Bipartisan Group in Congress Calls for Aid to Javakhk, Armenia

WASHINGTON–Twenty Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Friday joined with Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and George Radanovich (R-CA) in formally calling upon President Bush to dedicate portions of the proposed $1 billion post Georgia-Russia conflict aid package to meeting economic development needs in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia and to helping to offset the economic impact of the recent crisis on Armenia, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The signatories of the letter included two key members of the House panel that writes the foreign aid bill, Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Steve Rothman (D-NJ); the Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI); as well as the chamber’s two members of Armenian heritage, Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Jackie Speier (D-CA). Also signing the letter were the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank (D-MA), the Co-Chairman of the Human Rights Caucus, Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Jim Costa (D-CA), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Mike Honda (D-CA), Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), James Langevin (D-RI), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Ed Markey (D-MA), Michael McNulty (D-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Donald Payne (D-NJ), and Colin Peterson (D-MN).

In a September 12th Dear Colleague letter, Reps. Radanovich and Pallone explained to their fellow Representatives that Armenia, which continues to be materially harmed by the fighting to its north, has remained "a constructive partner to Georgia through ensuring safe transit for humanitarian needs, reconstruction assistance, and diplomatic measures." They also stressed the urgency of providing funds specifically for Samtskhe-Javakheti, a chronically underdeveloped region in Georgia, heavily populated by Armenia’s.

"Armenia’s Americans ‘sfrom Fresno, New Jersey and around the nation thank Representatives Pallone and Radanovich and all those who added their names to this worthwhile effort to address the pressing post-conflict humanitarian and developmental needs in Georgia and in Armenia," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "We look forward to working with these legislators and our other friends on Capitol Hill to reach out to these populations during their time of need."

The Congressional letter suggests that the Administration implement two specific policy recommendations:

1) Ensuring that a meaningful level of the new Georgia aid program is specifically targeted to the vital Samtskhe-Javakheti region. This largely Armenian-inhabited area, home to roughly five percent of Georgia’s overall population, remains, in great measure, economically undeveloped. Of the $1 billion being proposed for Georgia, a proportional share on a per capita basis, should be officially dedicated to developmental programs in Samtskhe-Javakheti, with a special focus on alleviating poverty, developing transportation and communication links, promoting international trade and investment, and supporting sustainable economic growth.

2) In light of Yerevan’s extensive assistance during this crisis and also the large-scale harm it has endured as a result of the fighting in the region, portions of the new Georgia assistance package should be used to help offset the damage to Armenia’s economy. This damage, estimated at between $680 and $1 billion, has largely been the result of higher transportation costs, increased prices for basic commodities such as food and fuel, and a slow down in international investmen’s.

The full text of the Congressional letter to President Bush is provided below.

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

We are writing to express our support for the vitally needed financial assistance package that your Administration has proposed in the aftermath of the recent crisis in Georgia, and to suggest two concrete steps that we can take to help advance our national interest in a strong, independent, pluralist, and democratic Georgian state.

Our first recommendation is to ensure that a meaningful level of this aid program is specifically targeted to the vital Samtshke-Javakheti region. This largely Armenian-inhabited area, home to roughly five percent of Georgia’s overall population, remains, in great measure, economically undeveloped. Of the $1 billion proposed for Georgia, a proportional share on a per capita basis – should be officially dedicated to developmental programs in Samtshke-Javakheti, with a special focus on alleviating poverty, developing transportation and communication links, promoting international trade and investment, and supporting sustainable economic growth.

Our second recommendation is that, in light of Yerevan’s extensive assistance during this crisis and also the large-scale economic harm it has endured as a result of the fighting in the region, this assistance package also be used to help offset the ongoing damage to Armenia’s economy. As a country beset by twin blockades, Armenia conducts the vast majority of its trade through Georgia. Since the outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Georgia, Armenia has experienced significantly higher transportation costs, increased prices for basic commodities such as food and fuel, and a slow down in international investmen’s. This harm has been estimated by senior Armenian government officials, including the Prime Minister, Chairman of the National Security Council, and Ambassador to the United States, at between $680 million and $1 billion. Targeted economic aid to Armenia, implemented in coordination with the Armenian government, can play a particularly constructive role during this difficult time to assist an important ally in the region.

As you know, Georgia has long been a partner and friend to neighboring Armenia, which has, since the outbreak of hostilities, played a vital role in seeking to restore peace and stability in the region. The Armenian government provided safe transit for U.S Embassy and other international diplomatic officials, for hundreds of non-governmental organization representatives, and for thousands of Georgian nationals. In addition, the Armenian government provided human, material, and financial resources to help repair key elemen’s of Georgia’s damaged infrastructure.

Armenia plays an invaluable role and shares a common vision with Georgia and the United States for regional stability in the Caucasus. Despite many difficult challenges, Armenia has taken steps to strengthen relationships with its neighbors. Earlier this month, Armenian President Serzh Sargsian demonstrated this through his historic invitation to Turkish President Abdullah Gul to come watch their two nations play a qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup. Given the obvious unrest in the area, it is vital that Armenia be able to continue its role as an ally and stabilizing force in the Caucasus.

Thank you for your consideration of our two recommendations. We look forward to working with you regarding these suggestions and would welcome the opportunity to meet with your Administration to discuss them in greater detail.
Sincerely,

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