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Monday, November 24, 2014
 
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ANC of San Gabriel Valley
420 W. Washington Blvd., Montebello, CA 90640 - Tel. (323) 722-1918

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release ~ 2005-10-28
Contact: Seto Boyadjian ~ (626) 568-8616

DESPITE AZERI MEDDLING, MONTEBELLO CITY COUNCIL OK’S SISTER-CITY TIES WITH STEPANAKERT

Montebello Mayor blasts Azeri interference in city’s affairs

MONTEBELLO, CA – Despite pleas and veiled threats from the Azerbaijani Ambassador to the United States to the Montebello City Council, the Southern California city unanimously approved a resolution on Oct. 26, formalizing a sister-city affiliation with the city of Stepanakert, the capital of the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic, the Armenian National Committee of San Gabriel Valley (ANC-SGV) reported.

The 5-0 vote cemented the relationship between the two cities, after the formation in March of a Montebello-Stepanakert Sister City Committee. Organized at the initiative of the ANC-SGV, the 22-member committee is composed of Armenian-Americans, as well a number of local civic-minded individuals, which include two current City Councilpersons, Bob Bagwell, Norma Lopez-Reid, and the Montebello Chief of Police Garry Couso-Vasquez, as well as two candidates for the City Council, Octavio Guzman and Jeff Siccama.

In front of a standing room audience, estimated by local police at over 200, the City Council approved the resolution in a roll call vote, which concluded in a thunderous applause from the audience. “This is a historic vote,” observed Serge Samoniantz, the chairman of the ANC-SGV and the Sister-City Committee, “and I would compare it to the 1967 vote in the same chambers, where the then-council approved to grant the Bicknell Park public land for the establishment of the first Armenian Martyrs Memorial in the United States. The overall resolve of the Montebello City Council members must be recognized and commended,” Samoniantz noted, after thanking them for their courageous stand.

Also speaking in the support of the resolution was Assemblyman Ron Calderon (D-58) whose written remarks were read by Jack Hadjinian, a member of the ANC-SGV and the Sister-City Committee.

Horizon TV filmed the proceedings and interviewed several of the audience members for a later broadcast.

Three weeks prior to the vote, the Azerbaijani Ambassador to the United States, Hafiz Pashayev sent a letter of protest to the City Council, urging the Mayor to reconsider the sister-city relationship, claiming that the cultural relationship could damage US-Azerbaijani foreign relations.

“I know your city has a vibrant and active Armenian population, but U.S. foreign policy is clear on this issue. There is no justification for declaring [an] ethnic-cleansed city as an ‘Armenian city.’” The Ambassador also urged the city “not to take action which may be used as a tool in the hands of a separatist regime.”

Montebello City Mayor Bill Molinari responded to Ambassador Pashayev, noting “I have reviewed the concerns you have raised, but find them unconvincing.” Observing that a sister-city relationship is not between governments, but it is a cultural point of contact between the population of two cities, Molinari pointed out, “Stepanakert is a historically Armenian city that has survived a brutal war of aggression and blockade waged by your government. Today, Stepanakert proudly serves as the capital of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabagh.”

After noting that US diplomatic representatives regularly visit Stepanakert and “consult with Nagorno-Karabagh’s democratically elected leaders,” Molinari advised the Ambassador, “ Rather than seeking to obstruct the further strengthening of Stepanakert-Montebello cultural relations, I would suggest that your government devote itself to ending its longstanding violation of US policy – namely Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which condemns your government’s illegal blockade of Nagorno-Karabagh.”

The Azerbaijani Ambassador also had sent a similar protest letter to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, warning the governor that “this move by the City Council comes at a very sensitive time in the [peace] negotiations and can easily upset the long striven-for balance to the degree that can slow down or even disrupt the process.”

In a short letter of reply to the Ambassador, on Oct. 21, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Chief of Protocol, Carlotte Mailliard Shultz, informed him that, “In California, sister-city relationships are commonly established at the discretion of local jurisdictions. Therefore, we are forwarding a copy of your letter to the Honorable William Molinari, Mayor of Montebello, and Mr. Serge Samoniantz, a member of Montebello’s Sister City Program Committee.”

