Hold Azeris to Human Rights Standard

The opinion-page article ``Azeris Don't Merit Aid Ban,'' Jan. 26, is an effort to change the level of discourse on Nagorno-Karabakh and to divert the world's eyes from the roots of the conflict. The Karabakh affair is a dispute between Azerbaijan and its citizens of Armenian ancestry, not between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

It is Azerbaijan's human rights abuses that have led the Armenians of Azerbaijan to demand self-determination in a region they have inhabited since pre-Christian times. Azerbaijan has consistently refused to participate in peace negotiations with the Armenians of Karabakh.

As the ambassador, the author's job is to defend his country's people and policies, yet it should be made quite clear that this is not a ``one-sided conflict.'' Azerbaijan's gruesome and ongoing policy of ethnic cleansing, religious intolerance, and other minority abuses prompted the Armenians of Azerbaijan to defend themselves, first through peaceful, legal measures, then by more forceful means. Is this not their right?

The sad state of the Azeri refugees is undeniable, but the author's assertions ring empty: His government continues to attempt to starve and freeze Karabakh into submission by blocking food and fuel entering Armenia, and has expelled all 400,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan.

This is exactly why the aid ban is in place. The suffering will not end until the world sees this for what it really is: a human rights issue that needs to be addressed fairly.

When you consider that the United States is reevaluating its economic relations with China in light of China's human rights record, why would we reward Azerbaijan for its deplorable human rights violations by lifting the aid ban now? Such a policy change would be premature and would send the wrong message to oppressive governments. Craig S. Wallen, Erdenheim, Pa. Executive Secretary Armenian Human Rights Committee

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