In the wake of last week’s grassroots Fly-In to Washington, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Legislative Affairs Director Raffi Karakashian has submitted testimony to key U.S. House and Senate panels supporting the foreign aid priorities of the Congressional Armenian Caucus and outlining the Armenian American community’s specific appropriations requests for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017.
Among the highest priority issues raised by Karakashian were 1) increased aid to Artsakh, including for the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center in Stepanakert, a regional clinic serving over 1,000 children and adults with physical and mental disabilities every year, 2) a full suspension of military aid to Baku until Azerbaijan agrees to pull back snipers and heavy arms, ceases cross-border attacks, ends its threats of renewed war, assents to the deployment of gunfire locators and the addition of OSCE observers, and agrees to a settlement of regional conflicts through peaceful means alone, and; 3) a $10 million appropriation to help Armenia provide transition support to individuals from Syria who have found safe haven in Armenia.
Parallel to this effort, friends of Armenia from across America have emailed and called their U.S. Representatives using the ANCA’s online activism portals (anca.org/aid and anca.org/call) to co-sign a Congressional Armenian Caucus letter, led by Caucus Co-Chairs Robert Dold (R-IL) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), calling upon the bipartisan leadership of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations to support a similar series of Armenian-related foreign aid provisions. That letter is anticipated to be sent this week.
The full text of the ANCA’s House testimony is provided below:
The Armenian American community requests:
1) At least $5 million in U.S. developmental aid to Nagorno Karabakh, with special focus on expanding the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center in Stepanakert, a regional clinic serving over 1,000 children and adults with physical and mental disabilities every year.
2) Zero-out U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until its leaders agree with the Royce-Engel peace proposals to withdraw snipers and heavy arms, add OSCE observers, and deploy gunfire locator systems.
3) At least $40 million in U.S. economic assistance to Armenia, targeted to growing the U.S.-Armenia trade and investment relationship.
4) At least $10 million in emergency aid to help Armenia provide transition assistance to the nearly 20,000 people who have fled to Armenia from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
5) At least 10% of U.S. assistance to Georgia to be used for job creation programs in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of that country.
6) Language strengthening Section 907 restrictions on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan.
7) Ending the exclusion of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh from the peace process.
1) At least $5 million in development assistance for Nagorno Karabakh:
Since FY 1998, direct U.S. aid to Nagorno Karabakh has represented a powerful investment in peace and an enduring expression of America’s leadership in supporting a negotiated and democratic resolution of security and status issues related to the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. This direct aid has met pressing humanitarian needs, providing, most recently, desperately needed clean water to families and the clearance of villages and farmlands of mines and unexploded ordnance. According to the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, the war caused an estimated over $5 billion in damages. More than twenty years since the cease-fire established in 1994, Karabakh is still suffering from significant infrastructure damage, including the shortage of safe drinking water. In addition, Nagorno Karabakh continues to suffer one of the highest per capita landmine accidents in the world.
We urge the Subcommittee to expand this vital assistance program, to support a needy population that has strived mightily against aggression and blockades to build a strong democracy, develop a free market economy, and work toward an enduring peace for all the peoples of this region. Since 1991, Nagorno Karabakh has successfully conducted six parliamentary and five presidential elections which have been praised by international observers as free, fair, and transparent.
We specifically encourage the Department of State and USAID to support the expansion and operations of the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center in Stepanakert, a regional clinic serving over 1,000 children and adults with physical and mental disabilities every year.
2) Suspension of U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan:
The Azerbaijani government of Ilham Aliyev neither needs nor deserves American military aid. It does not serve our national interests or advance our values to provide aid to a military whose leadership frequently threatens to start a new war and regularly launches cross-border attacks not only into Nagorno Karabakh, but also Armenia, a NATO Partnership for Peace country, where border villages are under siege by Azerbaijani sniper fire and artillery.
In addition to threatening to renew full-scale hostilities, President Aliyev refuses U.S. and international calls to pull back snipers and heavy arms, has made land claims on all of Armenia, and openly incites anti-Armenian hatred, including against Americans of Armenian descent. Our State Department warns that not all Americans are safe in Azerbaijan, noting that Americans of Armenian heritage will likely be denied a visa because Azerbaijan cannot guarantee their safety.
As was widely reported in the international media, on August 31, 2012, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev personally pardoned an unrepentant, convicted axe-murderer for killing a NATO Partnership for Peace participant (while he slept) because he was Armenian. Immediately after his pardon, this convicted killer received a promotion in the Azerbaijani military, an apartment, and years of back pay for his prison time. The pardon was condemned around the world, including by President Obama, Members of Congress, the European Parliament, OSCE, Council of Europe, and NATO.
