Saturday, August 2, 2008

Briefly: Anti-Genocide and appropriations advocacy; State Dept. narco report; Saakashvili in U.S.

This was first published in the March 22, 2008 Armenian Reporter

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan

Armenian-Americans advocate against genocide

More than 100 activists visited congressional offices from March 12–14 to advocate for legislative action against genocide, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) reported. The second annual campaign was organized jointly by the ANCA and Genocide Intervention Network (GI-Net).

The activists met with dozens of legislators and visited offices of every Senate and House member, focusing on the violence in Darfur and Turkey’s campaign of genocide denial.

A congressional measure affirming the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide was passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last October in spite of unprecedented opposition from the White House and the Turkish government.

The resolution, House Resolution 106, can be brought up for a vote by the House of Representatives at any time before conclusion of the congressional session at the end of this year.

Members of Congress call for revision of administration’s foreign aid proposal

Co-chairs of the Armenian Congressional Caucus Reps. Frank Pallone (D.-N.J.) and Joe Knollenberg (R.-Mich.) together with thirty-seven other House members called on House appropriators to increase U.S. aid to Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh and cut all military assistance to Azerbaijan.

In a March 19 letter addressed to House Foreign Operations Subcommittee chair Rep. Nita Lowey (D.-N.Y.) and ranking member Frank Wolf (R,-Va.), and made available by Rep. Knollenberg’s staff, the members of Congress cited continued war threats by Azerbaijan and called on the subcommittee to “zero out funding for Azerbaijan under the Foreign Military Financing as well as the International Military Education and Training account.”

The Bush administration requested $3.9 million in such funding for Azerbaijan in the Fiscal Year 2009.

The letter also argued for $70 million in economic and $5 million in military aid to Armenia and $10 million in development aid to Nagorno-Karabakh. The administration had requested $24 million in economic and $3.3 million in military aid to Armenia, and made no request for Karabakh.

The members of Congress also called for the appropriations bill language that would direct the State Department “to move in the direction of diplomatic relations with Nagorno-Karabakh,” to facilitate open dialogue, alleviate threats to Nagorno-Karabakh and aid in a peaceful resolution of conflicts.

State Department report complains of “small window” into Nagorno-Karabakh

The annual “Narcotics Control Strategy Report” issued on February 29 complained that the State Department had “only a small window… into activities in Nagorno Karabakh and the occupied territories.”

The congressionally mandated report contains a country-by-country analysis prepared primarily by U.S. embassies, which rely mostly on local governments for information.

One of these governments is Azerbaijan’s, which has for years been conducting a propaganda campaign against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, which includes unsubstantiated allegations of drug running.

Until two years ago, the State Department referred to Azerbaijan’s allegations that Karabakh was one of several routes used by international drug runners. While the United States never validated such charges, the reference itself had been used by Azerbaijan as a purported endorsement of its claims.

After Nagorno-Karabakh officials communicated with the State Department noting the baseless nature of the claims and inviting the relevant U.S. officials to visit NKR to investigate any possible concerns, the State Department dropped the reference. (See the March 10, 2007 issue of the Armenian Reporter.) But because of the existing U.S. policy, its officials’ access to Karabakh remains restricted.

As in years past the report noted that that unlike Armenia, “Azerbaijan is located along a drug transit route running from Afghanistan and Central Asia into Western Europe” and Russia. The report also noted that narcotics circulation currently poses a modest challenge to Armenia, but that that could change should borders with Turkey or Azerbaijan open.

President Bush hosts Georgian leader

In a sign of continued U.S. support, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who was re-elected in a contested election last January, was hosted by President George W. Bush and other senior officials in Washington this week.

Georgia is seeking to join the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and last year deployed one of the largest troop contingents in support of U.S. occupation of Iraq. The United States has supported Georgia’s NATO effort, although some European allies remain hesitant.

During the March 19 meeting, President Bush said that “NATO [would] benefit with a Georgian membership,” but he stopped short of endorsing Georgia’s hopes for securing a Membership Action Plan during the upcoming NATO summit in Romania on April 2–4, according to the White House press service.

President Bush also shared his admiration for Georgia and Mr. Saakashvili’s leadership and reminisced about his 2005 trip to Tbilisi “about the unbelievably good food, and about the dancing.” Mr. Saakashvili joked, “you will dance Georgia dance much better than I do.… I know you’re not Georgian, you’re a Texan, but we are pretty close.”

Although, the Georgian opposition continues to protest what it describes as a political crackdown and has not accepted the presidential election results, U.S. officials have called on opposition leaders to accept the official electoral outcome and focus on parliamentary elections expected this May (see this page in the January 26, 2008, Armenian Reporter).

Speaking at a March 19 presentation organized by the Atlantic Council of the United States, a Washington think tank, and sponsored by BP and Frontera Resources, two oil companies with interests in Georgia, Mr. Saakashvili portrayed the recent domestic upheaval in Georgia as a sign of pluralism and therefore proof of its successful democratization.

On March 18, Armenian and Georgian human rights activists organized a joint protest in opposition to both governments’ policies outside their respective embassies in Washington. But the effort, covered by three Georgian TV channels and this newspaper and dubbed a “peace vigil” by the newly fashioned “Democracy Initiative for Armenia and Georgia,” failed to make an immediate impact as only two individual participants joined the four organizers.

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