WASHINGTON, (Asbarez). – The full U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday adopted a series of Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) supported provisions as part of its Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) foreign aid bill, specifically calling for continued aid to Artsakh and increased assistance to Armenia ($20.7 million), and also imposing weapon and travel sanctions on Turkey and Azerbaijan.
“Congress is clearly turning the corner on both Turkey and Azerbaijan, with senior legislators, from both parties, openly confronting and officially sanctioning Erdogan and Aliyev for their undemocratic abuses and anti-American actions,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We thank all those who worked to include these constructive provisions and look forward to remaining engaged in support of each of these issues as the legislative process moves forward.”
The Senate foreign aid bill’s “report,” which provides detailed legislative guidance for the executive branch, included language recommending: “assistance for victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in amounts consistent with prior fiscal years, and for ongoing needs related to the conflict. The Committee urges a peaceful resolution of the conflict.”
In terms of aid to Armenia, the Committee called for roughly a $14 million increase over the President’s proposed budget: $17.633 million in Economic Support and Development Fund (ESF), $1.5 million for battling narcotics trafficking, $600,000 for International Military Education and Training and $1 million in Foreign Military Financing. The Senate maintained parity in appropriated military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Trump budget request for Armenia, submitted in May of this year, envisioned $4 million in ESF, $1.5 million for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and $700,000 for Non-Proliferation, Antiterrorism, Demining and Related Programs. Military parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan was maintained in the Administration’s proposed budget with each receiving $600,000 for International Military Education and Training and cuts Foreign Military Financing to both countries.
Three key amendments targeted Turkey and Azerbaijan in response to the growing human rights abuses in each country, most notably the May, 2017, beating of peaceful protesters by Turkish President Erdogan’s bodyguards in Washington, DC.
Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Senate Appropriations Committee Vice-Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a successful amendment to block the use of funds to facilitate the sale of weapons to President Erdogan’s Presidential Protection Directorate. Sen. Van Hollen told the Washington Post that the appropriations panel’s vote in support of the measure sent “a strong, bipartisan message: We are not going to let President Erdogan’s personal bodyguards attack peaceful American protesters on American soil — and we’re certainly not going to sell them weapons while they do it.”
Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced and passed an amendment to restrict U.S. travel visas to any senior official of the Government of Turkey who is knowingly responsible for the wrongful or unlawful prolonged detention of U.S. citizens or nationals. The move is widely viewed as being in response to Turkey’s continued imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina native who, for more than two decades, has ministered to the Izmir Resurrection Church in Turkey’s third largest city.
Senate Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for similar visa restrictions of Azerbaijani government officials involved with the “wrongful imprisonment of Mehman Aliyev, the director of Turan, Azerabaijan’s last remaining independent news outlet.” The Washington Post editorial board this week called for the Turan chief’s immediate release and noted that under President Aliyev’s reign, “a sustained and punishing campaign has been waged against dissenting scholars, human rights defenders and journalists.”