Florida Congressman Ted Deutch, 35 House Members Call to Substantially Increase Aid for Armenia and Artsakh
Armenian Assembly Boosts Congressional Call for $100 million Democracy-Building and Economic Assistance Package
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) joined 35 of his House colleagues in a letter that urges the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs to significantly increase prior aid requests to strengthen United States-Armenia relations and outlines key priorities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, the Armenian Assembly of America announced. The letter was spearheaded by Armenian Caucus Founder and Co-Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).
With sweeping cuts across the State Department’s budget, the Administration proposed $6.75 million for Armenia. A prior congressional effort requested $70 million, but today’s action increases the request to a total of $100 million for Armenia and Artsakh. The Armenian Assembly said that it “truly appreciates today’s action, and will continue working for further increases to Artsakh and Armenia.”
Four Members of Congress from Florida sit on the House Appropriations Committee: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), Rep. Mario Diaz-Bolart (R-FL), Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL). Reps. Deutch and Crist are Members of the Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues.
The Armenian Caucus initiative requests:
- $60 million for economic governance and rule of law assistance to Armenia through State Department and USAID accounts;
- $10 million for military aid for Armenia through Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military and Education Training (IMET) programs;
- $20 million for Armenia to be a regional “safe haven” for refugees;
- $6 million for Artsakh de-mining, rehabilitation programs, and water supply systems;
- $4 million for implementation of the Royce-Engel peace proposals, including placement of OSCE-monitored, advanced gunfire locator systems;
- That the State Department and USAID lift any official or unofficial restrictions on U.S. travel, communication, or contacts with Artsakh government officials; and
- The suspension of U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until it has been verified to have ceased all attacks against Armenia and Artsakh.
The letter states in part: “In the wake of the Republic of Armenia’s remarkable Velvet Revolution, we are writing to thank the Subcommittee for its longstanding leadership in support of both Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh). As you prepare the Fiscal Year 2020 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations bill, we ask you to include… provisions supporting a broad-based strategic upgrade of a U.S.-Armenia partnership based upon shared interests and common values.”
The Members of Congress also called for stricter provisions of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act to ensure that Azerbaijan does not take hostile actions against Armenia or Artsakh, as it did in the 2016 4-Day War, and pledge to demonstrate its commitment to pursuing lasting peace through solely non-violent means.
The letter concludes: “Taking these steps will continue to build on the U.S.-Armenia strategic relationship and help to grow the seeds of pro-democratic and civil society institutions in Armenia. We urge the Subcommittee to invest in peace and assist Armenia and Artsakh at this exciting time of continued development.”
“The Armenian Assembly welcomes this increased request in funding to Armenia. Given the remarkable democratic transformation last year in Armenia, we know that the community expects even more,” Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny said. “Moreover, the OSCE’s Election Observation Mission Report stated that the elections ‘were held with respect for fundamental freedoms and enjoyed broad public trust that needs to be preserved through further electoral reforms.'”
Additionally, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) reported that “election day proceeded calmly, peacefully, free of pressure on or intimidation of voters” and “the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression was respected.”
Earlier this month, Assembly Co-Chair Van Krikorian, in testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee, requested $100 million in democracy and economic assistance, at least $10 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Education Training (IMET) to Armenia for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, and $20 million to help resettle and provide a safe haven for Christians at risk in Syria and throughout the Middle East, with at least $25 million in assistance to Artsakh. Krikorian cited Armenia’s remarkable year as more than a reason to significantly increase humanitarian aid, suggesting to the Subcommittee that the United States should “reward people who have made progress towards democracy.”
Krikorian applauded the Subcommittee for holding the important hearing, and greatly appreciated “Chairwoman Nita Lowey’s leadership and steadfast support for Armenia and Artsakh.”
Given Turkey and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockades, the Assembly’s written testimony also shed light on the importance of aid to Armenia and Artsakh, the need to fully enforce Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, and targeted assistance for economic development and job-creation programs in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of the Republic of Georgia.
