House Foreign Affairs Chairman Praises Armenia’s Help to US Diplomats in Georgia Crisis

WASHINGTON–House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) Wednesday thanked Armenia for providing safe transit for U.S. officials during the recent Georgia conflict, during Committee consideration of a $470 million post-conflict assistance package to Georgia, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

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Noting the "ripple effects" of the crisis beyond Georgia’s borders and the absence of Armenia in the bill, Chairman Berman pledged consideration of additional assistance to Armenia next year. He stated, in his opening remarks, that, "I note that the ripple effects of this crisis were clearly felt beyond Georgia’s borders. The United States is grateful to the Armenian Government for providing safe transit for American and international officials, relatives of diplomats and NGO representatives and Georgia nationals. Although this bill does not include funding for other countries in the Caucasus region, it is my intention, when we consider the authorization of assistance next year, to examine the wider impact of this conflict and provide appropriate funding for Armenia and other affected countries."

Rep. Sherman (D-CA), an outspoken supporter of post-conflict aid to Armenia and Javakhk, expressed reservations about language in the bill, which may support the construction of a new pipeline bypassing Armenia.

"We see that there are pipelines in Georgia," stated Rep. Sherman. "Why are there pipelines in Georgia? Because we funded an anti-Armenia pipeline that violates the rules of geometry ‘s that does not use a straight line ‘s but rather goes around Armenia in order to benefit those who are trying to isolate Armenia and now there is talk in this resolution of a new pipeline ‘s again one designed to avoid going through Armenia territory, avoid building a peace pipeline between Azerbaijan and Armenia."

Rep. Sherman expressed regret that assistance to Armenia was not included in this initial $470 million allocation and pledged his support for future consideration. The Committee adopted the measure with a vote of 24 to 9. The remaining $530 million will be discussed in appropriations next year.

"We commend Chairman Berman and Rep. Sherman for highlighting Armenia’s large scale economic losses as a result of the Georgia conflict," stated ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "While we had hoped that assistance to Armenia and Javakhk would be included in this first aid package to Georgia, we will continue to work with the Foreign Affairs and Appropriations committees to ensure that these funds are included in future assistance packages."

The ANCA has supported Congressional efforts, spearheaded by Congressmen Brad Sherman, Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and George Radanovich (R-CA) to ensure that the U.S. aid package includes 1) a meaningful allocation for Javakhk, a under-developed and largely Armenian population region in southern Georgia, and 2) a dedication of funds to help offset the considerable economic harm that the conflict has inflicted upon Armenia. Yerevan played a critical role in helping to evacuate U.S. diplomatic personnel and other international officials during the conflict.

During a hearing before this same panel last week, Congressman Sherman pressed energetically for the aid package to include funding for Armenia, which he described as an "innocent victim" in the war between Georgia and Russia. Despite strong argumentation, persistent questioning, and his recitation of facts concerning how "Armenia has suffered tremendously as a result of this war," the State Department’s witness, Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried, remained adamant in voicing the Administration’s opposition to providing economic aid to Armenia as part of this package.

In a Congressional letter, which will soon be sent to President Bush, Representatives Pallone and Radanovich outline two recommendations to the White House. Firstly, ensuring 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."

Secondly, "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," they called for setting aside a portion of the post-conflict aid package to "help offset the ongoing damage to Armenia’s economy." The legislators explained that, "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."

The Armenian government’s post-conflict contributions have been in four key areas: 1) Safe transit for U.S. and international officials and relatives of diplomats, NGO representatives, and Georgian nationals; 2) reconstruction assistance for damaged Georgian infrastructure; 3) regional dialogue toward peace and stability, and; 4) alleviating the humanitarian burden on the Georgian government.

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The full text of the ANCA issue brief circulated to Congressional offices is provided below.

ANCA Issue Brief:
Armenia’s constructive response to the crisis in Georgia Armenia has played a balanced and constructive role in addressing the humanitarian crisis caused by the recent Russian-Georgian conflict, and is working with the nations of the region to help restore peace and stability.

1) Safe transit
Armenia provided a "humanitarian corridor" for the safe transit of:

* More than 150 U.S. officials and their family members.

* Hundreds of international personnel, including foreign embassy officials and NGO representatives.

* Thousands of Georgian nationals seeking refuge from the conflict. (Armenia waived all airport fees and transportation taxes.)

2) Reconstruction assistance

Armenia’sent a team of repair personnel to Georgia’s Gori region, along with a train of rail cars carrying construction materials, to help rebuild a key Georgian railroad bridge that was destroyed in the fighting.

3) Peace and stability

Armenia’s President has spoken to both Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Russian President Dimitry Medvedev to express Armenia’s condolences over the loss of life during the recent fighting, and to discuss Armenia’s hope for a timely return to peace and stability in the region.

4) Regional cooperation

Armenia helped alleviate a potential additional humanitarian burden on the Georgian government by managing the timely and orderly return to Armenia of several thousand Armenian nationals who were visiting Georgia at the time of the conflict.

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