Sassounian: Congress Should Investigate State Dept. for Holding Back Aid to Artsakh

The State Department has acted negligently and possibly in contempt of Congress by withholding assistance that the latter had expressly allocated to Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh) during the past 12 years.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) revealed last week that the State Department only spent about half of the amount allocated by Congress to Artsakh. From 1998-2010, Congress appropriated to Artsakh $61 million, not including an additional amount estimated at $10 million, allocated during 2000-02. U.S. government documents obtained by the ANCA reveal that the State Department spent only $36 million on humanitarian aid to Artsakh in those dozen years.

Successive Democratic and Republican administrations have attempted to block Congressional efforts to provide aid to Artsakh, in order to appease Azerbaijan. Failing to prevent approval of such allocations, the State Department devised a clever ploy to obstruct the will of Congress—it spent only a portion of the funds intended for Artsakh. Azerbaijan had been insisting that any U.S. assistance to Artsakh be channeled through Baku. Despite objections from the administration and Azerbaijan, Congress has continued to allocate aid to Artsakh, and made it less restrictive; its 2010 allocation of $8 million is earmarked for “programs and activities in Nagorno-Karabagh,” not exclusively for humanitarian projects.

Throughout these dozen years, neither Armenia nor Artsakh, and apparently no one from the Armenian American community, has complained to Congress about the State Department’s refusal to spend fully the allocated funds. Amazingly, after this shortfall was revealed by ANCA, a senior Artsakh official downplayed the failure to deliver the allocated aid. According to Radio Free Europe, Vahram Atanesian, the chairman of the Artsakh Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, excused the withholding of the aid by attributing it to Artsakh’s robust economic growth.

While Armenians remained surprisingly quiet, Congress, starting in 2001, repeatedly urged the administration “to release, without further delay, the remainder of the $20 million in humanitarian assistance initially provided in the fiscal year 1998 Act.” Furthermore, the House of Representatives asked the secretary of state to report back the amount of assistance provided by the United States to Artsakh within 15 days of the enactment of the aid bill. In 2004 and 2005, the Senate demanded that USAID present its plans for the disbursement of the allocated funds within 60 days after the enactment of the aid bill. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration bears the lion’s share of the blame. During its first two years in office, it has held back $12 million, or one-third, of the funds not spent on Artsakh since 1998.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) had the opportunity to pursue this issue with Matthew Bryza, the nominee for U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, during his confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee on July 22. She wanted to know why only $4 million was spent out of the $16 million allocated for Artsakh in the past two years. In response to Bryza’s evasive answer, Boxer asked him to provide in writing “a detailed accounting on the disbursement of all U.S. assistance to Nagorno-Karabagh for the past five years.” She pointedly inquired: “Why weren’t the full amounts allocated by Congress for Nagorno-Karabagh in 2009 and 2010 spent?” Bryza, once again, did not provide an adequate response to the Senator’s questions.

Consequently, Boxer asked the Foreign Relations Committee to postpone voting on Bryza’s confirmation until the Senate returns from recess around mid-September. This would hopefully give Bryza the opportunity to prepare an honest accounting of why the aid from Washington did not fully reach Artsakh. The delay in his confirmation would also allow the Senate to check more thoroughly the issues raised regarding his background.

Clearly, Bryza and his predecessors at the State Department have resorted to various tricks to frustrate the intent of Congress. They’ve attempted to appease Azerbaijan by limiting and delaying the aid desperately needed in Artsakh.

Armenian Americans should now ask Congress to investigate the State Department’s failure to comply with the legislature’s mandate, by under-spending $35 million of the allocation to Artsakh during the past 12 years.

Should the investigation uncover misconduct by State Department officials, Armenian Americans should then ask Congress to make a one-time allocation of $35 million to Artsakh, in compensation for the amount the U.S. government failed to spend, as required by law.

The uproar caused by such a Congressional investigation would hopefully make State Department officials more cautious in the future when handling the disbursement of funds intended for Artsakh.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

2 Comments

  1. Shame on the Democrats & Republican Administrations to block the $25 million in aid to Artsakh because of pressure by the Azeri’s. What kind of a world do we live in that the American Government aids criminal countries like Azerbaijan & Turkey whom have committed Genocide after Genocide from the 10th Century to the present and moslemized millions of Christian Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, etc. When will the world help the small nations to survive or don’t they give a damn. Armenians must wake up and get organized before it is too late.

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