Expanding U.S. assistance for Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) demining and re-purposing $25 million in already appropriated U.S. aid to bolster Armenia’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic were among the top issues raised in the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) testimony presented to the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, as this influential panel drafts its version of the Fiscal Year 2021 foreign aid bill.
In the testimony ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan underscored the important role the U.S. can play in stemming the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Armenia. “We are asking Members of this Subcommittee to encourage the Administration to reprogram at least $25 million of the current FY2020 Armenia aid package to help the Armenian government flatten the curve, care for the afflicted, and address the long-term economic impact of this crisis. Since we made this request of the State Department, on April 3rd of this year, Armenia has gone from 640 confirmed cases to more than 12,000 confirmed cases – with an alarming incidence rate of approximately 400 per 100,000 people in Armenia, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center,” stated Yerimyan.
Regarding efforts to continue U.S. funding for The HALO Trust’s life-saving demining in Artsakh, Yerimyan noted “While the exact percentage of territory requiring clearance remains uncertain, The HALO Trust’s village-by-village resurvey has already identified 1.8 million square meters of additional contamination in the highly populated Martakert region, a figure that will certainly increase as the resurvey continues. All told, 385 people have been killed or injured by landmines or other explosives in Nagorno Karabakh since 1995, including several HALO trust employees in just the past few years.”
Yerimyan reminded Subcommittee members of the broad-based, bipartisan support Artsakh demining has received so far, noting, “As you may recall, in August of last year, in response to indications that the Administration was set to cut Nagorno Karabakh funding, 22 Senators and 89 Representatives co-signed bipartisan letters defending the USAID-funded HALO Trust demining program. Copies of these letters were sent to this Subcommittee. In April of this year, 31 U.S. Senators and 75 Representatives signed a letter supporting this continued aid – with many more urging this committee to take action through their personal office requests.”
The ANCA testimony also included a request for $90 million in U.S. aid to Armenia and expressed concern regarding the disparity between U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan and Artsakh.
“We remain troubled that the Administration’s $100 million security package to Baku adds equipment, tactical abilities, and offensive capabilities to the Azerbaijani arsenal, while freeing up its own state resources for renewed cross-border action against Artsakh and Armenia,” explained Yerimyan. “The Administration should either cease sending military aid to Baku or – in keeping with the principle of parity – start matching every dollar they send to Azerbaijan with another to Armenia.”
The ANCA testimony also called for funding for the Royce-Engel Artsakh peace proposal, which calls the removal of snipers, placement of additional Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers along the line of contact, and the deployment of gunfire locator systems to monitor who ceasefire violations. Armenia and Artsakh have agreed to the Royce-Engel proposals; Azerbaijan has not.
Both the House and Senate are set to consider their versions of the FY2021 foreign aid bill in July.