WASHINGTON–In approving the Fiscal Year 1998 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill Thursday–House of Representatives by a vote of 375 to 49 also maintained Section 907 sanctions that had been effectively lifted by the earlier Byrd-Leahy amendment to the Senate’s FY ’98 Foreign Operations bill. A provision on direct humanitarian aid to Karabakh was also approved by the House.
The Armenian National Committee of America reported that the bill retains the prohibition on US government assistance to Azerbaijan until that country lifts its nine-year-old economic blockade of Armenia. The aid restriction include assistance to Azerbaijan via the Overseas Private Investment Corporation–the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the Trade and Development Agency.
The House also included language for humanitarian assistance for "refugees–displaced persons and needy civilians in conflictive zones throughout the Transcaucasus–including Nagorno Karabakh" as well as a $95 million earmark for Armenia.
The bill also included a one-year limited waiver for funding restrictions for democracy and governance.
The Senate’s version of the foreign aid bill contains language which would severely weaken the ban on aid to Azerbaijan by allowing US government financing of investment in Azerbaijan–despite the Azeri government’s refusal to lift its blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. The Senate failed to include any aid to Nagorno Karabakh in its version of the bill–leaving the people of Karabakh the only population in the Caucasus denied any US humanitarian assistance. The Senate version contains a $95 million hard earmark for Armenia–while the House includes a recommendation for continued aid.
The key test–however– for provisions in the foreign aid bill of concern to Armenian Americans will come during the meeting of a joint committee of Senators and Representatives responsible for resolving the differences between the Senate and House versions. This meeting will take place as early as the week of September 8.
As part of its national grassroots drive to save Section 907 and provide aid to Armenia and Karabakh–the ANCA and its regional and local offices and chapters have reached out to smaller Armenian communities throughout the United States. The focus of this effort has been on the 29 Senators and Representatives responsible for setting foreign aid policy who will serve on the upcoming conference committee.
A key component of the ANCA’s campaign has been mass mailers–phone calls–and local meetings in eleven states without long-standing Armenian-American institutions–churches–or community centers. Among these are Alabama–Alaska–Colorado–Georgia–Hawaii–Iowa–Kentucky–Utah–Vermont–Washington–and West Virginia. Active grassroots efforts remain underway in the states with established Armenian communities–including California–Illinois–Maryland–Michigan–New Hampshire–New Jersey–New York–Pennsylvania–and Wisconsin.
"The people of Armenia and Nagorno- Karabakh need your help," began each of the thousands of letters sent by the ANCA to Armenian-Americans across the country. The ANCA called for them to contact their Representatives and Senator on the foreign aid conference committee in support of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Each mailing also included a grassroots activism kit–with letters–issue papers–articles–and a reply postcard for more information.
The specific issues in the foreign aid bill being advanced by the ANCA are the following: qA Congressionally mandated $95 million aid package for Armenia, qHumanitarian assistance to the needy people of Nagorno Karabakh, qMaintaining the ban on US aid to the government of Azerbaijan (Section 907) qAid to non-governmental human rights and pro-democracy groups in Turkey
ANCA regional and local chapters in key states have stepped up efforts to obtain signatures on petitions and individual letters–faxes and e-mails geared toward conference committee members. For example–the San Francisco-Bay Area ANC recently sent out a 4,000 piece mailer to Armenian Americans in the area urging them to contact their elected representatives in support of increased aid to Armenia–securing aid for Nagorno Karabakh–maintaining the ban on aid to Azerbaijan and reducing aid to Turkey. In Washington–more than 10,000 letters were sent over the Labor Day weekend during the 64th Annual Armenian Youth Federation Olympics.