U.S. House Panel Implicitly Backs Artsakh Aid

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The HALO Trust team members offer an update on Artsakh demining efforts to Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) as ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan looks on (October 2019).

The HALO Trust team members offer an update on Artsakh demining efforts to Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) as ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan looks on (October 2019).

ANCA Continues to Work with Legislators to Ensure Ongoing U.S. Funding for a Mine-Free Artsakh

WASHINGTON—A key U.S. House panel has approved legislative report language indirectly calling for continued USAID funding for humanitarian de-mining in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

“We certainly welcome this report recommendation as a step in the right direction,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “However, in light of this Administration’s all-out attack on Artsakh de-mining, it’s clear that Congress will need to do more in the underlying foreign aid bill to ensure continued U.S. support for a mine-free Artsakh.”

Support for Artsakh de-mining was included in the House Appropriations Committee report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2021 Foreign Aid Bill, as follows:  “The Committee recommends funding consistent with prior years for USAID’s Humanitarian De-mining program.” The only USAID funded de-mining program currently in operation is in Artsakh, where The HALO Trust has successfully removed over 61,000 mines and cleared some 62,000 acres of land, ensuring a safer future for over 80% of Artsakh’s population.  Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who visited Artsakh last year and met with representatives of The HALO Trust, was a strong proponent of the report language, along with his Armenian Caucus colleagues, including Co-Chairs Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Devin Nunes (R-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Brad Sherman (D-CA) and others.

Congress has consistently pushed back against efforts to stop de-mining assistance to Artsakh, with over 30 Senators and 75 U.S. Representatives calling on key Appropriations Committee members to continue the assistance program, in letters sent in April and March of this year.  Last year, 22 Senators and 89 Representatives cosigned bipartisan letters defending the USAID-funded HALO-Trust de-mining program in Artsakh. In 2017 and again in 2019 the U.S. House passed amendments supporting continued U.S. aid to Artsakh.  In the lead up to today’s vote, one-third of U.S. House members testifying before the House Appropriations Committee cited Artsakh de-mining as a key priority for inclusion in the FY2021 Foreign Aid Bill.

Congressman Frank Pallone and Congressional staff member James Johnson with a portion of the dedicated Artsakh demining team at The HALO Trust in Stepanakert (October 2019).

Congressman Frank Pallone and Congressional staff member James Johnson with a portion of the dedicated Artsakh demining team at The HALO Trust in Stepanakert (October 2019).

The United States has been funding humanitarian programs in Artsakh since 1998, providing clean water to rural communities, support for maternal and child health, and life-saving de-mining assistance.  Artsakh assistance has been long under attack by Azerbaijan’s Aliyev regime, and over the past two years, aggressively targeted by the Trump Administration, even as it ramps up U.S. defense and security aid to Baku.

Continued aid to Artsakh to support de-mining and rehabilitation efforts has been a key part of the ANCA’s 360-degree policy priorities to ensure Artsakh security and freedom.  In testimony to the House Appropriations Committee earlier this year, ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan argued that “The U.S. aid program to Nagorno Karabakh may require only a small expenditure, but it represents a major American investment in peace.”  She went on to note that despite exceptional progress in The HALO Trust’s effort to make Artsakh mine-free, more needed to be done.  “While the exact percentage of territory requiring clearance remains uncertain, The HALO Trust’s village-by-village resurvey has already identified 1.8 million square meters of additional contamination in the highly populated Martakert region, a figure that will certainly increase as the re-survey continues. All told, 385 people have been killed or injured by landmines or other explosives in Nagorno Karabakh since 1995, including several HALO trust employees in just the past few years,” explained Yerimyan.

Over 10,000 advocates have contacted Congress in support of continued U.S. de-mining assistance to Artsakh through the ANCA’s online action portals.  ANCA Leo Sarkisian and Maral Melkonian Avetisyan Summer program participants have been rallying nationwide constituent outreach in support of continued Artsakh aid.  Send letters to Senate and House members.  Constituents can be directly connected to their U.S. Representative by phone through the ANCA’s Quick Connect system.  Grassroots outreach to Congressional offices will continue until the FY2021 Foreign Aid Bill is finalized.

The FY 2021 Foreign Aid Bill and its accompanying report were approved by the House Appropriations Committee by a vote of 29 to 21 and is scheduled to be taken up by the full House of Representatives soon.  The Senate Appropriations Committee will be taking up its version of the FY2021 Foreign Aid Bill in upcoming weeks.  The House measure did not specify amounts for direct aid to Armenia or Azerbaijan, allowing the State Department latitude to define funding levels and programs.

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