What’s in the House Appropriations Committee Report That Matters to Armenian Americans?

By Bryan Ardouny

AAANews Blog

June 15,
2015

Last week,
the US House Appropriations Committee adopted the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs
(SFOPS) funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which covers US assistance to
Armenia and the region. As we
reported last week
, funding for South Caucasus countries was not specifically
delineated. However, there are several points in the Committee’s Report that
matter to Armenian Americans, particularly Armenians and other Christians
at-risk in Syria and the greater Middle East. While our focus is now turned to
the Senate, below are key excerpts from the House Committee Report:

House
Appropriations Committee Report Excerpts:

– The
Committee recommendation strongly supports
Jordan
by providing not less than $1,000,000,000
to meet ongoing economic and security needs and to address the extraordinary
strain Jordan faces from unrest in
the region, including by hosting more than 700,000
Syrian refugees
.

– The
Committee notes that foreign assistance helps to advance foreign policy and
national security objectives and that such support also reflects the values,
generosity, and goodwill of the American people. The Committee understands that
disease, hunger, poverty, and displacement of vulnerable people around the
world can threaten and destabilize countries and governments and thereby
undermine the national security of the United States. To address crises around
the world resulting from large-scale displacement and instability, the
Committee recommendation maintains the extraordinary level of funding provided
for disaster and refugee assistance in fiscal year 2015. The Committee notes
that, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees, the number of refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced people now
exceeds 50 million people, the highest level in the post-World War II era. As
the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year and the security and humanitarian
situation grows more complex in the surrounding region, the Committee remains
concerned about the increasing burden and resulting instability in the
communities that host refugees and displaced persons. In addition to funds
provided under International Disaster Assistance, Migration and Refugee
Assistance, and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance, the Committee
recommendation provides $100,000,000
under title VIII for Economic Support Fund
to increase assistance to host
communities with large refugee populations. The Committee expects needs in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon to be prioritized.

– The
Committee recommendation includes $2,092,611,000
for Migration and Refugee Assistance
. When combined with additional funds
for Migration and Refugee Assistance provided under title VIII, the amount
recommended is the same as the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.

– Minority communities.—Conflict and instability in the Middle East
and Africa intensify the challenges facing minority communities, including Christian populations. The
Committee urges the Secretary of State to ensure that eligible individuals and
families from such communities are not overlooked in the delivery of
humanitarian assistance and resettlement services.

– Syrian refugees.—The Committee remains concerned about the
plight of refugees from Syria and
the burden they face as well as the strain on host communities. The Committee
urges the Department of State to continue to do the following: (1) help host
countries expand their national systems to accommodate refugee needs; (2)
assist host country capacity to deliver basic services to their own citizens;
(3) strengthen the ability of local governments to respond to the refugee
influx; and (4) ensure that refugees have freedom of movement and meaningful
access to economic opportunity.

– The
Committee recommendation includes an additional $810,000,000 for International Disaster Assistance. The full amount
is designated pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A) of the Balanced Budget and
Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and will support humanitarian operations
in response to conflict-induced displacement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey.

– The
Committee recommendation includes an additional $20,000,000 for International Disaster Assistance. The full amount
is designated pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A) of the Balanced Budget and
Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and will support rapid response programs
to prevent and mitigate the destabilizing effects of conflict, including in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, the Middle
East and North Africa
.

– In addition
to funds provided under International Disaster Assistance, Migration and
Refugee Assistance, and Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance, the
Committee recommendation provides
$100,000,000
under this heading to increase assistance to host communities
with large refugee populations with priority given to Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. These funds are intended to support an
integrated humanitarian and development approach to meet the requirements of
refugees and host communities and to help mitigate increased tensions between
such communities and refugees.

– Turkey.— The Committee supports strengthening Turkey’s commitment to democratic principles, due process, and the
rule of law through the continued engagement with civil society groups. The
Committee encourages the Secretary of State to further dialogue with Turkey to incorporate the importance of
media freedom, separation of powers, human rights, and the rule of law into
ongoing discussions

– The
Committee recommendation includes an additional $966,389,000 for Migration and Refugee Assistance. The full amount
is designated pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A) of the Balanced Budget and
Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 and will support humanitarian operations
in response to conflict-induced displacement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey.

– Iraq.—The
Committee supports the request for Iraq to enhance the country’s security and
defeat ISIL. The Committee expects
the Secretary of State to ensure that assistance provided under this heading is
appropriately distributed to security forces with a national security mission
in Iraq, including the Kurdish Peshmerga.
The Committee recommendation includes language in section 7041© of this Act,
making assistance available for Iraq
to promote governance, security, and internal and regional stability, including
in Kurdistan and other areas impacted by conflict and among Iraq’s religious
and ethnic minority communities. The Committee also expects funds made
available in this title to enhance the security of Iraq’s religious and ethnic
minority populations, including
Christians
, that have been adversely affected by the conflict.

House
Appropriations Committee Bill Excerpts:

Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act shall not apply to—  

(1)
activities to support democracy or assistance under title V of the FREEDOM
Support Act 24 and section 1424 of Public Law 104–201 or non-proliferation
assistance; (2) any assistance provided by the Trade and Development Agency
under section 661 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2421);
 (3) any activity carried out by a member of the  United States and
Foreign Commercial Service while  acting within his or her official
capacity; (4) any insurance, reinsurance, guarantee, or other assistance
provided by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation under title IV of
chapter 2 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 11 U.S.C. 2191 et
seq.); (5) any financing provided under the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945; or
(6) humanitarian assistance.

