House Panel to Hold Hearing On Southern Caucasus

WASHINGTON–DC The House International Relations Subcommittee on Europe will be holding a hearing tomorrow on US interests in the South Caucasus and Caspian region–focusing primarily on the countries of Armenia–Azerbaijan and Georgia–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The hearing will be webcast live at 1:30pm (EST) via a link from the House International Relations Committee website:http://www.house.gov/international_relations/schedule.htm.

Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–the 1992 law restricting certain types of direct US assistance to the government of Azerbaijan due to its ongoing blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh–will likely emerge as a key topic of discussion. In recent weeks–State Department officials and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) have stepped up their efforts against Section 907. Last week–the Kansas Senator filed an amendment to repeal this law–but decided against moving forward with his proposal. Since then–he has urged Senate colleagues to call on President Bush to waive the measure and circulated "talking points" to Senators supporting a repeal.

The Subcommittee on Europe–includes several vocal opponents to Section 907–among them Indiana Republican Dan Burton. Over the past several days–local ANC chapters have worked with Armenian Americans from across the United States in educating members of the Subcommittee about the dangers of weakening–repealing–or waiving Section 907. They have also called on the panel to continue US assistance to Armenia and support efforts to find a peaceful and lasting resolution to the Karabakh conflict.

According to an official briefing document circulated to Subcommittee members earlier today–the hearing will also "explore the possible use of Azerbaijani territory by elemen’s of the Al Qaeda organization as a staging area for extremist operations into the Chechen area of Russia or at least as a transit point for arms and manpower to and from Chechnya." In recent weeks–the ANCA has circulated reports documenting the Azerbaijani Government’s ties to terrorist Osama bin Laden–including an article by US Congressional Taskforce on Terrorism director Yossef Bodansky–which states that "Islamists basically agreed with the Azerbaijan Government of Hayder Aliyev that they would — in exchange for allowing a free flow of people–weapons and ordnance through Azerbaijan — not interfere with or overthrow the Aliyev Government. As well–they committed to providing outside mujahedin to undertake operations against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh which could be credibly denied by the Aliyev Government."

The hearing will include testimony by three witnesses–Dr. Charles H. Fairbanks–Director of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced and International Studies; Dr. Brenda Shaffer–Research Director at Harvard University’s Caspian Studies Program; and–Ms Zeyno Baran–Director of the Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Georgia Forum. Shaffer–whose program is funded by the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce and a consortium of companies led by Exxon–Mobil–Chevron–Aker-Maritime–CCC–and ETPM–is an outspoken opponent of Section 907.

Armenian President "Deeply Concerned" About Consequences of Lifting Section 907

In a letter sent to President Bush earlier today–Armenian President Robert Kocharian expressed opposition to the repeal or waiving of Section 907–stating that the government of Armenia is "deeply concerned about the inevitable consequences of such a move."

Kocharian again expressed his country’s condolences for the September 11th terrorist attacks on the US and promised to "fully support [President Bush’s] efforts against this threat to civilization and democracy." He went on to urge President Bush "not to lose sight of other regional conflicts and issues of international concern that are in various ways linked to these larger global issues."

According to Kocharian–"Repealing Section 907–which stands to benefit Azerbaijan directly–will be interpreted as a reward–as if Azerbaijan is somehow bringing greater participation than Armenia to the international effort against terrorism. This does not correspond to reality. . ." Referring to the Osama bin Laden’s entrenched terrorist network in Azerbaijan–Kocharian argued that "removing Section 907 will appear to be a reward to a country which in fact harbors terrorists?"

Finally the Armenian President cited the negative impact of lifting the sanctions on the OSCE Minsk Group mediated Nagorno Karabakh peace process. "Section 907 and the Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia have been interlinked through the life of this conflict–and are part of the overall package of issues which require resolution. Removing one element–dealing with it independently–will irreparably damage the peace process."

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