Requests $100 Million for Armenia in Democracy and Economic Assistance

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Testifying in person before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State Foreign Operations and Related Programs (Subcommittee), on behalf of the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly), Board of Trustees Co-Chairman Van Krikorian urged the Subcommittee to allocate $100 million in democracy and economic assistance, and at least $10 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Education Training (IMET) to Armenia for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, with at least $25 million in assistance to Artsakh.

“Armenia had a remarkable year. The Economist objectively named it the country of the year because of the democratic changes – peaceful change in government, extremely clean elections, rule of law, you name it – across the board. Time Magazine named the current leader of Armenia ‘Crusader for Democracy,’” Krikorian said.

Given this watershed moment in history, Krikorian explained “that’s why we’re asking for something substantially more. We’re asking for $100 million in economic and democracy aid to Armenia; we’re asking for $10 million in FMF and IMET; we’re asking for $20 million because Armenia has resettled [Christians at risk] from Syria and the Middle East and given them a safe haven; and finally we are asking for $25 million for the benefit of Nagorno Karabakh, just one of the places where The Halo Trust works, but has also been a model of democracy in the region,” he stated.

The Assembly’s written testimony also discussed the need for aid given Turkey and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockades of Armenia and Artsakh, the need to fully enforce Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, as well as targeted assistance for economic development and job-creation programs in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region of Georgia. The Armenian Assembly’s submitted testimony for FY 2020 is available here.

In addition to Krikorian, other witnesses who testified today included the American Bar Association (ABA), the Asia Foundation, The HALO Trust, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), among others. Krikorian picked up on a question raised by Congresswoman Lois Frankel (D-FL) about democracy backsliding, what the United States can do about corruption, and how it can help.

“First of all, reward people who have made progress towards democracy. And second of all, when it comes to corruption, I think the United States has to look at whether examples are made of corrupt individuals. They targeted high profile people who were corrupt and they went after them. The United States still uses that philosophy successfully. The fact that we write and laws when judges themselves can be corrupt is completely counterproductive,” Krikorian said. “In our experience, going after people, even if it’s years later, to say that ‘you cannot get away with this, there will be consequences, the Rule of Law will apply’ is the best approach. And I would expect that if countries were analyzed based on that – which it doesn’t always have to be punitive, it can also be forms of a reconciliation type of process where people acknowledge what they’ve taken and give it back – I think might be a good metric for this Committee and the United States to start using,” he added.

Krikorian welcomed the recent announcement that the Department of Justice is going to more actively enforce the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). He pointed out that the last organization scheduled to testify has been clearly identified as one that benefits from corrupt funds from a foreign government – Azerbaijan – and has not reported it under the foreign agent registration act, nor has it reported under Congress’ lobbying laws.

Krikorian’s panel included The HALO Trust, whose humanitarian work in the South Caucasus has saved lives from being lost needlessly, and especially considering the pressure Azerbaijan has put to stop that demining work in Artsakh. Krikorian began his testimony paying respects to The HALO Trust and its Board Chair Anastasia Staten who lost three of its members last year while conducting demining activities. He stated that the Armenian Assembly fully supports their request for U.S. aid so they can continue the critical work they do in the region, adding that the Assembly has also raised funds privately to help in landmine clearance efforts. “I think this Committee can do a world of good if it removes restrictions on U.S. aid to them, removing mines based on artificial Soviet borders,” Krikorian said.

“We applaud the Subcommittee for holding today’s important hearing, and greatly appreciate Chairwoman Nita Lowey’s leadership and steadfast support for Armenia and Artsakh,” Krikorian stated.

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