The Armenian Assembly’s submitted testimony for FY 2020 is available online.
By John M. Evans,
Former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia (2004-06)
We Americans are understandably focused on the multiple and interlocking tragedies that have taken place in the last month from Louisiana to Minnesota and most notably in Dallas. But half a world away a human tragedy of a different sort has been unfolding in the unrecognized Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which in Soviet times enjoyed an autonomous status, but, as the USSR was collapsing, voted for independence and fought a terrible war with post-Soviet Azerbaijan that claimed some 30,000 dead on both sides. A fragile cease-fire was signed in 1994 under Russian sponsorship, but the “frozen” conflict has in recent years seen more violations of the Line of Contact, and more victims.
The “four-day war” initiated by Azerbaijan on April 2, 2016 (no close observer of the conflict lays the blame anywhere else) was the largest escalation of military conflict between Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh since the cease-fire was signed in 1994. Over ninety Armenians were killed, and more than 120, including civilians and children, were wounded. As the Armenian Ambassador to the United States said to me, on a per capita basis, this was equivalent to the U.S. losing 10,000 of its citizens. Thousands of people from the affected villages, mostly children, women and the elderly, were evacuated to the comparative safety of Stepanakert or neighboring communities, or to Armenia proper. I visited Karabakh in late June with Dr. Garo Armen of the Children of Armenia Fund in order to help him determine what COAF might do to ease the suffering of civilians that resulted from the fighting.
The Azerbaijani shelling, much of which was unleashed after the initial attack had already faltered, was most destructive to the border communities of Talish, Madaghis, Mardakert, Hadrout and Martuni. Talish has been entirely abandoned because of the risk of shelling; in fact, further shelling did occur there on June 30 when Azeri soldiers attacked three farmers in the fields. Many families, some of them grieving over their losses, are now internally displaced, still terrified from what they experienced and fearful of the future. Five hotels in Stepanakert were commandeered to house families and individuals who had no other place to go.
Immediately after the cessation of hostilities, the Yerevan office of the Children of Armenia Fund deployed two teams to Karabakh to assess the situation and, in some cases, to provide immediate assistance. The local authorities had attempted to mobilize limited resources to address the most pressing needs, and NGOs and some governmental structures from Armenia also joined in the effort to assist; however, what COAF discovered was that, while some of the emergency needs of the IDPs were partially met, psychological support for the affected people was sorely needed and there was no local capacity to address this issue.
While some efforts were made to address the needs of soldiers with psychosomatic conditions, the majority of the IDPs in the five hotels and elsewhere exhibited signs of trauma, behaving as “ghetto groups,” lost between a terrifying past and an uncertain future, closed inside their shells and praying for God’s help. Children who were enrolled to attend nearby schools feared to venture out to “life-threatening places where shooting and shelling cause death and injuries.” Images of the elderly Talish couple whose ears were cut off by the attackers, of the Yezidi soldier who was decapitated, and of other soldiers tortured and/or mutilated have not helped calm these people down. Some of the atrocities committed by the Azeris clearly were in the category of war crimes and played on the Armenians’ well-founded fear of genocide.
While we Americans have much to do to “fix our own country”, one of the responsibilities of great-power status is to prevent the world from becoming a jungle. Together with Russia and France, the United States has been attempting to mediate the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute through the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In my view and that of many others, it is high time for the Karabakh authorities, unrecognized as they may be under international law, to be brought into the peace process. The Armenians of Karabakh, or, as they call it, Artsakh, are there to stay and deserve to live in peace in their towns, cities and mountains.
John Evans was recalled from his post as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia in 2006 for publicly breaking with the Bush Administration over the Armenian Genocide. He recently published Truth Held Hostage: America and the Armenian Genocide–What Then? What Now? London: Gomidas Institute, 2016.
This article originally appeared in the California Courier and is reproduced with the expressed written consent of the author.
