STEPANAKERT, REPUBLIC OF ARTSAKH – Congressional Armenian Caucus founding Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) visited with The HALO Trust on Wednesday in Artsakh’s capital city of Stepanakert to review its ongoing de-mining efforts, after which he publicly reaffirmed the commitment of the Congressional Armenian Caucus to securing continued U.S. government support for this life-saving humanitarian program, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“The State Department believes, mistakenly, that the [HALO Trust de-mining] program is no longer needed, in other words, that most of the de-mining has already occurred,” Rep. Pallone told reporters during his Artsakh visit. “What we learned today from The HALO Trust people is that’s not the case. There is still more work to be done. So, we are going to go back to the U.S. and stress to the State Department, when we meet with them, that there’s still more work to do.”
Congressman Pallone and Congressional staff member James Johnson sat down with The HALO Trust to review the progress of the program and the need for continued U.S. support to complete the de-mining efforts. In August, when reports emerged that the State Department was looking to prematurely cut off funding for Artsakh [Nagorno Karabakh] de-mining, the ANCA worked with The HALO Trust and Congressional leaders in securing the support of over 100 U.S. Senators and Representatives to continue U.S. aid for this vital humanitarian program. In June, the U.S. House adopted an amendment to the FY20 foreign aid bill, spearheaded by Rep. TJ Cox (D-CA) and supported by Representatives Pallone, Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), calling for continued U.S. assistance for de-mining and rehabilitation services in Artsakh. The ANCA is currently working with Senate leaders to include similar language in their version of the bill, which is set to reach the Senate floor in the next few weeks.
In addition to The HALO Trust, Rep. Pallone’s delegation also visited the Lady Cox Rehabilitation Center and met with its Director Vardan Tadevosyan, and his dedicated staff, who provide high-quality, specialized medical care each year to approximately 1,000 local and regional patients. Among those receiving treatment include patients – from Artsakh, Armenia, Russia, and Georgia – with spinal cord injuries, elderly stroke victims, and infants and children with disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy and spina bifida. The ANCA continues to advocate for expanding U.S. assistance to Artsakh to support the life-changing efforts of this center.
Rep. Pallone also met with a 50-member delegation of Adventist Health Glendale, who had arrived in Artsakh days ago on their second medical mission to the Republic, where they plan a broad range of surgeries, carried out jointly with specialists of Stepanakert’s Republican Medical Center.
“Congressman Pallone, always at the forefront of advancing U.S.-Artsakh relations, is living out his legislative priorities – traveling to Artsakh, breaking down barriers to bilateral ties, challenging Azerbaijani aggression, and securing funding for de-mining and other pressing humanitarian needs,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “His visit, and those that will follow, underscore the urgency of passing H.Res.190 – which would not only facilitate much needed direct dialogue but also help create the conditions for peace by calling for Artsakh’s long overdue return to the OSCE talks.”
Congressman Pallone arrived in Artsakh on October 1st, accompanied by Nagorno Karabakh Republic Representative to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan, and several members of the Armenian Parliament. He met with Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan, Foreign Minister Massis Mayilian, National Assembly Chairman Ashot Ghulyan, and key Parliamentary leaders. He also traveled to Shushi, where he visited the Artsakh Army’s battalion headquarters, Ghazanchetsots Armenian Church and the Artsakh Carpet Factory.
Congressman Pallone told reporters that his purpose in traveling to Artsakh is three-fold:
1) To end U.S. government efforts to block travel and communication with Artsakh.
2) To review the security situation in Artsakh first-hand, given Congressional concerns over recent reports of an allocation of over $100 million in military assistance to Azerbaijan.
3) To explore ways to help reinvigorate the OSCE Minsk Group mediated Artsakh peace process.
“The U.S. needs to be more involved in Artsakh and to not have these advisories sent to the American people saying don’t come here, don’t communicate with anyone here,” Rep. Pallone told reporters.
After two days in Artsakh, Rep. Pallone returned to Armenia, where he will take part in a trip planned as part of an ongoing Parliamentary exchange program between the U.S. and Armenia.
Representatives Speier and Judy Chu (D-CA) are scheduled to visit Artsakh over the next several days.