In view of the fact that the Azerbaijan Ambassador’s letter to Montebello City officials had circumvented the diplomatic protocol that requires that a foreign government contact an American municipality through the US State Department, several local elected officials are considering preparing letters of protest to the US State Department, upset at this foreign intervention into the internal, cultural affairs of the City of Montebello. In fact, Mayor Molinari on October 20th also lodged his protest with the State Department, outlining why “This intervention [by the Embassy of Azerbaijan] is unacceptable.”

The sister-city affiliation will allow for cultural, educational, healthcare, and business opportunities between the people of Montebello and the residents of Stepanakert who are recovering from the long-struggle for independence from Azerbaijani rule. An exhibit of rugs from Stepanakert is due to be showcased at the Montebello Armenian Center Nov. 19th. The Sister-City Committee also plans to host an exchange of students, teachers and business people from Montebello to Stepanakert during the summer of 2006.

The ANCA is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots political organization. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters, and supporters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world, the ANCA actively advances the concerns of the Armenian-American community on a broad range of issues.

NOTE: The full text of the letters noted in the press release follow.

#####


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Letter from Azerbaijani Ambassador to Montebello
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September 29, 2005

William Molinari
Mayor
Montebello, CA

Dear Mayor Molinari:

We were astounded to learn that your city recently chose Khankendi (Armenians call it as Stepanakert) as a sister city. Before taking future steps, I would like to give you some facts which you should consider.

The United States recognizes Nagorno-Karabakh as an indigenous part of Azerbaijan. Its leadership is not recognized internationally or by the United States. The State Department’s February 7, 2005 Fact Sheet on this issue states that “The United States supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.”

Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as seven additional regions of Azerbaijan, is currently occupied by Armenian forces, causing over one million Azerbaijani refugees and displaced persons out of a population of eight million. Armenia’s leadership and current authorities of the region are trying to present Nagorno Karabakh as an independent state.

There are four U.N. resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Armenian troops from occupied Azerbaijan territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh.

Considering all of these facts, I urge you not to take actions which may be used as a tool in the hands of a separatist regime. I know your city has a vibrant and active Armenian population, but U.S. foreign policy is clear on this issue. There is no justification for declaring ethnic cleansed city as an “Armenian city”.

I urge you to seriously consider above mentioned before taking any decision.

Sincerely,
[signed]
Hafiz Pashayev

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Response from Mayor Molinari to Azerbaijani Embassy
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October 20, 2005

Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan
2741 34th Street NW
Washington, DC 20008

Gentlemen:

I am writing in response to your letter dated September 29, 2005 concerning your reservations regarding the City of Montebello’s decision to establish a sister-city relationship with the City of Stepanakert.

I have reviewed the concerns you raise in your letter, but find them unconvincing.

For your information, a sister-city relationship is not between governments, but is a cultural point of contact between the populations of two cities, with no political connotations whatsoever.

Furthermore, Stepanakert is a historically Armenian city that has survived a brutal war of aggression and blockade waged by your government. Today, Stepanakert proudly serves as the capital of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabagh.

As you are well aware, the US Government, despite similar objections from your government, has provided direct humanitarian assistance to Nagorno-Karabagh, through Stepankert since 1998. The US Government, through our State Department, has for more than a decade, been an active participant, along with Nagorno-Karabagh, in the OSCE Minsk Group peace negotiations. As part of this effort, US diplomatic representatives regularly visit Stepanakert and consult with Nagorno-Karabagh’s democratically elected leaders.

Rather than seeking to obstruct the further strengthening of Stepanakert-Montebello cultural relations, I would suggest that your government devote itself to ending its longstanding violation of US policy – namely Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which condemns your government’s illegal blockade of Nagorno-Karabagh.

Thank you for sharing your concerns, but they are dismissed as having no basis in fact.

Respectfully,
[signed]
Bill Molinari
Mayor

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Letter from Mayor Molinari to US State Department
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October 20, 2005

US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Gentlemen:

It has come to my attention that a foreign government has sought to influence a purely internal matter to the City of Montebello, of which I am the Mayor.

