ANCA Chair Testifies before Congressional Panel

CALLS FOR $90 MILLION FOR ARMENIA AND $5 MILLION FOR NAGORNO KARABAGH IN FISCAL YEAR 2004 FOREIGN AID BILL

WASHINGTON–DC–In testimony presented earlier this week before a key Congressional committee–the Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA)–Ken Hachikian–outlined the Armenian American community’s concerns on a broad range of foreign aid issues–including the need for a $90 million hard earmark for Armenia and a $5 million allocation for Nagorno Karabagh in the Fiscal Year 2004 foreign aid bill. The testimony was presented during an appearance in the US Capitol before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations. Among the panel members who took part in the meeting were its Chairman–Jim Kolbe (R-AZ)–Ranking Democrat–Nita Lowey (D-NY)–and Mark Kirk (R-IL)–who is serving his first term on the subcommittee. Kirk–who represents Hachikian’s hometown of Lake Forest–Illinois–welcomed him personally to the hearing. Also offering testimony on Armenian American concerns was Ross Vartian–Executive Director of the Armenian Assembly of America. The key points raised in the ANCA testimony were:

US ASSISTANCE TO ARMENIA

"The ANCA supports at a minimum a $90 million hard earmark for Armenia in the Fiscal Year 2004 foreign aid bill. This appropriation will help offset the devastating effects of the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades and help to continue Armenia’s political and economic transition. Specifically–these funds will be used to develop the economy and infrastructure–further strengthen democratic institutions–and meet the country’s current development and humanitarian needs. We are confident that–with this assistance–an economically viable Armenia will be a catalyst for development throughout the Caucasus and all of the New Independent States."

DIRECT US AID TO NAGORNO KARABAGH

"We believe that it is the responsibility of the United States and the international community to support the people of Nagorno Karabagh as they seek to bring an end to a conflict that has already claimed too many lives. Karabagh is blockaded by a hostile Azerbaijan–with the strong backing of Turkey. The people of Nagorno Karabagh are faced with pressing developmental and humanitarian needs and the difficult task of rebuilding the social and economic infrastructure of their republic. It is–therefore–imperative that the United States continues sending relief assistance and participates in this reconstruction effort without waiting for the final outcome of the OSCE negotiations. Targeted reconstruction support to Nagorno Karabagh will prove–over time–to be an investment in peace in a region of great strategic significance to the United States."

SECTION 907 OF THE FREEDOM SUPPORT ACT

"We respectfully call upon the panel to reassert Congressional authority to legislate guidelines governing our foreign aid policy by including a provision in the Fiscal Year 2004 foreign aid bill that allows the President to extend the authority to waive Section 907–on a year-to-year basis–only with explicit Congressional approval."

RESTRICTIONS ON US MILITARY AID TO AZERBAIJAN

"We call upon Congress to carefully monitor the terms of the Presidential waiver of Section 907 and to exercise strict Congressional scrutiny of the use of any of these funds–including arms sales or transfers to Azerbaijan that will increase Azerbaijan’s offensive military capability or that could potentially be used by the Azerbaijani government against Nagorno Karabagh or Armenia. In addition–we ask Congress to ensure parity in the assistance provided to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Administration should demand of Azerbaijan written guarantees that this aid will in no way to be used against Armenia or Nagorno Karabagh–and request a full accounting of how Azerbaijan has allocated US military assistance."

Reps. Pallone–Crowley–Schiff–and Visclosky Outline Priorities for Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh

As in years past–Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) offered his own testimony–outlining for the Subcommittee his assistance priorities for Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh. He urged Subcommittee members that "funding for the South Caucus region should remain a priority. As the United States continues to engage in conflicts throughout the world–the stated US policy goals of ensuring peace–stability–regional cooperation–democratization and economic development in the South Caucus remain critical." Rep. Pallone specifically commended the Subcommittee members for providing US humanitarian aid for Nagorno Karabagh since 1998 and urged that they include "in the FY 2004 Appropriations bill $5 million above and beyond the initial congressional appropriation of $20 million–which was included in the FY 2003 Omnibus Appropriations bill."

In their respective testimonies–Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA)–Joe Crowley (D-NY) and Peter Visclosky (D-IN) all expressed grave concern about Turkey and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh and the vital need for continued US assistance to Armenia to help offset the devastating economic impact. Rep. Schiff explained that–"the dual blockades of Armenia by Azerbaijan and Turkey continue to impede Armenia’s economic well-being. While Armenia continues to implement critical reforms in trade and monetary policy–government intervention in the economy–banking and property rights–it continues to be left out of regional and international trade. As long as Armenia is subjected to blockades on its east and west borders–continued US assistance to Armenia is necessary to help minimize their impact. At a minimum–Armenia’should receive the same level of funding in FY 2004 as it did in FY 2003 ‘not less than’ $90 million."

Rep. Visclosky expressed similar concerns and urged vigilance with regard to the Presidential waiver of Section 907 restrictions on US assistance to Azerbaijan. "At a time when Armenia is working towards integrating its economy with the West–the blockade has virtually isolated Armenia. Armenia is landlocked and in the past 85 percent of all goods destined to Armenia went through Azerbaijan. In addition–Armenia’s primary natural gas pipeline traverses Azerbaijan. Not to revisit Section 907 would only serve to legitimize Azerbaijan’s illegitimate acts of aggression."

Rep. Crowley expressed specific opposition to the Administration’s proposal to reduce US aid to Armenia to $49 million. He argued that–"in past years–Armenia has consistently received $90 million–and shown results. These funds have helped Armenia develop its economy and infrastructure–and have further strengthened its parliamentary process and led to democratic elections. Armenia is one of our strongest allies in the Caucasus region." He went on to note that–"US assistance to Armenia helps the Armenian people expand their economic partnership with the United States by creating an economic and political environment conducive to greater US-Armenia trade and direct investment. Additionally–I would recommend that US assistance programs–such as US AID–work with local indigenous organizations in Armenia–such as the Armenian Relief Society–to continue to build upon this nation’s social–economic–and humanitarian successes."

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