Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Brad Sherman Calls for Continued U.S Funding for Demining Artsakh

WASHINGTON, D.C — On July 25th, senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Armenian Caucus Member Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA), urged support for U.S funding for demining efforts in Artsakh during the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats hearing entitled “Examining the President’s FY 2018 Budget Proposal for Europe and Eurasia,” reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).

“Let’s talk a little bit about demining in Artsakh. Our assistance programs for what was then called the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has since Fiscal Year 98 supported lifesaving maternal healthcare, provided for clean drinking water, and cleared mines and unexploded ordinance. HALO trust, which is leading the demining efforts, reports that it has completed about 88% of its mission but continues to need US funds to continue its lifesaving work, additional humanitarian needs continue. Do we expect HALO Trust to be funded so that it can complete the demining effort?” Rep. Sherman asked U.S Department of State’s European and Eurasian affairs Bureau Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Ambassador John Heffern, in return, responded: “Over the years, as you know, we have given Nagorno-Karabakh – the people of Nagorno-Karabakh – $45 million in assistance, humanitarian as you described it, [for] water and demining. As I understood, the recent HALO Trust report estimated close to 96-97% coverage on their demining efforts, which is very important, and there is going to be an assessment of that before we make a decision on the next step.”

U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) Europe and Eurasia Bureau Acting Assistant to the Administrator Margot Ellis added that demining is normally funded from their regional budget. “In the past, we have sent a request to Congress for us to be engaged and we will put in a similar request,” she added.

In its Fiscal Year 2018 testimony, the Assembly urged not less than $8 million be allocated to Artsakh, including demining activities. “For a relatively small investment, Armenia has the opportunity to make a significant difference in the everyday lives of the people of Artsakh,” the Assembly stated in testimony.

Rep. Sherman also raised the importance of negotiating a bilateral tax treaty with Armenia and making this agreement a high priority at the State Department. He stated: “We’ve seen a surge in U.S commercial engagement with Armenia, including as reported by the Ambassador upwards of $500 million in new American investments in the Armenia energy and mining sectors.” Sherman continued: “the Department of Treasury has to prioritize where to put their tax lawyers, and a number of other countries want to negotiate these agreements with us. But it occurs to me that we have a national security interest in making sure that we have good commercial ties with the former Soviet states.” Sherman noted that the Armenian government has gone on record stating that they will base it on the American model.

Earlier in the hearing, Amb. Heffern said that the U.S is trying to move from an assistance based relationship to a trade based relationship with Armenia. Ellis added that USAID “decided to focus on the IT and energy sectors that not only could promote Euro-Atlantic integration, but also provided opportunities for U.S business expansion and partnership with Armenia.”

In her written testimony, Ellis stated: “USAID works closely with the EU and other European donors to prioritize assistance, jointly fund projects, and attain maximum leverage while avoiding duplication. In Armenia, for example, we are partnering with the private sector, the host government, and Yerevan State University in a public-private partnership for the ‘Establishment of Innovative Solutions and Technologies Center Project’ worth $7 million over the course of three years. USAID’s investment of $2.5 million is yielding $4.5 million in non-USG funding in support of this program, which will develop and strengthen the educational capabilities of Armenian higher educational institution in information technology and enhance their research potential in education.”

“While we appreciate US assistance toward more trade and investment with Armenia, those efforts are not inconsistent with aid, especially considering the ongoing debilitating effects of the coordinated Azerbaijani and Turkish blockades of Armenia and Artsakh,” Assembly Co-chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian said. “Second 907 of the Freedom Support Act precluded most U.S aid to Azerbaijan with the exception of democracy building and humanitarian assistance, until the President determines and so reports to the Congress, that the Government of Azerbaijan is taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, or the President issues a waiver for reasons of U.S national interests. Considering the mounting evidence against the Aliyev regime across the board, Armenia and Artskakh should be receiving more U.S assistance in addition to trade and investment programs,” they concluded.

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Sevan Nisanyan’s Twitter Account Cracked by Turkish Hackers

The Turkish group of hackers identified as “Ayyildiz Tim” has cracked the Twitter account of Turkish-Armenian intellectual, travel writer, entrepreneur, and researcher Sevan Nisanyan, Ermenihaber reports.

The source informs that according to CNN Turk, the hackers also tweeted on behalf of Sevan Nisanyan, noting that’s a bird fled abroad and is proud of it’, adding that now ‘it’s up to us to catch that bird.’

Nisanyan has made a Facebook post regarding the above mentioned, confirming that his Twitter account has been hacked. Sevan Nisanyan was jailed on December 2nd, 2014 for “construction infractions”, being sentenced to a total of 17 years in prison in Turkey. He escaped prison and fled Turkey on July 14, 2017.

According to reports, Nisanyan was allowed to leave prison for one day every three months and simply did not return after his latest santioned leave.

According to the latest reports, he applied for political asylum in Greece.

