By Emil Danielyan
The administration of President George W. Bush has proposed a drastic reduction in regular U.S. assistance to Armenia, provoking strong criticism and resistance from Armenian-American lobbying organizations.
The Bush administration’s budget request for the fiscal year 2008, unveiled on Monday, calls for $35 million in economic aid to the country, sharply down from the 2006 level of $69 million. It would also cut U.S. aid to the Armenian military by more than 30 percent to $3.3 million.
The proposed cuts came just days after the U.S. House of Representatives set the 2007 aid package for Armenia at about $75 million. The Senate is expected to approve a similar aid allocation soon.
The two main Armenian-American advocacy groups were quick to denounce the more modest aid levels sought by the administration, pledging to lobby Congress to revise them upwards.
“This budget request represents more than a 50 percent reduction in assistance,” said Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America. “This is simply unacceptable.” “We will work with Congress to correct the glaring deficiencies in the Administration's request,” he added.
"We look to our friends in Congress … to substantially increase aid levels to Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh that reflect Armenia's growing partnership with the United States,” Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), said in a separate statement.
The Assembly and the ANCA have been instrumental in making Armenia one of the world’s leading per-capita recipients of U.S. economic assistance, which has totaled over $1.6 billion since 1992. Highlighting their political clout, Congress has always significantly boosted the White House’s aid allocations for Armenia. It has also made sure that Washington provides equal amounts of military assistance to Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Armenian-American leaders are particularly dismayed by the fact that the Bush administration is again trying to change that parity by asking for $5.3 million in military financing for Azerbaijan. Administration officials have previously argued that Azerbaijan needs more such help than Armenia in order to secure its much longer border with America’s arch-rival Iran and Caspian Sea coast.
The proposed funding cuts seem to stem from a broader reduction in U.S. assistance to former Soviet republics that began in the late 1990s. U.S. officials will also point out that Armenia is on course to receive $235.6 million in additional U.S. aid under Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account program. Washington says the release of the five-year aid package is conditional on the democratization of Armenia’s political system.