Congress Finalizes FY 2005 Foreign Aid Bill

Reverses administration’s effort to break military aid parity for Armenia and Azerbaijan; fails to include Schiff amendment on the Armenian genocide

WASHINGTON–DC–The United States Congress this past weekend adopted an Omnibus spending measure including several provisions of special interest to Armenian Americans–including the reversal of a White House proposal to tip the balance of US military aid toward Azerbaijan.

The Bush Administration–in the budget it submitted to Congress in February of this year–had proposed sending four times more Foreign Military Financing to Azerbaijan ($8 million) than to Armenia ($2 million). The final version of the foreign aid bill–adopted on November 20 during a lame duck session of Congress–sets the total military aid figures–including three quarters of a million dollars in International Military Education and Training–for both nations at $8.75 million. "It is absolutely critical that the US maintain parity in military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan," commented Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Joe Knollenberg (R-MI). "This is as important as ever–particularly in light of the ongoing dangerous commen’s by Azeri leaders. I am fully committed to ensuring that this policy continues."

Congress–at the urging of Senator Mitch McConell (R-KY) and Rep. Knollenberg–both of whom serve as senior members of their respective chamber’s foreign aid subcommittees–earmarked at least $75 million in economic aid for Armenia and an additional $3 million for Mountainous Karabagh. Subcommittee member Steve Rothman (D-NJ) welcomed the final numbers–stating "Armenia–as an emerging democracy with a developing free market economic system–needs continued US assistance to accomplish its objectives: regional peace and stability–a successful transition to a free market economy and a flourishing democracy. I will continue to work with the Administration to push Azerbaijan and Turkey to lift their blockades against Armenia–which are placing oppressive and unjustifiable obstacles in the path of Armenia’s continued growth and development."

"Armenian Americans value the foresight and vision of Congress in restoring military aid parity–setting a $75 million earmark for Armenia–and continuing direct aid to Mountainous Karabagh," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "Senator McConnell–Congressman Knollenberg and all our friends deserve a great deal of credit for their tireless efforts on this spending measure. We were–at the same time–disappointed that Congressional leaders failed to respect the clearly expressed will of the US House in adopting the Schiff Amendment. In failing to include this provision in the final version of the bill–Congress missed an opportunity to send a clear message to Turkey that the US government will not tolerate its shameful denial of the Armenian genocide."

The restoration of military aid parity by the Congress was identified by the ANCA in early 2004 as a major legislative priority following the President’s budget request breaking the standing agreement between the White House and the legislative branch that military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan remain equal. Following the bill’s passage Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) cited the importance of maintaining military aid parity. "Even though the President waived Section 907 in FY 2002–its principles and the commitmen’s that were made at that time still remain fundamental to US policy towards the South Caucuses. Moreover–because Azerbaijan continues its blockade of Armenia–it is more important than ever for maintaining Foreign Military Funding parity between these two nations."

The House version of the foreign aid bill–adopted this July–included a strongly worded amendment–authored by Rep. Adam Schiff–on the Armenian genocide. This measure–approved as an amendment by voice vote on the House floor–aimed to restrict the government of Turkey from using any of the aid it receives from this appropriation to lobby against the adoption of the Congressional Genocide Resolution. The Senate version did not include a counterpart to the Schiff Amendment–nor did the final text that emerged from House-Senate deliberations.

Rep. Schiff commented on the removal of the provision from the final bill stating: "Generations of Americans have long waited for Congress to condemn the murder of 1.5 million Armenian men–women and children. Even though the Schiff amendment was not enacted into law–its passage by the House in July was a seminal moment in the effort to recognize the Armenian genocide. While I had hoped that this would be the year Congress would formally speak against the evil perpetrated against the Armenian people almost ninety years ago–we will redouble our efforts in the next year to pass the Schiff Amendment as well as legislation recognizing and condemning all genocides."

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