Direct Aid to Karabakh Initiative Rejected in Committee

*International Relations Committee adopts substitute language proposed by Rep. Burton which denies direct US Humanitarian Assistance to Karabakh.

WASHINGTON–A key Congressional panel Thursday adopted a measure which calls for US assistance to "all needy citizens within Armenia and Azerbaijan," but failed to support a more strongly worded proposal by Rep. Brad Sherman to ensure that US humanitarian assistance reaches the people of Nagorno-Karabakh–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

"We are disappointed that the International Relations Committee failed to end the exclusion of Nagorno-Karabakh from US assistance programs," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the ANCA. "The Burton Amendment would callously deny the people of Karabakh the help they need to face the humanitarian crisis caused by nearly a decade of Azerbaijani aggression and blockade. In addition–the Burton Amendment would undermine the peace process by predetermining Karabakh’s status–which is the subject of ongoing peace talks sponsored by the OSCE."

"We are opposed to the fact that this legislation would keep aid to Armenia at last year’s level despite a significant overall increase in aid to the other New Independent States.

"The bill also proposes a sharp increase in aid to Azerbaijan despite the fact that it has not met the basic conditions set forth in Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. For these reasons–we are opposed to adoption of the Committee’s authorization bill," added Hamparian.

After more than an hour and a half of debate–the House International Relations Committee voted 23 to 14 against Rep. Sherman’s amendment to the Foreign Policy Reform Act. The Committee then approved–by voice vote–substitute language offered by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.)–and opposed by the ANCA–which stipulated that it is the "Sense of Congress" that:

"The President should seek cooperation from the governmen’s of Armenia and Azerbaijan to ensure that humanitarian assistance–including assistance delivered through non-governmental organizations and private and voluntary organizations–shall be available to all needy citizens within Armenia and Azerbaijan–including those individuals in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh."

In proposing substitute language–Burton used a common tactic used by Members to derail or weaken legislative language they oppose. His efforts to defeat aid to Karabakh is consistent with his traditional opposition to issues of concern to Armenian Americans. He has regularly received an "F" rating from the ANCA. Last May–he spoke out against even the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.

Rep. Sherman’s original amendment would have mandated that funds authorized by the Foreign Policy Reform Act "may be made available for the purpose of providing humanitarian assistance to refugees–internally displaced individuals–and needy civilians in Nagorno Karabakh." The amendment further provided that the appropriation of funds for Nagorno-Karabakh "shall not be construed to affect the position of the United States concerning the status of Nagorno-Karabakh."

Congressman Sherman’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Nagorno Karabakh were the subject of intense opposition by the Azerbaijani Embassy and Azerbaijan’s allies in the oil industry. Azerbaijani Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev–in the weeks leading to today’s vote–circulated a series of letters warning Members of the Committee that the "relationship between the US and Azerbaijan would be severely damaged should Congress pass such legislation." State Department official Barbara Larkin–who participated in the hearing as a witness–specifically called on the Committee to reject Rep. Sherman’s amendment.

The House Republican leadership–which has traditionally supported the repeal of conditions on US aid to Azerbaijan–actively sought the defeat of the Sherman Amendment.

Each of the 20 Republicans casting votes on the Amendment voted against sending assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh. Several Republican Committee members who supported the measure did not vote–in an apparent effort to avoid antagonizing their party’s leadership.

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