Defense Bill
Defense Bill

Over 25 Members of Congress signed a letter in support of “strengthening American diplomacy” and reinforcing “ties with Armenia,” reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) on April 2.

Spearheaded by Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), the letter calls for “at least $5 million…for humanitarian and development programs in Nagorno Karabakh,” the suspension of U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan, “not less than $40 million” in overall economic aid to Armenia, assistance to Christian and other minority communities in the Middle East, assistance to the Javakhk region in Georgia, enhancing Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, and for the “Nagorno Karabakh Republic to be reinstated into the OSCE Minsk Group peace process as a full negotiating partner.”

“Given Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of Armenia and the escalating security threats from Azerbaijan, coupled with the unconscionable pardon by Azerbaijan of a convicted axe murderer, the Assembly urges Congress not to take these matters lightly and to allocate at least $40 million for Armenia and $5 million for Nagorno Karabakh,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “Moreover, with the latest developments in Syria and the destruction of Kessab, the Assembly urges Congress to take immediate action to provide urgent humanitarian relief to the Christian Armenian community there,” Ardouny stated.

Earlier this month, the Obama Administration released its budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, which maintained military parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but continued the overall downward trend in assistance to Eurasia and Central Asia countries.

Specifically, the Administration’s budget calls for $1.7 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and $600,000 in International Military Education Training (IMET) for Armenia and Azerbaijan. This amounts to a reduction of $1 million for FMF from last year’s budget request, however IMET funding is consistent with past years and military parity is maintained with respect to these accounts.

Given the delayed budget cycle this year, the Assembly will be working with Members of Congress to ensure that robust U.S. assistance to Armenia and Artsakh is achieved, and that Armenian American concerns regarding Azerbaijan’s constant cease-fire violations, bellicose rhetoric and the over 20-year blockade of Armenia are addressed. Additionally, the inexplicable pardon of an Azeri officer who brutally murdered an Armenian officer at a NATO partnership for peace training exercise serves as a constant reminder of Azerbaijan’s aggressive posture toward Armenians. Therefore, the Assembly will continue to urge Congress to strengthen Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act and to cease all military assistance to Azerbaijan.

In addition to FMF and IMET assistance, the Administration’s FY 2015 budget also recommended that Armenia receive $20.7 million in Economic Support Funds (compared to the FY 2014 request of $24.7 million), and $1.7 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (compared to the FY 2014 request of $2.8 million). The Administration’s budget also zeroed out global health funding for Armenia. In total, the FY 2015 budget provides $24.7 million in U.S. assistance to Armenia, which is a $6.143 million reduction when compared to the Administration’s FY 2014 request of $30.843 million.

The letter supporting FY2015 assistance to Armenia and Artsakh was signed by Reps. Michael Grimm (R-NY), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Jim Costa (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), John Tierney (D-MA), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), James Langevin (D-RI), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Tim Bishop (D-NY), Brad Sherman (D-CA), David Cicilline (D-RI), Dina Titus (D-NV), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Collin Peterson (D-MN), James McGovern (D-MA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Chaka Fattah (D-PA), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), Bruce Braley (D-IA), and Stephen Lynch (D-MA).