Puts Turkey on Notice
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Appropriations Committee adopted the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) Appropriations Bill, which ensures continued funding to Armenia and supports humanitarian programs in Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).
According to the bill’s report language, which Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) advanced: “The Committee remains concerned with the protracted conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, endorses the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Process, and supports humanitarian and health programs funded by the act for victims of that conflict, including for regional rehabilitation centers to care for infants, children, and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities.” The overall bill also provides $3.4 billion for Migration and Refugee Assistance.
In his testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier this month, Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny urged, among other priorities, robust funding for Artsakh to help meet the ongoing humanitarian and development needs for its people as well as increased funding for refugee assistance to Armenia.
The Committee included language that puts Turkey on notice for purchasing military systems from Russia. The Russian-made military equipment exposes the United States to potential risk in the region. Spearheaded by Senator Van Hollen and with the support of State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Committee adopted an amendment which would expressly prohibit spending funds from FY 2019 – as well as prior fiscal years – to transfer, or facilitate the transfer, of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to Turkey until the Secretary of State certifies that Turkey is not purchasing and will not accept deliveries of the Russian S-400 missile defense system.
Chairman Lindsey Graham stated during the mark-up: “I find it very odd that we live in a time where a NATO ally is buying a missile defense systems from Russia. This is not exactly what I had in mind for NATO…”
According to Senator Van Hollen’s press release, “senior defense officials have said that if Turkey operates both the F-35 and the S-400, it could compromise the F-35’s security, including the aircraft’s stealth capabilities, and represent a strategic threat to the United States. It would also compromise the security of our allies and stand in clear violation of the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act.”
“The Armenian Assembly appreciates the Senate Appropriations Committee’s commitment to provide humanitarian aid to Artsakh and for supporting efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno Karabakh peace process,” stated Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian. “That needs to include restoring the democratically elected Nagorno Karabakah authorities as full participants in the the Minsk Group process as well. With President Erdogan’s permanent damage to Turkey’s democratic facade about to be exposed yet again this weekend in elections there, we also fully agree that the United States ought not to reward Turkey for its egregious actions and are also deeply troubled by reports that Azerbaijan has purchased Bell-412 helicopters for its military,” the Co-Chairs added.
“In our recent travel to the region, concerns were expressed regarding Azerbaijan’s continued military build up. The United States and the other co-chair countries need to be investing in confidence building measures and sending the message to Aliyev that killing more Christian Armenians will not go unpunished. Azerbaijan continues to violate the cease-fire agreement it signed with Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, including the targeting of civilians and kindergartens. This is unacceptable and we urge the United States and the OSCE Co-Chairs to hold Azerbaijan accountable. Armenia’s commitment to democracy has been proven yet again, and the United States needs to start calling balls and strikes more fairly and consistently with American values.” they concluded.
The bill restates the traditional exceptions to Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, while the report language maintains military parity between Armenia and Azerbaijan, recommending $600,000 for International Military Education and Training and $1 million for the Foreign Military Financing Program for each country. The Senate report language also recommends the same funding for Armenia consistent with last year’s level: $17.633 million through the Assistance to Europe Eurasia and Central Asia (AEECA) account and $1.5 million for International Narcotics Controls and Law Enforcement.
The bill allocates $25 million for programs to promote and protect international religious freedom. In addition, the bill provides $6.5 million for the Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom, and $2 million for the Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom in the Near East and South Central Asia.
Earlier this week, the House Appropriations Committee approved the FY 2019 SFOPS bill on a vote of 30-21.
Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.