*Government Affairs Director exchanges views on Karabakh aid program with Chairman Sonny Callahan and key committee members.
WASHINGTON–Armenian National Committee of America Government Affairs Director Chris Hekimian–in testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations–called upon Congress to maintain funding levels to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh and called for closer oversight of the US assistance program for Nagorno Karabakh.
In his March 4th testimony before the panel–Hekimian explained that the "ANCA supports the same percentages of funding for the Southern Caucasus region and Armenia as in fiscal year 1999 to help offset the devastating effects of the Turkish and Azeri blockades and to help continue Armenia’s political and economic transition. These funds will be used to meet the country’s current humanitarian needs–develop the economy and infrastructure–and further strengthen democratic institutions."
Commenting on the delays in funding Congressionally approved aid to Karabakh–Hekimian argued that "United States assistance programs for Nagorno Karabakh represent an important confidence-building measure. Any further efforts to delay their implementation or to divert these funds away from the people of Nagorno Karabakh–in addition to contravening the will of Congress–will prove to be counter-productive–both in terms of the peace process and long-term US regional interests."
Hekimian also stressed Karabakh’s support for the peace process–pointing out that–"Today–the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh is an active participant in negotiations organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and a key contributor to peace in the region. Nagorno Karabakh and Armenia have both accepted the most recent proposal by the OSCE Minsk Group. Azerbaijan–unfortunately–has rejected this plan–insisting instead on unilateral concessions and one-sided compromises by Nagorno Karabakh."
Following his testimony before the panel–Hekimian engaged in a discussion on the Karabakh aid program with Subcommittee Chairman Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.)–Ranking Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Michigan Republican Joe Knollenberg.
Representatives Pallone & Visclosky Concerned About Administration Plan to Increase Aid to Azerbaijan
Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Indiana Democrat Peter Visclosky–in their testimony before the panel–also called for maintaining 1999 assistance levels for Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh–and each expressed concern that the Administration’s proposed increase in aid to Azerbaijan would only rewards its government for aggressive policies against its neighbors. Rep. Visclosky explained that:
"The Administration can point to no progress toward peace by Azerbaijan as a reason for rewarding it in such ways. Azerbaijan has not lifted its blockade of Armenia that has had devastating economic and social effects on the Armenia people."
"Azerbaijan has little incentive to take demonstrable steps to end the conflict if the Administration continues to enrich it. Azerbaijan has already received more than $180 million in assistance from America through non-governmental organizations. It is arguable whether this aid is getting through to needy Azeris.
Last year’s subcommittee conference report acknowledged reports of diversion and theft of humanitarian assistance by Azeri officials. The State Department’s own country report on human rights practices in Azerbaijan noted that economic growth there is offset by a highly organized system of corruption and patronage."
Rep. Pallone called for current levels of US aid to Armenia to be maintained–noting that:
"Because Armenia is largely cut off from the West due to the Turkish and Azeri blockades–US–assistance has played a vital role in helping this small–land-locked nation to survive. Despite the hardships caused by the blockades–Armenia has registered strong economic growth–and the government is pursuing an aggressive privatization campaign. Furthermore–aid to Armenia is strictly monitored and effectively implemented. At this critical juncture–when Armenia’s economy is registering strong growth–foreign investment is increasing significantly and domestic political stability has firmly taken root–we cannot abandon this still vulnerable country surrounded by hostile neighbors and trying to overcome 70 years of Soviet domination.
In addressing the continued efforts of the Administration to lift section 907–Pallone stated that "I urge that the Subcommittee not accept any provisions to weaken or otherwise get around the requiremen’s of Section 907–and I would further request language in the Foreign Operations bill calling on the Administration to report to Congress on what steps it is taking to ensure Azerbaijan’s compliance with the conditions of Section 907. It is my understanding that the Administration would like to see the FY2000 Foreign Operations bill used as a vehicle for further waiving Section 907. I would urge you not to take that step."