AAA: Armenian Assembly Executive Director Testifies Before Congress

Armenian Assembly of America
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PRESS RELEASE
March 30, 2007
CONTACT: Christine Kojoian
E-mail: [email protected]

ARMENIAN ASSEMBLY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TESTIFIES BEFORE CONGRESS

Assembly One of 16 Organizations Invited to Testify at the Public
Witness Hearing

Washington, DC – Testifying before the House Appropriations
Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations Appropriations and Related
Programs, which decides assistance levels to Armenia and Nagorno
Karabakh, Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny urged the
Subcommittee to continue funding for Armenia at "not less than" $75
million and to allocate $10 million for Nagorno Karabakh. 

"It is essential that significant assistance to Armenia be maintained
in the face of the fourteen-year blockades by its neighbors, Turkey
and Azerbaijan," said Ardouny, and also noted the "compelling
humanitarian and development needs" in Karabakh. "We also urge the
Subcommittee to institute new report language requiring a full
accounting of the steps the U.S. has taken and the responses therein
to eliminate these blockades," he continued.

With respect to regional cooperation, Ardouny stressed that "ongoing
attempts to isolate Armenia, such as the Azeri-proposed rail bypass of
Armenia, run counter to U.S. policy goals," and urged the Subcommittee
to build upon legislation (H.R. 3361) introduced last Congress by
Subcommittee Member and Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Joe Knollenberg
(R-MI) to combat such attempts and look for opportunities to promote
regional cooperation. "For example, funding should be made available
to provide for minor repairs needed to open the existing Kars-Gyumri
rail link between Turkey and Armenia."

Ardouny also expressed the Armenian Assembly’s extreme concern with
the "inclusion of counterproductive language" in State Department
reports and noted that language "labeling Armenia as an occupier is
not only patently false, but also directly contradicts the U.S. role
as a mediator and undermines" U.S. credibility.  Ardouny’s testimony
urged that it be "corrected post haste."

While noting that the Armenian Assembly supports the purpose of the
Millennium Challenge Act (MCA) to improve democracy and good
governance in Armenia, Ardouny shared the concerns raised by many
Members of the Subcommittee, including Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY),
that MCA funds "should not be used as a substitute" for other funding
priorities.  Specifically, it should not be used as a justification to
cut the Freedom Support Act (FSA), which provides critically important
assistance programs to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.    Ardouny drew
attention to Azerbaijan’s ongoing war rhetoric, "despite U.S. demands
to cease such  provocative actions," and called on the Subcommittee to
carefully monitor U.S. assistance to Azerbaijan "to ensure that the
principle of military and security parity" envisioned with the
conditional waiver of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act "is
maintained throughout all funding areas." Further, should Baku
continue its anti-Armenian rhetoric, Ardouny urged the Subcommittee
"to suspend the waiver authority it granted and reinstate Section 907"
of the Freedom Support Act.

Ardouny also underscored the importance of Armenia’s energy security
and "urged the Subcommittee to utilize the tools at its disposal to
pave the way for Armenia’s full inclusion in, and contribution to,
existing and future energy and development projects."

In addition to the Armenian Assembly of America, the following
organizations testified before the Subcommittee: Georgetown University
Center for Intercultural Education and Development, The Asia
Foundation, Alliance for International Educational and Cultural
Exchange, National Coordinated Effort of Hellenes, Basic Education
Coalition, World Wildlife Fund, The Population Institute, Interns for
Peace, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, The GAVI Fund,
Internews Network, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Refugees International, Helen
Keller International, and Kiwanis International.

The Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based
nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness
of Armenian issues. It is a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt membership
organization.

###

NR#2007-043

Edit or’s Note:  Attached is the full text of Executive Director Bryan
Ardouny’s written testimony.

Testimony by Bryan Ardouny, Executive Director, Armenian Assembly of
America, Inc. Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related
Programs Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives

March 29, 2007

Madame Chairwoman Lowey, Ranking Member Wolf, and distinguished
Members of the Subcommittee, the Armenian Assembly of America
appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony regarding
U.S. assistance and policy in the Caucasus generally, and with respect
to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh specifically. The Assembly requests
that Armenia receive "not less than" $75 million and that $10 million
be allocated to Nagorno Karabakh from the FREEDOM Support Act
(FSA). In addition, we urge the Subcommittee to maintain military
parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan as envisioned by the conditional
waiver of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act by providing equal
allocations of $4.3 million in Foreign Military Financing and $1
million in International Military Education and Training.

Recommendations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2008

1. Assistance to Armenia

The Assembly urges the Subcommittee to maintain U.S. assistance to
Armenia in FY 2008 at a level of "not less than" $75 million.   It is
essential that significant assistance to Armenia be maintained in the
face of the fourteen-year blockades imposed by its neighbors, Turkey
and Azerbaijan.

