WASHINGTON—Direct U.S. assistance to care for Artsakh’s (Nagorno-Karabagh) most vulnerable citizens and the completion of lifesaving de-mining efforts were the main focus of foreign aid discussions with State Department and USAID officials and key Senate and House appropriators this week, as the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and public health leaders worked to build upon two decades of direct U.S. aid to the region.
“We continue to articulate the case for continued U.S. aid to Artsakh – a vital American investment in peace that has remained under relentless attack by Azerbaijan since it was first launched with ANCA backing in the Fiscal Year 1998 foreign aid bill,” said ANCA Chairman Raffi Hamparian, who was joined by internationally respected public health expert Dr. Alina Dorian, ANCA Eastern Region Chairman Steve Mesrobian, and ANCA Western Region advocate Leonard Manoukian for several days of meetings with Administration and Congressional leaders this week. In addition to U.S. foreign aid priorities, the delegation discussed expanding trade initiatives, Armenian Genocide remembrance, the situation in Armenia, and a broad array of ANCA foreign policy priorities.
“We are—with sufficient Congressional funding for the HALO Trust—within clear reach of a mine-free Artsakh and are, today, well positioned to meaningfully expand Artsakh’s regional rehabilitation services for the most vulnerable – children, adults, and the elderly with disabilities. The substance and the symbolism of America’s life-saving assistance to Artsakh represents an investment in peace, one that we will not allow Baku to block,” said Hamparian.
Dr. Dorian, a professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, who has worked on Artsakh health priorities since 1994, offered first-hand accounts of the vital role the United States must play in assisting Artsakh’s population in greatest need. “As a public health practitioner, our programs are always built on the backs of certain humanitarian principles and tenets—adhering to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” explained Dorian. “Unfortunately, most of these tenets are not upheld in programming and assistance provided to Artsakh due to its tenuous political ‘frozen conflict’ situation, the most ironic of which is that there is no United Nations (UN) presence in Artsakh – at all. No UNICEF, no World Food Program (WFP), no World Health Organization (WHO), no UNAIDS, no United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Azerbaijan stands against these UN humanitarian service arms working in Artsakh.” Dr. Dorian offered a brief video message encouraging grassroots advocacy for Artsakh assistance:
Hamparian, Dorian, and the ANCA delegation shared these concerns with Senate Appropriations Committee members Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and House Appropriations Committee member David Valadao (R-Calif.), both of whom led efforts to ensure continued Artsakh assistance as part of the recently passed Fiscal Year 2018 foreign aid bill. Similar discussions were held with Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Democrat Robert Menendez (D-Calif.) and with the USAID Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman.
In testimony submitted to the Senate and House Appropriations Committees earlier this year, the ANCA called for $10 million in U.S. assistance to Artsakh, including $6 million for ongoing de-mining and rehabilitation efforts and $4 million to implement Royce-Engel proposals to strengthen regional peace.
The HALO Trust, which has been de-mining in Artsakh over the last 17 years, has destroyed over 8,733 anti-personnel mines, 2,584 anti-tank landmines, 180,858 small arms ammunition, 12,423 cluster bombs and 48,572 other explosive items in Artsakh. The HALO Trust looks to complete Artsakh de-mining efforts by 2020.
The ANCA’s focus for rehabilitation efforts is The Baroness Cox Rehabilitation Center, which provides high-quality, specialized, medical care each year to approximately 1,000 local and regional patients, and has treated over 15,000 to date. Among those receiving treatment – both at the Center and in their homes—are patients with spinal cord injuries, elderly stroke victims, and infants and children born with disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida. The Lady Cox Center sends trained rehabilitation nurses to communities across Artsakh, serving those who do not have access to the Stepanakert location. The Center strives to dispel cultural stigmas, many rooted in the Soviet-era, associated with disabilities, and works—via speech, occupational and other therapies – to ensure that its patients are given the opportunity to live happy and fulfilling lives.