Congressional testimony calls for increasing aid to Armenia and Karabakh–maintaining Section 907–and strengthening sanctions on Turkey.
WASHINGTON–Appearing before a key Congressional foreign aid committee Tuesday–Armenian National Committee of America Government Affairs Director Chris Hekimian pressed legislators to take decisive action to prevent any further delays in the delivery of Congressionally approved foreign assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh.
In his testimony before the House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee–Hekimian commended the Congress for its decision last year to approve $12.5 million in fiscal year 1998 assistance for Nagorno-Karabakh. He stressed that–in addition to meeting critical humanitarian and developmental needs–the "Congress has wisely recognized that humanitarian assistance provided directly to Nagorno-Karabakh will build a healthier environment for the OSCE negotiations."
Hekimian then stated that: "Unfortunately–despite repeated assurances–the Administration has yet to begin implementation of any assistance programs in Nagorno-Karabakh. Now–more than six months into the  fiscal year–the absence of his assistance indirectly rewards those nations that have imposed blockades –blockades which have been openly condemned by the United States."
"Any efforts 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 US regional interests. Humanitarian aid should be distributed based on need–not the dictates of the government in Baku or any foreign capital."
The ANCA’s testimony also covered a broad range of other issues of concern to Armenian Americans–including increasing aid to Armenia in the form of a $100 million hard earmark–maintaining the restriction on US aid to Azerbaijan (Section 907)–and placing additional restrictions on US arms sales and transfers to Turkey.
On the question of the restriction on US aid to Azerbaijan–adopted in 1992 as Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act–Hekimian reaffirmed that–"The ANCA strongly supports the law restricting US assistance to the government of Azerbaijan and actively opposes any effort to weaken–waive–or eliminate this prohibition. Any effort to circumvent the intent of this provision of law–particularly during the ongoing negotiations–will be viewed by the Azerbaijani government as a clear signal for renewed aggression."
Hekimian welcomed the Clinton Administration’s "belated decision to cut all military gran’s and loans to Turkey," and called for sharp restrictions on all future economic aid and military sales. He stressed that: "As we have said in past testimony before this panel–Armenian Americans remain deeply concerned by the devastating impact of Turkey’s five-year blockade of humanitarian assistance to Armenia–the threat to regional stability posed by Turkey’s ongoing military build-up–and the destabilizing effect of Turkey’s support for Azerbaijani aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh. Furthermore–the Armenian American community is troubled by the distrust and increased regional instability caused by Turkey’s expanding campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide. In addition–the Armenian American community is troubled by Turkey’s long history of human rights abuses at home and aggression abroad. This pattern includes the systematic and widespread use of torture and human rights abuses against it own citizens–the genocidal policies being pursued against the Kurdish population–the unfair restrictions on the rights of Christian communities–and the continuing occupation of Cyprus."
Hekimian opened his remarks before the panel by noting that it was "especially meaningful to appear today–in the wake of yesterday’s presidential elections in Armenia. These elections represent a major step forward in Armenia’s democratic development and are a tribute to the Armenian people’s fundamental commitment to democracy."
Hekimian reminded the panel that it was the newly elected President Robert Kocharian–who–during his service as president of Nagorno-Karabakh–had been the "architect of the 1994 cease-fire which ended years of open hostilities. President Kocharian enjoys broad based popular support for his Nagorno-Karabakh policies and we have every reason to believe that he has the political will to move the peace process forward–assuming–of course–that there is good will and a sense of realism from the Azerbaijani side."
Following his remarks–Hekimian fielded a number of questions from Subcommittee Chairman Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.)–and panel member Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ).