The Armenian diaspora and lobbyists for Azerbaijan are turning their attention to the congressional aid budget in their latest showdown over US policy in Nagorno Karabakh.
Following last year’s deadly conflict over the ethnically Armenian enclave, the victorious Azerbaijanis are lobbying lawmakers to send any reconstruction and refugee aid directly to them. Otherwise, they argue, aid risks falling in the hands of Russia, which brokered last year’s cease-fire after its Armenian ally was routed by the Turkish-backed Azerbaijanis.
“We are concerned that funds could fall into the hands of the Russian military, as they are currently the only peacekeeping entity in the Nagorno-Karabakh region,” the four co-chairs of the Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus wrote to Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairwoman and top Republican on the House Appropriations panel on foreign aid. “We respectfully request that as the committee determines appropriate the level of humanitarian assistance to the victims of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, including the urgent need for demining of previously occupied territories, that all funds be provided through the Government of Azerbaijan or UN organizations. We believe that doing so will ensure Russia does not gain control over US funding, and that US assistance reaches its intended recipients.”
The letter from Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) was distributed by Mark Tavlarides, a BGR Government Affairs lobbyist for Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Washington. Tavlarides also shared a Dear Colleague letter from the four lawmakers with other members of the Azerbaijani Caucus asking that they join them in reaching out to Appropriators putting together next year’s spending bill.
The two letters also urge more cooperation with Azerbaijan, pointing to its operation of the Southern Gas Corridor as a chance to decrease European reliance on Russian gas. And they ask lawmakers to support peace efforts between Azerbaijan and Armenia, recommending that funding be made available for programs that support cultural and educational cooperation between the two countries.
“We hope that Congress encourages a new era of peaceful cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the letter to Lee and Rogers said. “A permanent solution to the divisions in the South Caucasus requires exploring how both countries could find areas of common ground to end hostilities.”
Talvarides did not respond to a request for comment.
Predictably, the Armenian diaspora has far different priorities. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is urging its members to call on Congress to appropriate $100 million to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh’s self-declared Republic of Artsakh, blaming Azerbaijan and Turkey for last year’s violence that killed thousands of troops and many civilians on both sides and displaced tens of thousands.
“US re-engagement requires robust US assistance to Artsakh, an immediate cut-off in all US aid to Azerbaijan, and strong support for the sovereignty of Armenia as a pillar of regional security architecture,” ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian said in a statement.
To that end, ANCA is urging lawmakers to sign on to a Dear Colleague letter to Lee and Rogers from Congressional Armenian Caucus co-chairs Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and vice-chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) urging the Appropriations panel to provide $100 million for economic, governance, rule of law and security assistance to Armenia, $2 million for conventional weapons destruction in Nagorno Karabakh and the suspension of all US security assistance for Azerbaijan “until it has been verified to have ceased all attacks against Armenia and Artsakh.”
ANCA is also advocating for the Joe Biden administration to send a separate emergency humanitarian package like others given to Yemen and Syria, Hamparian told Foreign Lobby Report. Such direct funding would provide aid for Armenians displaced during last year’s conflict.