WASHINGTON, DC – Rajiv Shah, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, in response to questions this week from Congressmen Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Brad Sherman (D-CA), affirmed the Obama Administration’s commitment to fully fund Congressional assistance allocations for Nagorno Karabakh and to support public-private partnerships to generate sustainable economic growth in the Samtskhe-Javakheti (Javakhk) region of Georgia, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
During an April 24th hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations, Congressman Schiff asked a series of questions about U.S. aid programs for Nagorno Karabakh and Javakhk. In response, Administrator Shah noted that, “in the past we haven’t expended all the funds,” adding that, “I know our Assistant Administrator for the region is committed to doing that and we believe will be successful of getting that done. With respect to the public-private partnership with the Diaspora community, we are very enthusiastic about that and think that also is a good model for how we’d like to work in the future. The Armenian community has been a very good community to work with. And so, we’re eager to kind of get that going.” The full exchange between Congressman Schiff and Administrator Shah went as follows:
Congressman Adam Schiff: Two quick questions, one funding for Nagorno Karabakh. The history of the last several years as Congress has appropriated funding USAID hasn’t used it at least not completely. We hear at times there is a lack of capacity. But it seems given the small amount that we are talking about, a leap of imagination to think that with the humanitarian needs there it couldn’t really be fully be absorbed.
So I’d like to get your thoughts on that. And I’d like to work with you to make sure we can utilize all the assistance that’s been provided to help meet the humanitarian needs there.
Second in the Javakhk region of Georgia is a very impoverished Armenian community. We have raised with the Georgian government and USAID an interest of trying to meet the needs of that population as well as the country more broadly. And over the past year Armenian-American groups have been working closely with USAID to explore a public-private partnership that could leverage U.S. assistance to Georgia and that region. If you could give us a progress report on those efforts?
USAID Administrator Shah: Thank you. I will make sure my team provides more details on both of these. But I will say with respect with Nagorno Karabakh I believe we actually have a plan to fully execute the program as we have it.
I know in the past we haven’t expended all the funds. But I know our assistant administrator for the region is committed to doing that and we believe will be successful of getting that done.
With respect to the public-private partnership with the diaspora community, we are very enthusiastic about that and think that also is a good model for how we’d like to work in the future. The Armenian community has been a very good community to work with. And so, we’re eager to kind of get that going.
I don’t have an immediate update on where that is. But I know when we put it together we were enthusiastic because it came — we had a lot of private sector commitments to leverage our resources from the get go which is relatively unique.
Congressman Adam Schiff: Thank you with that. I look forward to working with you on both those issues.
USAID Administrator Shah: Thank you.
In response to questions from Congressman Sherman, during an April 25th hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Daniel Yohannes noted his expectation that a new MCC aid package for Georgia would include funding for Armenian language education and for schools in the Javakhk region. Representative Sherman also directed comments and questions to USAID Administrator Shah, who, along with Yohannes, offered testimony before the panel. Their complete exchange went as follows:
Congressman Brad Sherman: I’m somewhat concerned that the Administration request cuts aid to Armenia. I think you ought to increase that instead. And if you’re looking for a source of funds you could look at U.S. aid of all types to Azerbaijan, which is thwarting our development efforts for the area by threatening to shoot down civilian aircraft that go into Stepanakert’s new airport.
I’ve talked to Mr. Yohannes about the Javakhketi region of Georgia. We provide very substantial aid to Georgia and I hope, as I discussed with him – and now I have chance to discuss with you – that a significant part of our aid would go to that otherwise neglected region. And I’ll ask, if I have a chance, Mr. Ohannes, to describe what is the status of our second compact with Georgia, and will Javakhketi be a strong focus if that compact is concluded?
Daniel Yohannes (MCC): The investment proposal is proceeded extremely well and should be presented to the board sometime in June of this year. And, Mr. Congressman, please know that there is some funding that is set aside for Armenian language and also for a number of schools in the region.
“We welcome Rajiv Shah’s constructive approach and ongoing cooperation with Congress regarding our nation’s assistance programs and priorities for both Nagorno Karabakh and Javakhk, and also Daniel Yohannes’ initial indications of meaningful Armenian components of a second MCC compact with Georgia” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We look forward to taking a closer look at how these priorities are being implemented by both USAID and MCC, as we continue to bring our contribution as American civil society stakeholders to these truly transformative international initiatives.”
In a related development, Congressman Sherman has submitted the following written questions to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijan, and Turkey’s blockade of Armenia.
— In August 2012, Azerbaijan’s President pardoned and praised a confessed axe-murderer Ramil Safarov, who was convicted of killing an Armenian officer at a 2005 NATO training program in Hungary. What is the State Department doing to urge Azerbaijan to re-incarcerate Ramil Safarov? Will the Administration tie military assistance to Azerbaijan to a reversal of Baku’s aggressive policies?
— Azerbaijan has threatened to shoot down civilian aircraft that fly into the airport of Nagorno Karabakh. What consequence would Azerbaijan face if it were to shoot down civilian aircraft flying into the airport in Stepanakert?
— The Turkey-Armenian Protocols, which were announced on April 22, 2009, sought to end Turkey’s blockade of Armenia and establish diplomatic and economic relations. What meaningful steps has Turkey taken to ratify the Protocols? What is the State Department doing to press Turkey to end its blockade of Armenia?