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Armenia Joins Fresh NATO Military Exercise in Georgia

Some 2800 troops from Armenia, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Ukraine, Slovenia, Georgia, and the United States have begun a NATO major military exercise in Georgia.

About 1600 U.S troops an 800 Georgia soldiers are taking part in the two-week exercise, dubbed Noble Partner.

Troops from eight countries are participating, with the United States deploying a mechanized company, including several Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and M1A2 Abrams battle tanks.

U.S Vice-President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit Georgia on July 31st after a stop in Estonia to meet with Baltic leaders also concerned about Russia’s intensions in their region. He will meet with U.S troops on August 1st.

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Turkish Parliament Bans the Use of “Armenian Genocide” and “Kurdistan” in the Parliament

ISTANBUL — The Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right allies in the Turkish Parliament agreed to pass a resolution submitted on Friday that would ban the word “Kurdistan” to be used by lawmakers in Parliament.

According to the resolution passed by AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), members of parliament would not be allowed to use the word “Kurdistan” in any sense, during the parliamentary sessions.

The newly adopted bill also bans the use of terms such as “genocide” in relation to the 1915 extermination and deportation of Armenians by the Ottomans.

Also the word “massacre” is forbidden when referring to the numerous military campaigns against the Kurdish population against the Kurdish population in Turkey, since the beginning of the 20th century.

However, the official websites of the Turkish Presidency, Prime Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the government funded Anadolu Agency, refer to the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, as “The Kurdish Regional Administration of Iraq”.

The Democratic People’s Party left the hall in protest. Examples of punishments include suspension from parliamentary sessions and a deduction of salary.

Armenian member of Turkish Parliament Garo Palyan of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) called the bill “A nationalist.”

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Freeway Directions Signs for Pasadena Armenia Genocide Memorial Approved by the California Legislature

SACRAMENTO, CA — Authored by Senator Anthony J. Portantino, SCR 25 seeks to install freeway signs at the Fair Oaks Avenue exit off Interstate 210 for the Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial.

Passed by unanimous support of the State Assembly on July 13th, SCR 25 has now passed both houses of the legislature, paving the way for the placement of the freeway signs directing the public to the Genocide Memorial. Since resolutions do not require the Governor’s signature the Assembly action completed the last step of the legislative process.

“SCR 25 was one of the first pieces of legislation that I introduced as I joined the State Senate and I am very proud to see it approved by both houses so quickly. I would like to thank my colleagues for sympathizing with the purpose of this legislature and helping it move through the legislature with bipartisan support. I would also like to thank all of the Armenian organizations that supported the creation of the memorial and subsequently the resolution. I look forward to seeing these signs installed in Pasadena so that future generations can learn about the horrendous actions from 1915 at a place of peace and remembrance for descendants of the 1.5 million lost martyrs,” Portantino commented.

The Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial was unveiled on April 2015 in the northeast corner of Memorial Park in Pasadena to honor the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. It was constructed by the nonprofit Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee with unanimous support from the Pasadena City Council. Senator Portantino served on the board of the nonprofit prior to joining the State Senate. He was the only non-Armenian to have served on the board.

“We are very excited that SCR 25 has become law to highlight the memorial that so many Armenians and non-Armenians came together to support and build. Our board is very appreciative of the efforts of our friend Senator Portantino. Anthony served withe us on the board and continues to support this historical and cultural project,” concluded Robert Kalunian, Board Chair, Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee.

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Bako Sahakyan Re-elected President of Artsakh (NKR)

Bako Sahakyan was re-elected the president of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) for a third term on Wednesday, July 18, 2017. The National Assembly at an extraordinary session on Wednesday approved Sahakyan’s candidacy with 28 votes in favor, four against and no abstentions.

Former Mayor of Stepanakert, Movement part leader Edward Aghabekyan was also running for the post.

Sahakyan is the fourth president of Karabakh. He was first elected as President on July 19, 2007, and on July 19, 2012, he was re-elected for a second five year term, receiving around two-third of the votes.

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Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s FMs to Meet in September in New York

BRUSSELS — Foreign Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Edward Nalbandian and Elmar Mammadyarov met on July 11 to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict peace process.

An agreement was reached to convene the next meeting between the Ministers in September in New York in the margins of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The meeting, which was held on the initiative and presence of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs Igor Popov, Stephane Visconti, and Richard Hoagland, which was attended by Andrzej Lasprzyk, the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, was the first such meeting since a flare up border tensions escalated in recent weeks.

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry reporter that during the meeting discussions were held on the modalities of advancement of the Nagorno-Karabakh negotiating process.

Nalbandian reportedly underscored the importance of stabilization of the situation on the Line of Contact and in this regard emphasized the necessity to implement the agreements, reached during the Vienna and St. Petersburg Summits.