Despite the dual blockades, Armenia’s economic reform measures are
progressing, as demonstrated by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage
Foundation’s "2007 Index of Economic Freedom," which ranked Armenia
32nd in the world.  In addition, the World Bank report "Armenia as a
Caucasian Tiger: Sustainable Economic Growth Maintenance Policies,"
released in March of this year, praised Armenia’s strong record of
performance noting that since independence in 1991, Armenia’s economy
has grown faster than that of any other post-Soviet state, excluding
the Baltics.

While we welcome the spirit and intent of the Millennium Challenge Act
(MCA) and the compact between the United States and Armenia, currently
under implementation, we share the concerns raised by many members of
the Subcommittee that MCA funding should not be used as a substitute
for funding in other areas.  Specifically, MCA funding for Armenia,
which supports rural roads and irrigation infrastructure development,
should not be used as a justification to cut FSA funding that promotes
economic and institutional reforms, democracy-building and civil
society development.

2. Elimination of Blockades, Regional Cooperation and Energy Security

Despite successful reforms, Armenia’s full economic potential cannot
be realized as long as its eastern and western borders remain under
blockade. The United States should ensure that concrete steps are
taken to remove the blockades, thereby alleviating the financial
hardships they cause. We urge the Subcommittee to institute new report
language requiring a full accounting of the steps the U.S. has taken
and the responses therein to eliminate the Turkish and Azeri blockades
of Armenia. 

Ongoing attempts to isolate Armenia from regional projects, such as
the Azeri-proposed rail bypass of Armenia, run counter to stated
U.S. policy goals of regional cooperation and economic
integration. Azerbaijan’s President had this to say about the rail
bypass: "If we succeed with this project, the Armenians will end in
complete isolation, which would create an additional problem for
their future, their already bleak future." We, therefore, urge this
Subcommittee to build upon and further enhance legislation H.R. 3361
that prevents the use of taxpayer funding of a rail bypass of
Armenia, by ensuring its implementation as a matter of
policy. Introduced last Congress by Rep. Knollenberg, H.R. 3361
enjoyed the support of many members of the Subcommittee, including
Chairwoman Lowey, Reps. Jackson, Schiff, Kirk, Rothman, and
McCollum. We urge the Subcommittee to undertake measures, such as the
full enactment of H.R. 3361, that combat these counterproductive
actions and ensure that Armenia has the resources to overcome such
obstacles. For example, funding should be made available to provide
for minor repairs needed to open the existing Kars-Gyumri rail link
that connects Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia, which would serve to
foster regional cooperation.

We also wish to draw the attention of the Subcommittee to Armenia’s
energy security – a fundamental element of the country’s economic
vitality. During the past decade, strategic energy projects launched
with U.S. support in the South Caucasus have created long-term
development opportunities for most of the nations in the region. 
However, these initiatives have not benefited Armenia, due to the
Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades. The Armenian Assembly, therefore,
urges the Subcommittee to utilize the tools at its disposal to pave
the way for Armenia’s full involvement in, and contribution to,
existing and future energy and development projects in the region. The
Assembly also urges parallel U.S. assistance targeted to help Armenia
address critical energy security needs through diversified and
affordable sources of energy, including non-hydrocarbon, in order to
reduce the risk of overdependence on limited regional routes or
suppliers.

3. U.S. Military Assistance  

The Assembly urges the Subcommittee to maintain security assistance
parity and requests $4.3 million in Foreign Military Financing, and $1
million in International Military Education Training assistance to
Armenia. The conditional waiver of Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support
Act makes it clear that any assistance provided shall not "undermine
or hamper" the Karabakh peace process or "be used for offensive
purposes against Armenia" or any "Armenian community in the Caucasus
region."  The President must consult with Congress prior to the
provision of any assistance under the agreement and report to Congress
"in detail" on "the nature and quantity" of such assistance, its
impact on the "military balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia" and
negotiations over Karabakh.  Finally, there was an understanding
between the Administration and Congress to ensure military parity
between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Providing asymmetrical military assistance to Azerbaijan violates the
will of Congress, subverts the short- and long-term U.S. policy goals
for the South Caucasus region, and will only serve to legitimize
Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockades against Armenia and Karabakh, thereby
making its position at the negotiating table even more intransigent. 

