The administration of President Barack Obama has called for a nearly 18 percent reduction in annual U.S. government assistance to Armenia which has steadily decreased over the past decade.
The administration’s draft budget for the fiscal year 2013 unveiled on Monday would allocate $32.5 million in economic aid and $3.3 million in separate military funding to the country, down from a total of $43.5 million that was approved by the U.S. Congress for this year.
The proposed reduction seems to stem from a further cut in overall U.S. aid to Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia sought by the administration. The budget proposal attributes that to the “achievement of a number of assistance goals” in the region.
Nevertheless, the two main Armenian-American advocacy groups criticized the proposed aid cut for Armenia, suggesting that they will lobby Congress to reject it.
“While we appreciate the Administration’s decision to maintain military [aid] parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan, given Turkey's nearly 20-year blockade of Armenia and the security threat in the region due to Azerbaijan's ongoing war rhetoric against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, funding at the FY 2012 level should at least be maintained,” Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), said in a statement.
Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), was even more critical. “Sadly, President Obama has chosen to neither keep his commitment to maintain assistance to Armenia, nor taken any meaningful steps to honor his pledge to foster Armenia’s growth and development through expanded trade,” an ANCA statement quoted Hamparian as saying.
The AAA and the ANCA were instrumental in making Armenia a leading per-capita recipient of U.S. economic assistance in the 1990s. Its total volume has exceeded $1.7 billion since 1992. The money has been spent on humanitarian aid, infrastructure upgrades, equipment supplies, counseling and other projects mainly administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Armenia also received $177 million in separate assistance from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to refurbish its rural irrigation networks. The four-year project was completed in September.
Both lobbying groups also criticized the Obama administration for proposing no direct assistance to Nagorno-Karabakh that has long been resented by Azerbaijan. The AAA statement quoted Adam Schiff, a pro-Armenian congressman serving on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, as saying that that he will strive to ensure that Congress continues to allocate “robust funding” to the Armenian-controlled territory.
The ANCA, for its part, complained that the USAID has financed only $2 million worth of development projects in Karabakh annually in recent years. “This level of Nagorno-Karabakh funding is considerably less than the intent expressed by Congress over the course of many years, reflecting a pattern of under-spending that has left many developmental and confidence-building needs unmet,” it said.