WASHINGTON—Among the Democratic Representatives selected by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve on the conference committee charged with reconciling the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act – which includes, on the House side, the ANCA-backed Sherman and Chu Amendments – are all three Democratic leaders of the Congressional Armenian Caucus: Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Adam Schiff (D-CA).
“We look to House and Senate NDAA conferees to maintain the Sherman and Chu amendments – two constructive pro-peace measures that advance our American interest in a durable and democratic resolution of outstanding status and security issues between Artsakh and Azerbaijan,” said ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan.
The Sherman Amendment – offered by Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA), Speier, Schiff, and Pallone – prohibits funds from being used to transfer defense articles or services to Azerbaijan unless the President certifies to Congress that the articles or services do not threaten civil aviation. It was adopted on July 11, by a vote of 234 to 195. The text reads: “None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2020 may be used to transfer defense articles or services to Azerbaijan unless the President certifies to Congress that the transfer of such defense articles or services does not threaten civil aviation.”
The Sherman amendment was necessitated by the public assertion, reported by Radio Free Europe in March of 2011, by Arif Mamadov, the Director of Azerbaijan’s Civil Aviation Administration, that the Azerbaijani government had warned the International Civil Aviation Organization that “the law on aviation envisages the physical destruction of airplanes landing in that territory,” specifically referencing flights to Nagorno Karabakh. As a result of this threat – which has never been withdrawn – the civilian airport in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh has been closed ever since.
The Chu Amendment – offered by Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Pallone, and Schiff – supports measures to continue the cease-fire in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), including the non-deployment of snipers, heavy arms, and new weaponry, the deployment of gunfire locator systems, and an increase in OSCE observers along the line-of-contact. It was adopted on July 11 by voice vote as part of an “en bloc” group of amendments. The text reads: “It is the sense of Congress that United States interests in the stability of the Caucasus region and the continuation of the Nagorno Karabakh cease-fire will be advanced by an agreement among regional stakeholders on – (1) the non-deployment of snipers, heavy arms, and new weaponry along the line-of-contact; (2) the deployment of gunfire locator systems on the line-of-contact; and (3) an increase in the number of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe observers along the line-of-contact.”
Other traditional Congressional supporters of Armenian American concerns joining Representatives Pallone, Schiff, and Speier as House conferees on the NDAA bill are House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-NY), Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Republican Devin Nunes (R-CA), senior Foreign Affairs Committee member Brad Sherman, Committee on House Administration Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and senior Armed Services Committee member James Langevin (D-RI). Of the 70 U.S. House NDAA conferees, 42 voted in support of the Sherman Amendment during a full floor vote in June.
The Senate leadership has yet to announce its NDAA conferees, but they are generally comprised of all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a small number of Senators with specific interests in the measure. Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Democrat Jack Reed (D-RI), a longtime friend of the Rhode Island Armenian community, is among key supporters of Armenian American concerns serving as a Senate conferee.
U.S. Senate and House NDAA conferees are scheduled to begin discussions on the final bill on Thursday, September 19th, though the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Armed Services Committees of both chambers have already started informal discussions on the measure.
Armenian Americans have been calling on their Congressional leaders to maintain the Sherman and Chu amendments through a nationwide online campaign launched on the ANCA March to Justice advocacy portal. To share support for the Sherman and Chu amendments, visit the website.