WASHINGTON, DC – Despite Armenia’s progress on economic, political, and regional issues and in the face of dual Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades, a key House panel today followed the lead of its Chairman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) in voting to reduce fiscal year 2002 aid to Armenia to $82.5 million, an eight percent decrease from the fiscal year 2001 level of $90 million, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
In a meeting this morning, the thirteen-member House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee, chaired by the Arizona Republican, allocated $768 million for the New Independent States, a 5% reduction from last yearis aid level. The Chairman’s proposal to reduce aid to Armenia to $82.5 million was accepted by the panel. While the panel did not set a specific dollar amount for Azerbaijan, the Bush Administration has proposed a 46% increase in aid to Baku over fiscal year 2001 levels.
“We are disappointed that Chairman Kolbe sought and, despite the energetic efforts of our many friends on his Subcommittee, ultimately secured this reduction in assistance to Armenia,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA.
oWe appreciate the hard work of our many friends on the Subcommittee, who made every effort to prevent a cut in aid to Armenia. In particular, we want to thank Armenian Caucus Co-Chairman Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), Ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-NY), Steve Rothman (D-NJ), and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). We regret that, despite their best efforts, they were unable to reorder the spending priorities outlined for the Subcommittee by Chairman Kolbe,” added Hamparian.
“The ANCA will continue to work throughout the remainder of the appropriations process to educate members of both the House and Senate about Armenia’s pivotal role in the Caucasus and the need to maintain Armenia’s appropriation at least at its current level of $90 million. We will, in particular, highlight the dangerous signals being sent by those seeking to reduce aid to Armenia at the same time that the Administration is looking to dramatically increase foreign assistance to the oil-rich and corrupt leadership of Azerbaijan, which, according to the statements of its own leaders, bears responsibility for the failure of the most recent round of peace talks,” concluded Hamparian.
In the weeks leading up to the panel’s decision, the ANCA coordinated a nationwide grassroots campaign encouraging Armenian Americans to contact their Representatives in opposition to any reduction in aid to Armenia, as well as maintaining the ban on U.S. aid to Azerbaijan.
The overall foreign aid budget was set by the House Subcommittee at $15.2 billion. In addition to reducing Armenia’s aid level, the panel cut assistance to both Georgia and Ukraine. Other areas of the foreign aid budget remained untouched, including a $600 million allocation for Eastern European countries. The operating budget for USAID was raised from $520 million to $549 million, a five and a half percent increase. Funding for the International Military Education and Training budget and the Foreign Military Financing programs were also increased.
The panel approved Chairman Kolbe’s proposal to reduce aid to Armenia despite continuing Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades and Armenia’s steady progress on a range of regional, economic, and democracy-building initiatives. The Subcommittee did not take any action to repeal Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which restricts U.S. aid to the government of Azerbaijan until it has lifted its blockades of Armenia and Nagorno Karabagh. The bill approved by the panel urges the Administration to deliver previously appropriated aid to Nagorno Karabagh and includes recommendations for conflict-resolution and confidence-building measures.
U.S. Aid to Armenia Supports Democracy Building Efforts and Economic Renewal
In recent years, with the help of Congressionally appropriated assistance, Armenia has emerged as a leading partner of the United States in the Caucasus and among the New Independent States on a broad range of regional, economic, and democracy-building initiatives. Among these are:
Cooperation on Economic Issues:
Armenia has taken tremendous strides on economic issues – last month hosting an investors conference in New York City with the U.S. Government, the World Bank and International Finance Corporation, and just last week helping to foster increased U.S.-Armenia trade at a successful trade show in Los Angeles.
Cooperation on Regional Issues:
On regional issues, Armenia has been a consistently reliable partner in the search for peace and regional cooperation in the Caucasus, extending its full cooperation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s peace process for Nagorno Karabagh. Armenia’s support for the peace process contrasts sharply with the obstructionist position taken by Azerbaijan.
Cooperation on Security Issues:
Armenia is cooperating with the Departments of State, Defense, and Energy on a number of projects concerning counter-proliferation, cooperative threat reduction, export control and border security assistance. Armenia is an active member of the NATO Partnership for Peace, and participates extensively in the International Science and Technology Center, the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation, and other institutions involved in anti-terrorism, de-mining, and other security issues.
Cooperation on Energy and Environmental Issues:
Armenia is cooperating extensively with the United States on energy sector reforms, nuclear reactor safety programs, and on regional environmental projects to protect the natural resources of the entire Caucasus region. At the request of the Armenian government, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has provided environmental impact training to Armenian officials.
In testimony on the fiscal year 2002 foreign aid bill before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee on March 28th of this year, the ANCA called for “the same percentages of funding for the Southern Caucasus region and Armenia as in fiscal year 2001, with the base-line being the fiscal year 2001 earmark” of $90 million. In this testimony, ANCA representative Aram Sarafian explained that “this appropriation will help offset the devastating effects of the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades and help continue Armenia’s political and economic transition. Specifically, these funds will be used to develop the economy and infrastructure, further strengthen democratic institutions, and meet the country’s current development and humanitarian needs. We are confident that with this assistance an economically viable Armenia will be a catalyst for development throughout the Caucasus and all of the New Independent States.”