WASHINGTON—Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) stressed Artsakh’s status as a fully functioning state after visiting the nation on Sept. 18, in conjunction with an exchange of U.S. and Armenian Members of Parliament.
The congressman helicoptered to Artsakh with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) in the morning, stopped in Shushi to visit a technical school, then drove to Stepanakert to address the Artsakh parliament, followed by lunch with the speaker. He met with the president of Artsakh the day before and received a medal from the government in recognition of his efforts to recognize Artsakh as an independent republic.
Pallone said Artsakh deserves international recognition because it legally separated from the Soviet Union, exercising its self-determination with a referendum. It then defended itself in a difficult war and proceeded to set up a democracy that exercises transparency and has achieved a level of economic development that is remarkable, considering the forces aligned against the country.
“Shushi is being transformed in one generation from a city that was mostly destroyed to one that has roads, housing, and schools that are modern and up to date. A lot of this is with the help of the Armenian diaspora. I visited a technical school financed primarily by French philanthropists. The students are eagerly learning building and construction trades that will be important to the continued redevelopment of Artsakh. Its facilities and equipment were similar to schools in the U.S.,” Pallone said.
“Stepanakert looks almost completely rebuilt from the time of the Artsakh War. The Parliament is housed in a new building. Construction continues throughout the city with a new landmark church and completed hospital. I addressed the parliament and met with the speaker separately about the need for the U.S. to play a large role in the Minsk process. The settlement must guarantee that Artsakh remain Armenian as an independent nation or part of Armenia. We also discussed the extent to which Azerbaijan continues its military buildup with its oil reserves and receives advanced equipment from other countries,” Pallone added.
“The Armenian Caucus members intend to follow up in Congress to see how we can cut off assistance to Azerbaijan, as long as they continue military action against Artsakh. We will push for conference building measures with Azerbaijan that might prevent an unintended war. We will also seek continued U.S. aid to eliminate land mines and promote economic development in Artsakh,” Pallone concluded.
“We join with friends from across New Jersey and around the United States in welcoming Congressman Pallone’s most recent visit to Artsakh and thanking him for his tireless advocacy for the sovereignty and security of this proud republic,” said Dr. Artur Martirosyan of ANCA Eastern Region. “We look forward to continuing to work with him and his Congressional Armenian Caucus colleagues on the broad array of Armenian American policy priorities they champion as we expand the U.S.-Armenia and U.S.-Artsakh relationships.”
Pallone Sees Tremendous Progress in Armenia
After a visit to Armenia during the week celebrating the country’s independence, Congressman Pallone said he sees tremendous economic and political progress there. “The progress of the country economically and politically is immediately evident. I visited Armenia several times in the 1990s and early 2000s. Great strides have been made in terms of economic development and improvements in the political system since then,” said Pallone.
The congressman was part of an exchange with Armenian members of parliament who expect to come to Washington in the next six months. His colleagues on the trip included Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and David Valadao (R-Calif.), as well as Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). Pallone is the founder and remains a co-chair of the Armenian Caucus in Congress.
“Yerevan looks increasingly like a modern Western city, but even in the rural areas we saw, on the way to Dilijan and Lake Sevan, there were clearly major improvements to the infrastructure and the agricultural economy.
“When I first visited Armenia 20-plus years ago, I worried that subjects where Armenians excelled, for example in education and the arts, would be lost due to the Artsakh War, the earthquake, and the Turkish boycott. There’s still a long way to go, but things are coming back more rapidly than expected, in part because of help coming from diaspora Armenians. The high-tech programs we witnessed at the American University of Armenia and the classical performances at a public school with music students were signs of renewed excellence by younger Armenians. The IT sector has grown over 30 percent over the last year alone,” Pallone continued.
The New Jersey Congressman also believes there is recent progress toward democracy and the rule of law.
“Armenia is embarked on political reform with a new constitution. The parliamentary elections last spring were mostly transparent and seen as largely free by international observers. The members of parliament (MPs) are embarked on judicial reform legislation, and efforts to make judges more independent of government influence. Again, there is a way to go, but I felt the MPs and their leadership were determined to make progress towards democracy,” Pallone said.
Pallone and his congressional colleagues met with the Armenian president, prime minister, defense minister, speaker and vice speaker of the parliament, as well as opposition leaders. They also visited with the Catholicos in Etchmiadzin.
“We met with the defense minister just prior to the independence celebration and fireworks. He mentioned that despite Armenia’s dependence on Russian troops for defense purposes and entry into the Russian Customs Union, the country was determined to improve ties with the West. He stressed the importance of Armenia’s participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace and the contribution to U.S. efforts fighting terrorism in the Mideast.
“President [Serge] Sarkisian made it clear that Armenia intends to sign an agreement with the European Union this fall that would put the country back on track towards integration with Western Europe. He also asked for more progress on trade and taxation issues that affect American investment in Armenia,” Pallone continued. “Overall, this trip was a great opportunity for Armenia Caucus members to learn what we need to follow up on when we’re back in Congress to improve U.S.-Armenian relations with regards to trade, military cooperation, and many other areas, “ the Congressman concluded.