WESTBROOK — Thirty years ago I was preparing to turn 10 on March 14, 1988, excited to have my entire family from all corners of Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, to come to our garden and eat delicious shish kabobs and cake. But that was not to happen.

That year, starting Feb. 26 and continuing through Feb. 28, the Azerbaijani government orchestrated violent pogroms. They targeted the apartments of the Armenian Christian minority, killing and maiming innocent civilians for simply being Armenian. Women were raped and burned alive and the elderly were thrown off their high-rise balconies.

THIRTY YEARS OF OPPRESSION

This was the government’s response to the call of Armenians from the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh to rejoin Armenia, defying Stalin’s drawing of the borders in 1923. The Soviet Union began its collapse with that single democratic and constitutional movement of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, and the response was brutal. This response has been ongoing for the last 30 years. The city of Sumgait was first, then Kirovabad, then my home city of Baku. The entire Armenian population of Azerbaijan, some 300,000, was ethnically cleansed and displaced.

We lost more than our property. Even our history is being erased from Azerbaijan as we speak. My grandparents’ graves and every Armenian cemetery were demolished, leaving no traces of Armenians ever living in Azerbaijan. This brutal government’s policy of anti-Armenianism continues. The U.S. State Department warns American citizens of Armenian descent against traveling to the region for fear of being killed for our ethnicity.

U.S., MAINE TAKE IN REFUGEES

Back in the early 1990s, tens of thousands of us ended up in the United States, many in Maine. We are proud Americans, investors, business owners, public servants. And we cannot understand how after 30 years of systemic and consistent anti-Armenianism by Azerbaijan, and especially after accepting tens of thousands of Armenians from Azerbaijan as refugees, the United States continues to placate this authoritarian despotic regime.

Just recently, on Jan. 21, the program “Echo of the Caucasus,” a project by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded fully by the U.S. Congress, interviewed Azerbaijani journalist Zeynal Ibrahimov about his new book, “35 Letters to My Son.” Ibrahimov is one of the few Azerbaijani nationals – albeit an escaped Azerbaijani hiding in Britain as a political asylum seeker – who freely discusses the atrocities committed against the Armenian population of Azerbaijan and assigns the current conflict to the dictator Heydar Aliyev himself and his policies.

Soon after the interview was published, the article, headlined “Black mirror of Azerbaijan,” was removed from the Echo’s website and the journalist who conducted the interview, Katsiaryna Prakovyeva, was promptly fired. The article was then replaced by a propaganda piece written by an Azerbaijani political analyst handpicked by the regime of the dictator’s son and successor, Ilham Aliyev.

Why does the U.S. Congress allow a foreign dictatorship’s actions oppressing speech and free journalism, specifically within programs and publications funded by the U.S. Congress itself?

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