Azerbaijan’s regional aggression is closely tied to its pattern of domestic abuse, including its brutal crack-down on dissent. As is well known by this panel, government forces have raided and shut down the offices of U.S.-supported Radio Free Europe, unjustly imprisoned a Radio Free Europe reporter, as well as several other civil society leaders, including Arif and Leyla Yunus, who supported U.S. calls to promote Armenia-Azerbaijan Track II dialogue and have been denied medical care during their pretrial detention. We associate ourselves with the aims of H.R.4246, the Azerbaijani Democracy Act and support the adoption of this legislation.
We respectfully call upon the Subcommittee to suspend the appropriation of Fiscal Year 2017 U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until its government agrees to pull back snipers and heavy arms, ceases cross-border attacks, ends its threats of renewed war, and agrees to a settlement of regional conflicts through peaceful means alone.
3) At least $40 million in Assistance to Armenia:
As members of the Subcommittee know, Armenia, a crucial ally in a strategic region of the world, has extended robust support for U.S.-led peace-keeping deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Kosovo, and Mali, and is cooperating with the U.S. on a broad range of regional and security challenges.
At the same time, Armenia, the world’s first Christian state and a nation that has survived genocide, continues to face the devastating impact of Turkey and Azerbaijan’s dual economic blockades. Our assistance has played a vital role in helping alleviate these blockades (among the longest in modern history) and promoting Armenia’s free market system and democratic development. It is for this reason that we ask the Subcommittee to appropriate no less than $40 million in overall FY17 economic aid (including Economic Support Fund, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and Global Health Programs) for Armenia.
4) Assistance to Christian and other minority communities from Syria:
As has been widely reported, nearly 20,000 individuals from Syria have sought safety in Armenia, a state, which despite being one of the poorest nations accepting Syrian refugees, has received only very modest levels of U.S. and international relief and resettlement assistance. Armenia has generously provided full citizenship rights to many Armenian Syrian refugees, and has sought to compassionately integrate arriving families into Armenian society.
We ask the Subcommittee to appropriate at least $10 million to help Armenia provide transition support to the nearly 20,000 individuals from Syria who have found safe haven in Armenia.
Within Syria, we remain troubled that distribution gaps in need-based international aid deliveries to Aleppo and elsewhere have resulted in desperately needed food, medicine, and other relief supplies not reaching Armenians, Christian communities, and other at-risk and vulnerable minorities. We ask the Subcommittee to formally call upon the Administration to put in place policies and practices to ensure that need-based aid reaches all at-risk populations in Syria.
5) Assistance to the Javakhk Region in Georgia:
We join with the Congressional Armenian Caucus in encouraging the Subcommittee, as part of a robust U.S. aid package to Georgia, to ensure that 10% of U.S. assistance to Georgia is targeted to the largely Armenian-populated region of Samtskhe-Javakheti (Javakhk) in south-central Georgia, including funding for badly-needed job-creation programs and ongoing improvements to transportation and communication infrastructure.
6) Strengthening Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act:
Enacted in 1992, Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act stands as a statutory expression of U.S. opposition to Azerbaijan’s blockades and other aggressive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Since its enactment, Azerbaijan has not lifted its illegal blockades and has ignored House Appropriations Committee Report language opposing its destabilizing threats. The Congress should limit the President’s waiver authority in the face of these provocations by Baku by adding the following certification requirement, effectively narrowing the President’s waiver authority: “In the last fiscal year, Azerbaijan has not taken hostile action, either through military force or incitement, including but not limited to threatening pronouncements by government officials toward Armenia or Nagorno Karabakh, and has both stated and demonstrated its commitment to pursuing a lasting peace with Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh through solely non-violent means.”
7) Ending the exclusion of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh from the peace process:
The best and most sustainable path to peace requires direct engagement with the people and government of Nagorno Karabakh, whose fate and future are the subject of ongoing talks and whose security will rest on the outcome of these negotiations. As is well know, the Nagorno Karabakh Republic was one of the three parties to the 1994 cease-fire, which ended military hostilities between Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan. In its aftermath, Nagorno Karabakh participated in the OSCE Minsk Group peace process as a partner, along with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Since 1998, however, at Baku’s insistence, Nagorno Karabakh has been excluded from the peace process. Nagorno Karabakh should, in the interests of peace and common sense, be a full participant in all talks regarding its very future.
In addition to these seven specific priorities, we would like, in closing to add a final thought about the future of the U.S.-Armenia economic relationship. In light of the downward trend in U.S. economic aid to Armenia, we encourage the Subcommittee to encourage the Administration to prioritize bilateral U.S.-Armenia trade and investment promotion. We welcomed last year’s signing of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement and the finalization of the Vorotan hydro-electric power plant deal, the largest ever U.S. investment in Armenia. We look forward to negotiations toward a modern Double Tax Treaty, a long overdue accord that is supported by the American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia, the Armenian government, the ANCA, and many corporations operating in both countries, including Microsoft, FedEx, NASDAQ, and Marriot.