Bryan Ardouny is the Executive Director of
the Armenian Assembly of America.

Rubin: Turkey has become the Pakistan on the Mediterranean

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By Haig Hengen (@haighengen)

AAANews Blog

June 4, 2015

The House of
Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa convened
on June 3, 2015 to discuss US Policy
towards ISIS after the terror group seized the Iraqi city Ramadi and Syrian
city Palmyra
.  The
subcommittee hearing was designed to discuss US military strategy in weakening
ISIS as well as the current state of military and refugee affairs in Syria and
Iraq.

After seizing control
of Ramadi and Palmyra, ISIS has emerged as a powerful and organized terrorist
organization.  The subcommittee hearing
heard testimony from Michael Rubin, Resident
Scholar at the American Enterprise
Institute, Dr. Anthony Cordsman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Dr. Matthew Spence, who was formerly the US Deputy Assistant
Secretary of Defense for the Middle East to discuss the efficient measures and
strategies the U.S. must take in order to weaken or defeat ISIS.

The questions posed were insightful as
Representatives continually raised questions regarding the military strategy in
Iraq and Syria.  There was constant
debate into which strategies would be successful.  The witnesses proposed arming Iraqi soldiers
and establishing an ecosystem to recruit Syrian fighters.  Another proposed strategy was to create and strengthen
the relationship with the Kurdish forces who have established themselves as a
powerful entity with a structured organization. However, Michael Rubin shed
light on the fact that although Kurds are pro-American they did not forget the
absence of U.S. help in the Iraqi-Kurdish rebellions in 1975 and 1988, a time
period when the Kurds felt betrayed by the United States.  Also if weapons were to be given to the Kurds,
they would not be dispersed equally.  According
to Dr. Rubin the Kurds distribute weapons based on political hierarchy.

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) raised
the issue of refugees and displaced civilians in Syria.  He discussed his readiness to establish a
safe haven in Syria that the U.S. military would control, allowing for the
safety and security of Syrian civilians. This effort, would also aim to reduce
the amount of refugees living in Jordan and Lebanon. Dr. Spence, however,
strongly disagreed adding that safe heavens are not the answer.  Dr. Spence also addressed the concern about
the long term effects of a U.S. military installation within Syrian borders if
the current Syrian regime falls and political power shifts hands.

A pivotal moment of the hearing was when
Rubin stated his displeasure with the Turkish government and their terrorist
activities.  Rubin made it clear that
there was a correlation between Turkey’s visa policy and the nationalities of
terrorists traveling to Turkey and crossing into Syria to join ISIS and other
terrorist organizations.  Rubin suggested
that Turkey adopt a stricter and reformed visa policy, which he believes will,
in the long run, reduce the number of individuals participating in terrorist
organizations. “If Turkey
wanted to stop the flow of foreign fighters into Syria, it could tweak its visa
rules for those countries that are the source to require visas for those under
the age of 40” he said.  Rubin explained
that Turkey has a stricter visa policy with Algeria then they do with Morocco.
Once analyzing which nationalities traveling to Turkey and entering Syria he concluded
that there are many more Moroccans in Syria than Algerians, who join terrorist
organizations elsewhere. In Rubin’s written statement he mentions that “Thousands
of Moroccans and Tunisians have entered Syria through Turkey, but few Algerians
have. The reason is not a lack of radicals in Algeria, but rather Turkey’s visa
regimen: Turkey does not require visas for Moroccans, Tunisians or, for that
matter, Libyans, Lebanese, and Jordanians,” he said.

Rubin stressed that “Turkey has proven itself an unreliable ally
at best,” and
has become the “Pakistan on the Mediterranean.”
He also said that the fact that “Turkey is willing to say one thing
publicly and do quite another is a serious issue.” Historically, Turkey has
been able to close their boarder to Syria, but now claims that doing so is not
possible, which is “clearly nonsense,” according to Rubin.

It is clear that ISIS is a powerful
enemy that has an established ecosystem and continual monetary growth. For any
group, membership is what keeps it thriving.
The U.S. and its allies must stop people from traveling to Syria to
participate in terrorist organizations which drastically increases membership.
This solution is possible, but only if Turkey thinks so. If you reduce and stop
participation the terrorist groups will not grow.  If the terrorist groups do not grow they lose
influence and manpower which weakens the organization and leads to defeat and potential
peace in the region. The Turkish government should rethink their political
strategies and the U.S. needs to be clearer to their allies in the region.  It is counterproductive to the U.S. effort to
defeat ISIS if our allies continue to allow the free flow of terrorists across
their borders and allow them to reap financial gains through illegal oil
smuggling. A clear and distinct solution exists and it is possible. Turkey has
an opportunity to completely weaken the power of ISIS. If they choose not to,
it is up to their allies to ensure Turkey takes the necessary measures to
defeat terrorism.

Haig Hengen is a government affairs intern
at the Armenian Assembly of America.  He
is currently studying international economics with a minor in Arabic at the
Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.