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
Armenian-Americans have what few ethnic groups enjoy: knowledgeable, skilled, and effective leadership in Washington, DC. The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) and the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) are organized, principled and steadfast in protecting the rights of Armenian-Americans, developing a strong US-Armenia relationship, helping the people in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh achieve freedom and democracy, and overall successfully representing the community in the nations capital for over 40 years. When it comes to ethnic political organizations, the Assembly and the ANCA are models for other minorities in America.
Looking at the relationship of Armenian-American advocacy organizations with US Presidential campaigns, one must rely on the record of the ANCA, as the Assembly is an independent, non-profit organization that is not involved in electioneering or endorsing of political candidates at any level. Full disclosure: the author is a former employee of the Assembly.
On Monday, October 15, 2012 the ANCA, the largest partisan Armenian-American advocacy organization, reported that they would not be endorsing either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for President of the United States. “While we remain open to constructive engagement with both campaigns, we have no plans at this time to issue an ANCA endorsement this Presidential election cycle,” stated Chairman Ken Hachikian. The statement goes on to read, “the ANCA holds that neither Presidential candidate has earned the formal support of the Armenian American community.”
Why would the ANCA announce withholding a US presidential endorsement 22 days away from such an important election? A review of the ANCA’s statements over the last four years and their track record in US presidential contests over the last 20 years sheds light.
As rightfully noted in their 2012 announcement, the ANCA whole-heartedly endorsed Senator Barack Obama in 2008. After President Obama failed to live up to his campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide as President, his nomination and subsequent recess appointment of Matthew Bryza to serve as US Ambassador to Azerbaijan, and the fact that neither President Obama nor Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have met with Armenian-American community leaders, the ANCA had very little political room to maneuver in this regard. Further boxing themselves into a corner, the ANCA publicly slammed President Obama for the aforementioned policies, publicly lambasted then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2010 for failing to bring the Armenian Genocide Resolution to the floor for a vote (to be fair, this response was more warranted in 2007), then privately blasted House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer in front of a crowd assembled to commemorate the Armenian Genocide on Capitol Hill. Out of natural self-interest and after having their endorsement of President Obama thrown by the wayside, it was politically impossible for the ANCA to endorse President Obama for re-election.
In addition, it was interesting to read in the same ANCA press release that they are withholding an endorsement of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. An historical review of ANCA presidential endorsements over the last 20 years reveal that, when it comes to the race for the White House, only Democrats are worthy. Further analysis of the success rate of the ANCA’s presidential endorsements over the last 20 years, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired for the Armenian-American community; specifically, the two-time endorsement of Bill Clinton, who single-handedly blocked passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution in his final year in office; John Kerry, who lost his challenge to Republican President George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, who pandered to the Armenian-American community above and beyond any of his predecessors. The ANCA withheld an endorsement in the 2000 presidential election as well.
However, what is most interesting is an omission from this years ANCA press release regarding Mitt Romney’s statements as Governor of Massachusetts. According to a February 2008 ANCA press release, Mitt Romney shared with them copies of his four Armenian Genocide proclamations during his time as Governor of Massachusetts. “While the first three statements during his four years in office properly described the Armenian Genocide as genocide, his fourth and final statement refrained from using the accurate terminology,” read the 2008 ANCA press release. Yet the October 15, 2012 press release goes on to state, “Mitt Romney…has no evident public record on Armenian issues from his four-year tenure as Governor or his two campaigns for the White House.” While it is true that Governor Romney has not issued a statement on Armenian-American issues in either of his campaigns for President, the ANCA’s 2012 statement withholding endorsement appears to be at odds with their own record.
Therefore, it can be concluded that the ANCA could not endorse President Obama for re-election and that the ANCA would not endorse Governor Romney for President of the United States.
Taniel Koushakjian is an independent political commentator for Florida Armenians. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and is currently enrolled at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C.