House Panel Vote Maintains Parity in US Military Aid to Armenia and Azerbaijan

WASHINGTON–DC (ANCA)–A key House Appropriations Subcommittee–voted on June 23 to maintain parity in US foreign military financing (FMF) assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The decision counters President Bush’s FY 2005 budget proposal–which would have broken an earlier agreement between the Administration and Congressional leaders to ensure balanced military assistance to the two countries.

The House Foreign Operations Subcommittee–chaired by Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe–voted to allocate $5 million in military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan–respectively–as opposed to President Bush’s request of $8 million for Azerbaijan and $2 million for Armenia. The Committee also supported a hard earmark of $65 million in US assistance to Armenia–and $5 million for Mountainous Karabagh. By contrast–the Bush Administration had requested $62 million for Armenia and had not specified any funds for Mountainous Karabagh. The Subcommittee’s decision would effectively reduce US assistance to Armenia by $10 million from FY 2004 levels. The reduction reflects an overall reduction of US assistance to former Soviet countries.

In the months leading up to the Subcommittee mark up of the foreign aid bill–Armenian American activists from across the country participated in ANCA WebFax campaigns calling attention to potential repercussions to breaking US military assistance parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In February–activists noted that the brutal murder in Hungary of 26-year-old Armenian Lieutenant Gurgen Markarian during a NATO language course underscored the dangers posed by adopting President Bush’s policy. That tragedy was followed by disturbing rhetoric by the Azerbaijani leadership threatening to resolve the Mountainous Karabagh issue militarily. As Armenia’s and Azerbaijanis were marking the 10th anniversary of the Mountainous Karabagh ceasefire on May 12th–Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced that–"We [Azerbaijan] must increase our military potential. Our army is able at any moment to free our territory." Aliyev went on to note that military expenditures have grown over the past several years and "it will keep increasing in the future."

In a briefing paper faxed to House and Senate members earlier this year–the ANCA noted that "a tilt in military spending toward Azerbaijan would destabilize the region–emboldening the new Azerbaijani leadership to continue their threats to impose a military solution to the Mountainous Karabagh conflict. More broadly–breaching the parity agreement would reward the leadership of Azerbaijan for walking away from the OSCE’s Key West peace talks–the most promising opportunity to resolve the Mountainous Karabagh conflict in nearly a decade."

Members of Congress concurred with this assessment–with over 30 House members cosigning a February 24th letter to President Bush–initiated by Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–stating that they "strongly believe that providing unequal military assistance to Azerbaijan and Armenia will contribute to instability in the region and could unintentionally tip the military balance." Earlier that month–on February 11–Representatives Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI)–Grace Napolitano (D-CA)–Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) pressed Secretary of State Colin Powell to explain the Administration’s reasoning for the proposed break in Armenia-Azerbaijan military parity in spoken and written statemen’s submitted during his testimony before the House International Relations Committee.

In April–Rep. Pallone and New York Republican John Sweeney initiated a letter to Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Kolbe and Ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-NY) urging that military parity be maintained. Foreign Operations Subcommittee member and Congressional Armenian Caucus co-Chairman Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) was outspoken in his efforts to maintain a balance in military assistance to the two countries. During the ANCA Capitol Hill Observance of the Armenian Genocide–Rep. Knollenberg stated–"every single time we have gotten the federal government’s dollar numbers for Armenia–they have always been down and we’ve always had to bring it up. And we aren’t going to stop fighting to bring it back and to ensure there is parity on the military issue."

The foreign aid bill will likely be considered by the House Appropriations Committee on July 9–followed by a full House vote thereafter. The Senate version of the bill will follow a similar path.

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