By Harry Tamrazian
The US Congress Appropriations Subcommittee on 10 July allocated $70 million in US assistance to Armenia for fiscal year 2004 and another $5 million for a humanitarian aid package for Nagorno-Karabakh. The Bush administration had asked congress to allocate only $49.5 million, which is $40 million less than the US Congress allocated last year.
Armenian advocacy groups in the US expressed disappointment over the assistance level that was proposed by the House Appropriations subcommittee. Due to the efforts of influential Armenian-American community, Armenia has been a leading per-capita recipient of American aid, which has totaled more than $1.4 billion over the past decade.
"We remain troubled by the sharp reduction in aid to Armenia proposed by the Bush Administration and, while we very much appreciate the hard work of our friends on the foreign aid panel, are disappointed by the $20 million shortfall in the assistance, approved by the House relative to last year's appropriation," said Aram Hamparian, an Executive Director of Armenian National Committee of America, the Armenian advocacy group in Washington.
The US House Appropriation Subcommittee also voted to allocate $2.5 million additional funds in foreign military assistance for Armenia, and $900,000 for training the Armenian military. To preserve the parity in military assistance for Azerbaijan, US House Subcommittee appropriated equal funds for Azerbaijan.
The foreign aid bill will go to the full House Appropriations Committee, followed by a full House vote. The US Senate will also consider the bill in its committees.
The Senate also didn't take action today on the Genocide Convention bill, which is an indirect recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The bill was initially going to be introduced to the Senate with the State Department authorization bill. As reported by the "Turkish Daily News," the Turkish business lobby in the US as well as Bush administration officials, including vice-president Dick Cheney were advising Senate not to vote on the bill, which if passed would recognize the 1915 Armenian Genocide.
The Turkish Government also exerted pressure on the US to prevent the passage of the bill.
Elizabeth Chouldjian, who is spokeswoman for Armenian National Committee of America, told RFE/RL that the bill, which describes the 1915 massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Empire as one of the genocides of 20th century, could be introduced in the US Senate at any convenient time after the Senate returns from its summer recess. She also said that the number of supporters of the bill is growing in Senate. Former US first lady Hillary Clinton has also indicated that she will support the bill.
Last month several high-level Turkish officials met with the leaders of the Armenian community in the US. Ambassador Ecvet Tezcan, a high-ranking Turkish Foreign Ministry official, held talks last month in New York with the leaders of three major Armenian organizations in the U.S.
Ross Vartian, the executive director of Armenian Assembly of America (AAA), an influential Armenian advocacy group in the U.S., told RFE/RL on 4 July that the Turkish diplomat was told by Diaspora leaders that Armenians around the world will not give up on the genocide recognition campaign.
The AAA issued a press release protesting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's statement in late June that Turkey would only change its policy towards Armenia after Armenians abandon their campaign for international recognition of the 1915 genocide. The AAA also sent a letter to the Turkish government expressing their disappointment at Turkish official statements.
"If Turkey is truly interested in a new relationship with Armenia and the Diaspora, nothing stands in the way. If the new Turkish government continues the failed policy of hostility toward Armenia and denial of historical fact, it will be another rejection of US and international advice," said Assembly Board of Directors Chairman Peter Vosbikian.