Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian Advocates for Full Range of Armenian-American Foreign Aid Priorities
WASHINGTON—Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian testified on March 25 before a key congressional panel in support of increased U.S. assistance to Nagorno-Karabagh (Artsakh), Armenia, at-risk Middle Eastern Armenian communities, and the Javakhk region of Georgia.
In her opening remarks, Nahapetian thanked House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas), Ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and their colleagues for the vital role the U.S. Congress plays in supporting Artsakh with direct aid, while also noting that much more needs to be done. Nahapetian stressed, “According to the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic, the war caused an estimated over $5 billion in damages. More than 20 years since the cease-fire established in 1994, Karabagh is still suffering from significant infrastructure damage, including the shortage of safe drinking water. In addition, Nagorno-Karabagh continues to suffer one of the highest per capita landmine accidents in the world.”
Nahapetian’s calls come in the face of disturbing reports from Capitol Hill sources of budget pressure and aggressive lobbying efforts by the increasingly undemocratic government of Azerbaijan to cut Nagorno-Karabagh assistance. The ANCA has initiated an online campaign on anca.org/foreignaid to urge Senate and House members to expand Artsakh assistance and support a range of other ANCA foreign aid priorities.
During her remarks before the U.S. House panel responsible for foreign aid, Nahapetian explained that the support of Congress for a series of seven funding and policy-related provisions would represent a strategic investment in strengthening U.S. diplomacy, advancing our national interests, and promoting core American values in the Caucasus region. They are:
1) At least $5 million in U.S. developmental aid to Nagorno-Karabagh.
2) Zeroing-out U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until it agrees with OSCE Minsk Group calls to pull back its snipers, ceases its aggression, renounces violence, and commits to a purely peaceful resolution of regional conflicts.
3) At least $40 million in U.S. economic assistance to Armenia.
4) A special focus on providing humanitarian and resettlement aid to Armenian, Assyrian, and other at-risk minorities in Syria, as well as targeted aid to help Armenia settle thousands fleeing from Syria.
5) At least 10 percent 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-Karabagh from the peace process.
Other organizations testifying before the influential House foreign aid panel on Caucasus concerns included the Armenian Assembly of America and the U.S. Azerbaijan Network.
The text of the ANCA’s written testimony is provided below.
The Armenian American Community and U.S. Foreign Assistance Policy for Fiscal Year 2016
Presented by Kate Nahapetian, Government Affairs Director, Armenian National Committee of America
The Armenian-American community requests:
1) At least $5 million in development assistance for Nagorno-Karabagh:
Since FY 1998, direct U.S. aid to Nagorno-Karabagh 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-Karabagh. This direct aid has met pressing humanitarian needs, providing, most recently, desperately needed clean water to families and the clearing of villages and farmlands of mines and unexploded ordnance. According to the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic, the war caused an estimated over $5 billion in damages. More than 20 years since the cease-fire established in 1994, Karabagh is still suffering from significant infrastructure damage, including the shortage of safe drinking water. In addition, Nagorno-Karabagh 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-Karabagh has successfully conducted five parliamentary and five presidential elections that have been praised by international observers as free, fair, and transparent. The most recent presidential election held in July 2012 was favorably received by more than 80 international observers from 2 dozen countries, including the United States.
We specifically encourage the Department of State and USAID to fund, at the earliest opportunity, a comprehensive humanitarian and development needs assessment for the coming five years.
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-Karabagh, but also Armenia, a NATO Partnership for Peace country, where border villages report being under siege by growing sniper fire from Azerbaijan.
In addition to threatening to renew full-scale hostilities, President Aliyev refuses U.S. and international calls to pull back snipers, 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 Aug. 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 respectfully call upon the Subcommittee to suspend the appropriation of Fiscal Year 2015 U.S. military aid to Azerbaijan until its government agrees to pull back its snipers, 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, and Kosovo, and is cooperating with the U.S. on a broad range of regional and security challenges. In June 2011, as countries were pulling out of Afghanistan, Armenia actually tripled its troop deployment there. In February 2014, Armenia pledged to keep its military contingent in Afghanistan even after NATO’s mission is concluded in order to support the U.S.-led alliance to train and assist the Afghan army. Armenian Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian stated that Armenia is committed to “continuous contribution to coalition efforts to establish lasting security in Afghanistan.” In addition, Armenia is regularly ranked highly by the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom.
At the same time, the people of landlocked Armenia, the world’s first Christian state, continue 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 FY15 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 in and from Syria:
As has been widely reported, more than 10,000 from Syria have sought safe-haven in Armenia, a state, which despite being one of the poorest nations accepting Syrian refugees, has only received very modest levels of U.S. and international relief and resettlement assistance. Armenia has generously provided full citizenship rights to Armenian-Syrian refugees.
We ask the Subcommittee to instruct the State Department and USAID to ensure the allocation to Armenia of a proportional level of the U.S. and international aid supporting the efforts to regional states to resettle those fleeing from Syria.
We remain troubled that distribution gaps in need-based international aid deliveries to Aleppo and throughout Syria 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.
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 percent 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-Karabagh. 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-Karabagh, and has both stated and demonstrated its commitment to pursuing a lasting peace with Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh through solely non-violent means.”
7) Ending the exclusion of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabagh from the peace process:
The best and most sustainable path to peace requires direct engagement with the people and government of Nagorno-Karabagh, 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-Karabagh Republic was one of the three parties to the 1994 cease-fire, which ended military hostilities between Nagorno-Karabagh and Azerbaijan. In its aftermath, Nagorno-Karabagh participated in the OSCE Minsk Group peace process as a partner, along with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Since 1998, however, at Baku’s insistence, Nagorno-Karabagh has been excluded from the peace process. Nagorno-Karabagh 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, including through the negotiation of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, a Double Tax Treaty, and other economic accords. The American Chamber of Commerce in Armenia and the ANCA have formally called for expanding economic relations through such agreements, as have U.S. businesses operating in Armenia, among them Microsoft, FedEx, NASDAQ and Marriott.
The ANCA, as always, looks forward to working with the Subcommittee to strengthen the U.S.-Armenia alliance and to promote stability in the region.