In fact, Azerbaijan continues its unabated war rhetoric against
Armenia, despite U.S. demands to cease such provocative
actions. Rather than heed U.S. and European Union calls for
cooperation with Armenia, Azerbaijan has rejected Armenia’s numerous
proposals for economic and regional confidence-building, and has
instead dramatically increased its military spending to levels that
nearly equal Armenia’s entire national budget. Given Azerbaijan’s
escalating military expenditures, the Subcommittee is encouraged to
continue supporting military parity in the region by adjusting its
policy accordingly. In addition, we encourage the Subcommittee to
carefully monitor military assistance given to Azerbaijan through
other assistance programs, such as the Caspian Guard initiative, to
ensure that the principle of military and security parity is
maintained throughout all funding areas.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-Armenia military relationship, at both the
bilateral and Euro-Atlantic levels, has grown, as evidenced by
Armenia’s continued participation in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq,
as well as in Kosovo as part of the NATO peacekeeping mission.  Last
year, Armenia’s partnership with NATO expanded significantly due to
the entry into force of its Individual Partnership Action Plan
(IPAP).  Recently, Armenia held the "Week of NATO," which included the
formal opening of the NATO Information Center in the capital city of
Yerevan. NATO’s Deputy Secretary-General for Public Diplomacy Jean
Fournet, stated that "Armenia has reached real progress in the
implementation of IPAP" and that "…The leadership of the Alliance is
satisfied with the results already achieved…"

The Assembly strongly believes that it is in the U.S. national
interest to build upon this important area of cooperation with Armenia
at both bilateral and Euro-Atlantic levels, and looks forward to
working with the Subcommittee to further expand U.S.-Armenia military
relations.

4. Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act

Given the ongoing war rhetoric emanating from Azerbaijan, the Assembly
urges the vigorous monitoring of the conditional waiver of Section 907
of the FREEDOM Support Act to ensure the safety of Armenia and Nagorno
Karabakh, and expects the Administration to provide substantive
reporting in this regard.   As the Subcommittee is aware, in the
aftermath of September 11th, pursuant to then-Secretary of State Colin
Powell’s request for flexibility to counter terrorist elements and
organizations operating in Azerbaijan, Congress granted a conditional
and limited waiver to Section 907.  While safeguards were built into
the waiver, the Assembly remains deeply troubled by the continued war
rhetoric emanating from senior Azerbaijani officials.  Should
Azerbaijan not cease its increasingly anti-Armenian rhetoric, the
Armenian Assembly urges this Subcommittee to suspend the waiver
authority it granted and reinstate Section 907. 

5. Assistance to Nagorno Karabakh (NK)

The Assembly commends the vision and leadership of the Subcommittee
for its continued support of critical assistance to NK.  We request
that the Subcommittee allocate $10 million for Karabakh in FY 2008. 
While progress has been made in Karabakh, there are still many
compelling humanitarian and development needs resulting from the war
launched against the people of Karabakh by Azerbaijan. For example,
out of some 5,000 homes damaged or destroyed by the war, only a
fraction have been restored.  In addition, many healthcare, education,
drinking water, sanitation and other needs have yet to be addressed,
including the urgent need for a new public hospital in
Stepanakert. The Assembly strongly urges the Subcommittee to ensure
that continued funding be provided to rehabilitate damaged
infrastructure and encourage development.

6. Peace Process (the Nagorno Karabakh conflict)

The Assembly praises the Subcommittee for previously providing funding
for confidence-building measures to help facilitate a peaceful
resolution of the Karabakh conflict.  In order to facilitate peace,
the Assembly requests that these funds continue to be made available
for increased cooperation among Armenia, Azerbaijan and Karabakh.  In
particular, the Assembly recommends that the Subcommittee urge
Azerbaijan to support confidence-building measures that facilitate
interaction among the parties, in order to address the region’s urgent
safety and development needs jointly, while also working toward a
negotiated settlement.

Further, we are extremely concerned with the inclusion of
counterproductive language regarding Nagorno Karabakh in the State
Department Reports on Human Rights Practices for Armenia and
Azerbaijan. We urge that it be corrected post haste as the language
labeling Armenia as an occupier is not only patently false, but also
directly contradicts the U.S. role as a mediator and undermines the
credibility of its effort. We understand that State Department
officials have acknowledged this mistake. Finally, we urge the
Subcommittee to institute report language that  supports the OSCE
Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ efforts to find a mutually acceptable
resolution of the conflict among all three parties – Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh.

7. Conclusion

Madame Chairwoman, on behalf of the Armenian-American community, I
would like to express our deep and sincere gratitude to Congress for
its assistance to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.  Armenian-Americans
remember the support the U.S. provided during Karabakh’s struggle
throughout the Soviet era, and America’s proud World War I record of
intervention during the Armenian Genocide. The enduring and natural
bonds that exist between the U.S. and Armenia are readily apparent in
Armenia’s ongoing support for America. 

Armenia stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and on the
frontlines in the new war against terrorism. Armenians in Armenia and
Nagorno Karabakh look to the United States as the leader of the
Western world and a beacon of hope in pursuit of freedom and
self-determination. They stand ready to help America ensure the defeat
of terrorism and triumph of democracy.

The Armenian Assembly of America greatly appreciates your attention to
these very important matters and looks forward to working with the
distinguished Members of the Subcommittee throughout the 110th
Congress.

www.armenianassembly.org

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