The Senate Appropriations Committee adopted the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) appropriations bill, which ensures continued funding to Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).
The “Committee recommends assistance for the victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in amounts consistent with prior fiscal years, and for ongoing needs related to the conflict.” The Committee urges a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which, given Azerbaijan’s recent and unprecedented attacks against Armenia and Artsakh, underscores the importance of implementing an accurate cease-fire monitoring system along the line of contact.
In the Assembly’s testimony earlier this year to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny urged robust funding for Artsakh to help meet the ongoing humanitarian and development needs for its people.
The Committee also adopted an amendment offered by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), which would prohibit arms sales to the Turkish Presidential Protection Directorate in light of the vicious attack by Turkey’s security detail in Washington, D.C. against peaceful protesters on May 17, 2017. Last week, 19 people, including 15 Turkish security officials, were indicted as a result of this attack in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit.
The bill also maintains Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, restating the six customary exemptions for humanitarian and other assistance to Azerbaijan. The Assembly continues to call for full enforcement of Section 907 given Azerbaijan’s hostile and aggressive actions against Armenians.
“The Armenian Assembly applauds the bipartisan work of the Senate Appropriations Committee and especially appreciates the efforts of Senator Van Hollen in helping to ensure continued funding to Artsakh. His leadership on critically important priorities for U.S. engagement in Armenia and Artsakh is vital, and we look forward to continuing our work with him during this critical time,” stated Armenian Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian.
“Moreover, with recent developments by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) shedding light on money laundering by President Ilham Aliyev and his family, known as the ‘The Azerbaijan Laundromat,’ we are seeing the exposure and rejection of caviar diplomacy done for years,” the Assembly Co-Chairs added.
As part of the Manager’s amendment package, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) included bill language on visa restrictions for Azeri officials “about whom the Secretary of State has credible information have been involved in the wrongful imprisonment of Mehman Aliyev, the director of Turan, Azerbaijan’s last remaining independent news outlet.” Similarly, Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) included language regarding visa denial for Turkish officials involved in prolonging the unlawful detention of U.S. citizens in Turkey.
The bill also promotes international religious freedom and protection for persecuted religious minorities, particularly in the Middle East. The $25 million programs also includes $5 million for atrocities prevention programs.