Azerbaijan Placed on the Religious Freedom Watchlist by the United States

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has released an annual index of designations, maintaining all 12 countries from the previous year’s blacklist, which includes China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. In the only alteration, Azerbaijan has been added to a watchlist, indicating it may join the blacklist with potential sanctions if no improvements are observed.

Azerbaijan, leveraging its gas revenue for global lobbying efforts, defied the peace process and abandoned years of diplomatic negotiations by instigating a full-scale war against Artsakh and the Armenian people in September 2020. This invasion, directly involving the Turkish military and hired Syrian jihadists, led to a ceasefire agreement in November 2020, outlining security measures around Artsakh, including Azerbaijan’s obligation to secure the Lachin Corridor.

However, instead of fulfilling its commitments, Azerbaijan blockaded Artsakh for months, ultimately launching a second full-scale attack on September 23, 2023, with the apparent goal of ethnically cleansing the region of Christian Armenians. This forced over one hundred thousand civilians to evacuate their ancestral land for Armenia.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom voiced concerns about preserving Christian religious sites in Artsakh and highlighted religious practice restrictions in Azerbaijan, a Shiite Muslim-majority yet largely secular country led by the Aliyev regime.

Blinken stressed that significant violations of religious freedom extend beyond designated countries, urging governments to cease abuses against religious minority communities.

The Armenian Council of America hopes that Azerbaijan’s inclusion in the US State Department’s Special Watch List, categorizing countries “engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom,” marks the beginning of actions. We hope that the Biden Administration to take additional measures, long overdue, including imposing sanctions on Azerbaijan and specifically targeting the Aliyev regime.