. Markey
United States Senator

Bill Cassidy
United States Senator

Thom Tillis
United States Senator

Gary C. Peters
United States Senator

[1] Press Statement, U.S. Department of State, Call for End of Hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh (Sept. 19, 2023),

[2] Press Statement, U.S. Department of State, The Humanitarian Situation in Nagorno-Karabakh (Aug. 31, 2023),

[3] Guarantee Right to Return to Nagorno Karabakh, Human Rights Watch (Oct. 5, 2023),

[4] Situation in Nagorno-Karabakh After Azerbaijan’s Attack and the Continuing Threats Against Armenia, European Parliament (Oct. 5, 2023),; David J. Scheffer, Ethnic Cleansing Is Happening in Nagorno-Karabakh. How Can the World Respond? Council on Foreign Relations (Oct. 4, 2023),,have%20fled%20west%20to%20Armenia.

[5] UN Team in Nagorno-Karabakh, a First in 30 Years, as Ethnic Armenians Flee, AL JAZEERA (Oct. 1, 2023),; Baku Issues 300-Person ‘Most Wanted’ List for Artsakh Officials, HETQ.AM (Oct. 2, 2023),