WASHINGTON–The US House of Representatives–in a vote of 231 to 182–voted Thursday to maintain a ban on US aid to Azerbaijan–thus ending efforts by the Azeri oil lobby and the State Department to repeal the measure–known as Section 907.
A bi-partisan amendment introduced by representatives Frank Pallone (D-N.J.)–Geroge Radanovich (R-Calif.)–Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and James Rogan (R-Calif.) called for the deletion of language asserting the repeal of 907 in the fiscal year 1999 foreign aid package–known as the Livingston Amendment.
The Livingston Amendment was overwhelmingly supported by the House Appropriations Committee last week.
Sources on Capitol Hill indicated that its successful approval by Congress was imminent.
"This is deemed as a victory for Armenian-Americans who–through their active involvement helped crush attempts to send US tax dollars to Azerbaijan," said Vicken Sonentz-Papazian–executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region.
"The Armenian National Committee and the Armenian Assembly–the 2 largest Armenian organizations–the predominant Armenian organizations–have put out a statement saying that for Armenian Americans–this is the most important vote of this Congress… As a member of the Committee on International Relations–I feel more than a little concerned that such a substantive provision has been stuck in an appropriations bill. A provision that deals with an area that our committee had hearings on–our committee decided not to try to change this year–and then the Committee on Appropriations tries to change it," said Sherman during Congressional debate.
"Mr. Chairman–Section 907 was good law when we passed it back in 1992–and it is still good law. Azerbaijan has done nothing to comply with the basic requirement of Section 907 that it lift its blockades of Armenia and Nagorno- Karabakh–blockades that have caused severe human hardship for the Armenian people," said Pallone during debate.
"…Azerbaijan is an authoritarian regime run by a Soviet-era bureaucrat named Haydar Aliyev. Armenia–on the other hand–is a democracy that has tried to extend the institutions of democracy to its citizens while making the transition to a market economy. Yet–Mr. Chairman–if we adopt the language in the foreign operations bill–we will essentially be rewarding the country that has not made the transition from Soviet era despotism and corruption and punishing the country–that is Armenia–that has moved towards democracy and a market economy and is trying to integrate with the West," continued Pallone.
"The passage of this Amendment sends the clear message that the United States does not condone the government of Azerbaijan’s cruel and inhumane blockade of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. This embargo is still in effect today. As a result of this economic choke-hold–a bipartisan group of legislators included a provision to the Freedom Support Act known as Section 907," said Rogan during debate.
"For nearly a decade–Azerbaijan has used tanks and soldiers to blockade its democratic neighbors–the Republic of Armenia. This illegal blockade has cut off the transport of fuel–of food and of medicine. This blockade is a roadblock to regional peace and it is a chokehold on democracy. That is why the United States has refused to spend our tax dollars to prop up the Azerbaijani government. It has always been our stated policy to reward those who work for peace and democracy and punish those who do not–until now. This bill undermines our commitment to democracy. It abandons support for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh who are struggling for self-determination. And it completely undercuts regional peace talks that have just this week shown some promising signs and hints of progress," remarked minority whip Rep. David Bonior during debate.
"Why would we do this? Why are Members of this House being asked to overturn an effective–long-term commitment to peace and democracy? Why would we hand out a big sack of carrots to an anti-democratic regime? Sadly–the answer can be summed up in one word. Oil. Put crudely–the oil lobby has dollar signs in its eyes. The big corporations cannot wait to start pumping oil from beneath the Caspian Sea–even if that means selling out a democratic country–even if that means abandoning a landlocked Nation whose freedom depends upon open borders–and even if that means sacrificing our own principles of justice," added Bonior.
Other representatives speaking in favor of maintaining Section 907 included Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI).
Section 907 restricts US assistance to the government of Azerbaijan until it lifts the economic blockade of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Speaking against the Pallone-Radanovich amendment were representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.)–Ron Packard (R-Calif.)–Gerald Solomon (R-NY) and Sonny Calahan (R-Ala.)