The government of Azerbaijan, through its Embassy in Washington, DC has sent a letter expressing their opposition about an upcoming sister-city affiliation between the City of Montebello and the City of Stepanakert, in Nagorno-Karabagh, and urging the City to reconsider its decision.

This intervention is unacceptable.

I find this intrusion of grave concern for several reasons. First, it seeks to influence an American municipality’s internal decision about a purely non-political event, and is aimed at preventing a cultural, educational and trade relationship between the residents of Montebello and the residents Stepanakert.

Second, it is troubling to us that a foreign government directly contacted the City of Montebello, totally circumventing existing protocol and without our Department of State.

Third, the Azerbaijani government’s concerns are entirely non-germane to the sister-city affiliation.

Fourth, the spurious arguments listed by the Azerbaijani government are contrary to known and accepted facts, and are patently designed to negatively impact US foreign policy on this issue.

Finally, as you are well aware, the United State, as a co-chair of the OSCE’s Minsk Group, has been a major positive and impartial force toward fostering a peaceful settlement and stability of the region.

Thanking you for your attentions to this grave matter, and hoping for a prompt rely, I remain.

Respectfully,
[signed]
Bill Molinari
Mayor

Enclosure: (1) Letter for the Azeri Ambassador to Montebello Mayor

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Letter from Azerbajani Embassy to Governor Schwarzenegger
----------

September 29, 2005

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Mr. Governor,

I have the honor of writing to you on a very serious matter of utmost importance for the successfully developing a strategic partnership between the United States and Azerbaijan.

As reported by San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Whittier Daily News on September 26, the City Council of Montebello, CA decided to move on a formal vote on October 12 to acquire Khankendi (Armenians call it as Stepakakert) as its sister city (see attached article). While my Government welcomes in general the intention of the American city fathers to establish cultural exchanges with this city in Azerbaijan, you should be aware of the fact that it is the administrative center of the secessionist region of Nagorno Karabagh an integral part of the Republic of Azerbaijan, currently under Armenian armed occupation, from which all non-Armenian residents have been forcibly expelled (in 1989 the official statistics showed the population of Khankerdi as exceeding 57,000). As such it should not be presented as “Armenian city”. The same applies to the whole region of Nagorno Karabagh, as well as the seven other occupied regions of Azerbaijan.
My country’s territorial integrity is recognized by the international community, including the US, which is co-chairing OSCE Minsk Group established specifically for the purpose mediating a settlement of this protracted conflict. While peace talks between the Presidents and Foreign Ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia are developing positively, including late-August meetings in Kazan and Moscow. Respectively, this move by the City Council comes at a very sensitive time in the negotiations and can easily upset the long-striven-for balance to the degree that can slow down or even disrupt the process.

I urge you, Mr. Governor, to intervene and work closely with the municipality of Montebello to provide a more balanced approach and ensure that Azerbaijan’s territorial sovereignty is upheld and no damage is inflicted upon the emerging alliance between our nations.

Myself and the Embassy staff remain at your disposal, would you wish to get a more detailed information on the issue.

Sincerely,
[signed]
Hafiz Pashayev

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Response from CA Governor to Azerbaijani Embassy
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October 21, 2005

His Excellency Hafiz Pashayev
Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Embassy of the republic of Azerbaijan
2741 34th Street, NW
Washington DC 20008

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

Thank you for your letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger dated September 29, 2005.

I appreciate your taking the time to share your concerns and wanted to inform you that, in California, sister city relationships are commonly established at the discretion of local jurisdictions. Therefore, we are forwarding a copy of your letter to The Honorable William Molinari, Mayor of Montebello, and Mr. Serge Samoniatz, a member of Montebello’s Sister City Program Committee.

Please be assured that the Governor’s Office of Protocol, on behalf of the State of California, looks forward to working with you to promote cultural understanding and cooperation between California and Azerbaijan in areas of mutual interest.

Most sincerely,
[signed]
Charlotte Mailliard Shultz

cc: The Honorable William Molinari, Mayor of Montebello
Mr. Serge Samoniatz, Montebello’s Sister City Program

 

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