Chairman Menendez Presses Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Armenia on Azerbaijan War Crimes, Hears from New Ambassador Nominee

Current U.S. Ambassador in Yerevan, Lynn Tracy, nominated to serve in Moscow

WASHINGTON, DC – On Wednesday, November 30th, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), held a hearing with new U.S. ambassador nominees to Armenia, Russia, and Cyprus. U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia Lynn Tracy has completed her three-year tour leading the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan and was nominated by President Biden to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

Ambassador Tracy led the committee’s first panel, who faced the opening series of questions from Chairman Menendez. He described the position in Moscow as “a high profile, and I would say, tough job. Are you up to it?” the Chairman asked. Tracy responded affirmatively and acknowledged her experiences in conflict, particularly the Second Nagorno Karabakh War of 2020 initiated by Azerbaijan with Turkey’s support on Armenia and Artsakh.

“It has been a tremendous honor to be the U.S. ambassador to Armenia,” Tracy told the panel, referring to the Azeri military offensive on the peaceful, democratic South Caucasus nation as “a period of enormous opportunity but of tremendous challenge.”

“During my tenure we were in a period of active conflict, a war, that brought tremendous pressure on our embassies, on our staff. And that is another experience I believe I will bring to bear,” Tracy said.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) pressed Ambassador Tracy on how he says Russia “preys” on “neighboring countries with weak rule of law,” and asked her about the impact of U.S. foreign assistance more broadly. Ambassador Tracy pointed to Armenia’s 2018 “Velvet Revolution” saying it was a “movement to call for an end to corruption in government” that was “totally home-grown.” Tracy shared her observation that “what we’ve seen in the last two elections in Armenia is people turning away from the model that Russia offers, looking for something better, a government that is accountable. Even though [the Armenian] people had experienced something traumatic in 2020, with the conflict, they didn’t want to go back to corruption, and I think it’s because they see what Russia represents and they see how the country is run” and that America’s “investment in people” was something America should continue to do in Armenia and other countries around the world.

To conclude his questioning of Ambassador Tracy for her upcoming role in Moscow, Chairman Menendez took the opportunity to follow up on the November 16, 2022 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S. policy in the South Caucasus, which he described as “one of the most disappointing hearings I’ve ever conducted.”

“Have you seen the videos of the execution of Armenian soldiers by Azerbaijan?”

“Yes I have,” Tracy responded, saying she also saw the second video of Azeri soldiers mutilating a female Armenian soldier, calling it “one of the most sickening things I’ve seen in my life.” Tracy said that she met with Armenia’s Ombudsman, Kristinne Grigoryan, who was investigating the videos, saying that she had “great confidence in what she [Grigoryan] was saying.” When pressed by Menendez, Ambassador Tracy explained further what Armenia’s Human Rights Defender/Ombudsman was able to authenticate, that she engaged with the proper Armenian authorities, and that she reported her meetings and the discussions back to the State Department in Washington, DC.

Menendez expressed relief at Ambassador Tracy’s clarity, referencing the previous hearing where no one knew “about the videos, or in the case of Ambassador Reeker, did know about the videos but no one had done anything to determine the authenticity of it.”

Chairman Menendez connected this point to his original question on her upcoming role in Moscow, saying “We need our ambassador, particularly in places of conflict, to be able to pursue what the truth is, so that we, as policyholders, decide what we do about that truth.” Chairman Menendez further explained the spirit of his questioning of Ambassador Tracy, highlighting the difference in the U.S. response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine to the U.S. response to Azerbaijan’s war crimes in Nagorno Karabakh. “We need…the U.S. ambassador in Moscow to do what I would want to have seen done as it relates to Armenia – to identify where abuses have taken place, try to authenticate it, and then report on it in a way that is actionable.”

Tracy pledged to do so, referencing the” need for accountability” and pledged further “to pursue justice in these egregious situations.” Menendez respectfully reminded Ambassador Tracy that, “without accountability, there isn’t justice.”

Kristina Kvien, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Nominee to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia

During the second panel of the nearly three-hour-long hearing, Chairman Menendez opened with Ambassador Kvien. Menendez put the U.S. role in Yerevan in context, referencing “recent attacks from Azerbaijan,” videos of Azeri “war crimes,” and in reiterating his disappointment in the State Department’s responses in the recent hearing on the South Caucasus, asked Ambassador Kvien to pledge to be responsive to the Senate Foreign Relations committee in the years ahead.

“In the case of Armenia, it will be your responsibility to ensure the American people do not look the other way when we uncover human rights violations and atrocities committed against Armenia,” reflecting that the Armenian people are “on the knife’s edge between the hope of peace and the terror of ethnic cleansing.”

During his questioning of Ambassador Kvien, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) underscored the need for the U.S. to “call out aggression when we see it.” He said, “it was very-well documented in September by independent press sources that Azerbaijan launched attacks and also engaged in different kinds of atrocities.” Sen. Van Hollen expressed his desire to see the State Department to hold the aggressor accountable and that “in order to be a credible mediator, in my view, you have to be able to begin with the facts and at least be able to publicly state them.”

Chairman Menendez asked Ambassador Kvien if she would “lead Embassy efforts to support the documentation of alleged atrocities by Azerbaijan committed against Armenians during this recent aggression, which include Azeri forces shooting unarmed Armenians, executing Armenian soldiers, and mutilating a female Armenian soldier?”

Kvien acknowledged she had seen the “horrific videos,” and vowed to “do her best to help with any requests the Armenians have to document the videos.”

“We should know whether Azerbaijan is committing these types of actions so we can determine whether Section 907 should be waived,” said Chairman Menendez. “I want an Ambassador who will proactively help us determine whether these mutilations and executions are true and to be able to tell the State Department, and this Committee, so then we as policymakers can make a decision. Can I depend upon you to do that?”

Ms. Kvien said that “accountability for crimes of this nature are very important” to her, and committed to a needs assessment regarding the 100,000 displaced Armenians as a result of the 2020 War on Artsakh, as well as the current needs of the people who still remain in the region.

Ms. Kvien joined the America Foreign Service in 1992, and has served as an Economics Officer at the Embassy of the United States, Manila, and at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs in Washington, D.C., with a focus on the European Union and issues related to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). She also served as the United States Mission to the European Union in Brussels as an Economics Officer, from 2001-2005, and then was transferred to the Embassy of the United States, Moscow, where she worked on environment and energy issues. Kvien went on to become Director for EU Affairs, EU Economies and Caspian Energy for Ukraine and Belarus at the United States National Security Council. Most recently, Kvien served at the Embassy of the United States, Paris, prior to her posting to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv in May 2019.

“We applaud Chairman Menendez and Senator Van Hollen for standing up for the truth and for fighting for justice during this very important hearing,” stated Armenian Council of America Board Chairman Sevak Khatchadorian. “The U.S. Ambassador must be forthright to the American people about the war crimes being committed against our ally Armenia and what we intend to do about it,” Khatchadorian said.

As a grassroots organization, ACA is dedicated to working with all political leaders, offering Armenian related news, analysis and resources for policymakers, media, students and activists, advocating issues important to Armenian Americans. The ACA also aims to strengthen U.S. – Armenia and U.S. – Artsakh ties, the development of programs promoting sustainable economic growth and good governance in Armenia, while promoting the values and responsibilities of global citizenship.