Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Briefly: Lower U.S. aid to Armenia, Swiss court on Genocide denial, Russia in Central Asian gas deal, Georgia in a tough presidential race

This was originally published in December 22, 2007 Armenian Reporter.

by Emil Sanamyan

Congressional appropriators agree on aid levels below Armenian-American recommendations
Appropriators from the Senate and House of Representatives this week agreed on a $555 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2008, which provides for continued funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and about a dozen other spending bills, including foreign assistance.

According to the finalized amended budget document published on the web site of the House Rules Committee on December 17, allocations have fallen largely short of recommendations made by Armenian-American organizations nine months ago.

In separate testimonies submitted to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations on March 29, the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), and the U.S.–Armenia Public Affairs Committee (USAPAC) recommended $75 million in economic and $5.3 million in military aid to Armenia, $10 million in aid to Karabakh, as well as constraints on military aid to Azerbaijan. (See this page in the April 7 Armenian Reporter.)

The recommendations came following the February 3 Bush Administration request for just $35 million in economic aid to Armenia, down from $69 million spent in fiscal 2006, and more military assistance to Azerbaijan than Armenia.

As a result of the compromise, the United States will provide just under $400 million in assistance to former Soviet republics, down from $452 million approved for fiscal 2007. The largest allocations are set aside for Ukraine ($73 million) and Russia ($72.2 million). Armenia is the next largest recipient by volume at $58.5 million; Georgia is to get $50.5 million, and Azerbaijan, $19 million.

The spending bill also approved more than $1.5 billion in performance-based Millennium
Challenge programs worldwide, down from $1.75 billion approved the previous year. Armenia is currently completing the first year of its five-year $235 million program.

Congress also approved $4.5 billion in military aid under the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program, the amount largely unchanged from 2007. Most of these funds are set aside for Israel ($2.4 billion), Egypt ($1.3 billion), Jordan ($300 million) and Pakistan ($300 million). Armenia and Azerbaijan are due to get $3 million in FMF assistance each, with no funds specifically allocated to Georgia.

The spending bill did not make a specific allocation for aid to Karabakh, although the House Appropriations Committee recommended that “up to $6,000,000 should be made available to address ongoing humanitarian needs in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

The appropriators further supported funding to address the needs of Christian minorities in Iraq and also recommended that U.S. State Department consider a proposal by the “Armenian Youth Federation for support of exchanges with Armenia.”

Top Swiss court upholds Genocide denial conviction
Switzerland’s highest court ruled on December 19 to uphold an earlier judgment by a lower court that convicted a Turkish politician for denying the Armenian Genocide.

Last March, Dogu Perincek was first convicted of “moral injury” and given a suspended 90-day jail term and an additional fine of $2,600, under a 1995 Swiss law that bans denying, belittling, or justifying genocide. In that conviction Judge Pierre-Henri Winzap described Mr. Perincek, who publicly denied the Armenian Genocide at events in Switzerland, an “arrogant instigator” and “racist.”

That ruling was held on appeal in June (see this page in the June 20 Armenian Reporter) and again in the latest ruling by Switzerland’s Federal Tribunal, which confirmed that there is a historical consensus on the veracity of the Armenian Genocide.

In a statement, the Swiss-Armenia Association noted that for the first time since the Genocide “a supreme court of criminal law hand[ed] down a conviction for denying the genocide of the Armenians.”

Mr. Perincek will now appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, Agence France Presse reported.

Russia seals Turkmenistan gas deal
Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan agreed on December 19 to build a new pipeline that will transport Turkmen natural gas to Russia for further export to Europe, news agencies reported. The agreement is a setback for the United States and many in the European Union, who seek to channel Turkmenistan’s gas resources to Europe while skirting Russia.

Russia, which has the biggest natural gas supplies in the world, already dominates Europe’s market for natural gas. Americans and Europeans hope that some of Turkmenistan’s gas resources, believed to be fourth-largest in the world behind Iran and Qatar, could be transported under the Caspian Sea and through the Caucasus to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russia.

According to the BBC, “prospects for pipelines under the Caspian have been clouded by high costs, environmental concerns and disputes over ownership of the sea resources.”

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan have yet to demarcate their maritime border in the Caspian.

Georgia faces tight presidential contest
The January 5 presidential elections in Georgia will be the most closely-fought since its independence in 1991, according to nonpartisan www.civil.ge. The previous elections were all dominated by a single front-runner – Zviad Gamsakhurdia won 86.5 percent in 1991, Eduard Shevardnadze won 70 and 80 percent in 1995 and 2000, respectively, and Mikhail Saakashvili won with 96 percent in 2004.

In response to public discontent over the economy, Mr. Saakashvili is campaigning with a program pledging to focus on social needs. The Georgian government said this week it will increase social allocations while reducing military spending to about $300 million out of $3.6 billion in total projected expenditure in 2008. Georgia’s military spending this year amounted to about $783 million.

While according to the Eurasinet.org, Mr. Saakashvili leads the field of eight candidates, it is unclear if he will be able to collect more than half of all votes to avoid a second round. In polls, Mr. Saakashvili is followed by the joint opposition candidate Levan Gachechiladze, who pledged to turn Georgia into a parliamentary republic if elected. They are trailed by billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili and populist politician Shalva Natelashvili.

This week, the New York–based Human Rights Watch and Brussels-based International Crisis Group issued reports criticizing Mr. Saakashvili’s crackdown on the opposition last month. Faced with international criticism the Georgian government has since eased restrictions.

The U.S. News Corp.–owned Imedi TV, previously co-owned by Mr. Patarkatsishvili, has resumed broadcasting last week (although the billionaire himself has not returned to Georgia fearing arrest and is running his campaign from Israel).

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