BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) revealed last week that the State Department only spent about half of the amount allocated by Congress to Artsakh. From 1998 to 2010, Congress appropriated to Artsakh $61 million, not including an additional amount estimated at $10 million, allocated during 2000-2002. U.S. government documents obtained by ANCA reveal that the State Dept. spent only $36 million on humanitarian aid to Artsakh in those dozen years.
Successive Democratic and Republican administrations have attempted to block congressional efforts to provide aid to Artsakh, in order to appease Azerbaijan. Failing to prevent approval of such allocations, the State Dept. devised a clever ploy to obstruct the will of Congress — it spent only a portion of the funds intended for Artsakh. Azerbaijan had been insisting that any U.S. assistance to Artsakh be channeled through Baku. Despite objections from the administration and Azerbaijan, Congress has continued to allocate aid to Artsakh, and made it less restrictive; its 2010 allocation of $8 million is earmarked for “programs and activities in Nagorno Karabakh,” not exclusively for humanitarian projects.
Throughout these dozen years, neither Armenia nor Artsakh, and apparently no one from the Armenian American community has complained to Congress about the State Dept.’s refusal to spend fully the allocated funds. Amazingly, after this shortfall was revealed by ANCA, a senior Artsakh official downplayed the failure to deliver the allocated aid. According to Radio Free Europe, Vahram Atanesian, Chairman of the Artsakh parliament’s foreign relations committee, excused the withholding of the aid by attributing it to Artsakh’s robust economic growth!
While Armenians remained surprisingly quiet, Congress, starting in 2001, repeatedly urged the administration “to release, without further delay, the remainder of the $20 million in humanitarian assistance initially provided in the fiscal year 1998 Act.” Furthermore, the House of Representatives asked the Secretary of State to report back the amount of assistance provided by the United States to Artsakh within 15 days of the enactment of the aid bill. In 2004 and 2005, the Senate demanded that USAID present its plans for the disbursement of the allocated funds within 60 days after the enactment of the aid bill. Unfortunately, the Obama administration bears the lion’s share of the blame. During its first two years in office, it has held back $12 million or one-third of the funds not spent on Artsakh since 1998.
Sen. Barbara Boxer had the opportunity to pursue this issue with Matthew Bryza, nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, during his confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee on July 22. She wanted to know why only $4 million was spent out of the $16 million allocated for Artsakh in the past two years. In response to Bryza’s evasive answer, Sen. Boxer asked him to provide in writing “a detailed accounting on the disbursement of all U.S. assistance to Nagorno Karabakh for the past five years.” She pointedly inquired: “Why weren’t the full amounts allocated by Congress for Nagorno Karabakh in 2009 and 2010 spent?” Bryza, once again, did not provide an adequate response to the Senator’s questions.
Consequently, Sen. Boxer asked the Foreign Relations Committee to postpone voting on Bryza’s confirmation, until the Senate returns from recess around mid-September. This would hopefully give Bryza the opportunity to prepare an honest accounting of why the aid from Washington did not fully reach Artsakh. The delay in his confirmation would also allow the Senate to check more thoroughly the issues raised regarding his background.
Clearly, Bryza and his predecessors at the State Department had resorted to various tricks to frustrate the intent of Congress. They attempted to appease Azerbaijan by limiting and delaying the aid desperately needed in Artsakh.
Armenian-Americans should now ask Congress to investigate the State Department’s failure to comply with the legislature’s mandate, by under-spending $35 million of the allocation to Artsakh, during the past 12 years.
Should the investigation uncover misconduct by State Dept. officials, Armenian-Americans should then ask Congress to make a one-time allocation of $35 million to Artsakh, in compensation for the amount the U.S. government failed to spend, as required by law.
The uproar caused by such a congressional investigation would hopefully make State Dept. officials more cautious in the future when handling the disbursement of funds intended for Artsakh!