EDTORIAL: A Setback With a Little ‘Help from Friends’

The grassroots efforts of the Armenian-American community was dealt a blow this week when the Senate haphazardly voted Tuesday to de facto repeal Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–which barred direct US aid to Azebraijan until that country lifted its 13-year blockade of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The real tragedy–however–was that this setback was encouraged by overt help from an Armenian-American organization that finds itself of late in complete collusion with the State Department and advancing its mission–which does not correspond with the just aspirations of the Armenian-American community and the Armenian nation.

The Senate voted by voice vote to amend the fiscal year 2002 foreign aid bill to include language which would modify Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–allowing the President to waive this law if he determines that providing US assistance to Azerbaijan:

a. is necessary to support United States efforts to counter terrorism; or

b. is necessary to support the operational readiness of United States Armed Forces or coalition partners to counter terrorism; or

c. is important to Azerbaijan’s border security; and

d. will not undermine or hamper ongoing efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan or be used for offensive purposes against Armenia.

The House–in its version of the foreign aid bill passed earlier this year–maintained Section 907 in its current form. Members of a House-Senate conference committee will now meet to work out the differences between the two versions of the bill. The Armenian-American community will have an extensive role in persuading the conference leaders to not incorporate the Senate version and adhere to language adopted by the House of Representatives.

However–the fight to repeal Section 907 is not a new one. Every year–during critical debates in the House and the Senate over foreign operations allocations within the budget–the Turkish–Azeri and oil lobbies–in concert–have urged lawmakers to discard this piece of legislation–which was initially introduced and passed due largely to the grassroots activism of the Armenian-American community.

The climate in the country following the Sept. 11th attacks has prompted a dangerous precedent to handle important international issues–in the name of nationalism and the campaign to obliterate terrorism from the world.

It is a shame that the government of Azerbaijan–which has allowed free access to the Taliban and its guerrillas for countless years–stands to benefit from the tragic attack against the US. It is even more astonishing that the Bush administration has opted to use the current situation to advance an agenda–which it has long yearned to institutionalize.

This move by the Senate–which was prompted by heavy lobbying by the State Department and the White House–corresponds with the aspirations of the oil giants that have anchored their operations in Baku in hopes of benefiting from so-called oil reserves in the Caspian. Although several drilling expeditions have proven barren–these companies have invested way too much capital in that country to see it diminish due to the sanctions outlined within Section 907.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian–in an October 9 letter to President Bush–outlined the negative impact that weakening Section 907 would have on the OSCE Minsk Group mediated Nagorno Karabakh peace process–noting that removing one element independently would irreparably damage the Karabakh peace process. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian traveled to Washington this week for discussions on a range of issues. Among the issues he addressed were Armenia’s cooperation in the war on terrorism and the impact that weakening Section 907 would have on the regional balance in the Caucasus.

Furthermore–17 leading national organizations–representing a critical mass of the Armenian American grassroots–through a broad spectrum of political–religious–and humanitarian groups–wrote to President Bush on the eve of the Senate vote to express their "unambiguous support for Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act as a vital element of US policy toward the Caucasus and a key instrument of stability in a region of great strategic significance to our nation during this time of crisis."

In the wake of this broad-based community support for maintaining Section 907–the Armenian Assembly of America–which apparently is the mouthpiece of the US State Department–opted to throw its support to the administration by calling for the community to support "our Commander in Chief" president George W. Bush. Minutes following the Senate vote–the Assembly issued a press release hailing the vote as a "Victory for Armenia."

This–of course–begs the question: which Armenia? A country that must constantly concede to the whims of the US State Department? Or the independent nation whose president has utilized his executive power to urge his US counterpart to maintain Section 907?

It has become evident that in the new century–the Assembly has emerged as the true supporter of Armenian interests as dictated by foreign governmen’s. Its vocal support for and involvement in furthering the misguided Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission–coupled with its adamant efforts to quash Section 907–exemplify the Assembly’s so-called commitment to pursue Armenian interests. Are they pursuing Armenian national aspirations or–the interests of Assembly leaders who might have a personal stake if the Genocide issue is diminished to a mere commemorative event–or if the safety of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia is jeopardized? The Armenian-American community is sophisticated enough to judge for itself and weigh whether or not the "altruism" of the Armenian Assembly is truly directed toward the just resolution of Armenian concerns.

However–despite this setback–the community has more work to do. The measure will come to the conference committee–where a final resolution will be approved. The Armenian grassroots machinery should mobilize in coming days and weeks to ensure that Azerbaijan does not walk away with US military equipment–which it later can use against Armenia and Karabakh–without paying the price for harboring Taliban guerrillas and becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda terrorist units.

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