The Co-Chairs asked the ministers to convey to the presidents their proposal on organizing a summit during the course of this year. An agreement was reached to convene the next meeting between the Ministers in September in new York in the margins of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

The ministry provided no other insight into the discussions, ahead of which, Nalbandian blasted Baku for failing to adhere to previously reached agreements and continuing to advance its military aggression against Artsakh positions.

Speaking at an informal ministerial summit of the OSCE earlier in the day in Mauerbach, Austria, Nalbandian urged the international community to take more “tangible measure to curb Azerbaijan.”

“On July 4th, the Azerbaijan leadership once again resorted to the tactics of notorious terrorist organizations and as many times before used its civilian population as a human shield for shelling the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh by heavy weaponry, including by multiple rocket launcher systems. In response, the Defense Army of Nagorno-Karabakh was obliged to exercise self defense against the aggressive actions of the Azerbaijani side. Baku clearly demonstrated that it is not capable to comprehend the appeals of the Co-Chairs,” Nalbandian told the OSCE ministerial gathering.

While in Mauerbach, Nalbandian also met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov and the two reportedly touched on the Karabakh conflict resolution process.

Speaking ahead of the Nalbandian-Mammadyarov meeting in Brussels, Artsakh presidential spokesperson David Babayan said that the Tuesday meeting was important but also said that Stepanakert was not expecting any major breakthroughs. “Expecting a serious step toward comprehensive resolution is too untimely, as Azerbaijan’s non-constructive stance, its explicit anti-Armenian policy leaves no room for that,” Babayan told Public Radio Armenia.

He added, however, that such meetings are very important in the sense that they ensure the continuity of the peace process. He also said that the meeting was a good platform for the superpowers represented by the Minks Group chairing countries, to express their opinion, which is also important for the maintenance of peace and stability.

Speaking about the recent statements of the OSCE Minks Group Co-Chairs, Babayan said the mediators are sending several messages to the parties. “First, they underline that any use of force is unacceptable. Second, there is progress with regard to concrete steps. We see a practice never used before,” said Babayan, explaining that in previous announcements the Minks Group, in an effort to not further aggravate the situation, opted to use parity in it’s approach.

Babayan pointed to a previous statement, in which the Co-Chairs clearly called out Azerbaijan for violating the cease fire. He also added that a recent announcement by the Russian Foreign Ministry warning Baku to end discrimination against Russian citizens with Armenian surnames, could also be seen as an indirect message.

Babayan said that Stepanakert was concerned with Russia’s sake of weapons to Azerbaijan.

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Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Dave Trott’s Amendment on Gun Sales to Turkey Adopted

WASHINGTON. D.C — As part of H.R 2810, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Representative Dave Trott’s (R-MI) amendment of a proposed gun sale to Turkey was adopted as part of the overall bill, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).

The announcement stated: “It is the sense of Congress that the proposed sale of semiautomatic handguns for export to Turkey should remain under scrutiny until a satisfactory and appropriate resolution is reached,” in light of Turkish security guards attack against peaceful protesters in our nation’s capital.

“The past few months we have seen our NATO allies take extraordinary steps against Turkey, and it’s time for the State Department to do the same. We need to block this arms sale and once and for all point a finger in Erdogan’s chest and tell him that a strategic location does not place Turkey above the law,” Rep. Trott said.

“Just two months ago, Erdogan’s henchmen, with him complacently observing just feet away, launched a brutal attack on peaceful demonstrators exercising their first amendment rights. A notorious oppressor of basic human rights and freedom, Erdogan imported his neferious attitudes to our nation’s capital. While Erdogan’s thugs may run unchecked in Ankara, this is the United States of America and this is totally unacceptable,” he added.

Trott’s Amendment Highlighted Concerns

Rep. Trott’s amendment to H.R 2810 highlighted concerns that “the security force that participated in this violence may be the recipient of arms exported from the United States under a proposed deal.” The amendment builds on the unanimous passage last month of H. Res. 354, which condemned the violence that took place outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence on May 16 and called on the perpetrators to be brought to justice under U.S law.

In its letter to the House Rules Committee this week, the Assembly strongly supported the Congressman’s amendment and urged its adoption. Approval by the rules committee paved the way for its adoption by the full House of Representatives.

“The Armenian Assembly commends Rep. Trott for his ongoing efforts to hold Turkey accountable for its actions. Adoption of this amendment sends a strong message that the United States will not let its democratic values be trampled upon by a foreign government,” said Assembly Executive Director, Bryan Ardouny.

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UN: Return to Negotiations’ Table is the Only Way to Resolve the Karabakh Conflict

The United Nations is concerned over the recent escalation of tensions in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, told a briefing in New York. “As the UN Secretary General underlined on June 22, 2017, we are increasingly concerned over the deteriorating security environment, including the most recent ceasefire violations, along the line of contact and in the broader Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone,” Dujarric said.

The UN took note of and echo the OSCE Minks Group co-chairs’ recent statement with reference to the renewed violence on July 4 in the Alkhanli village of the Fuzuli district, which resulted in casualties, including among civilians, he added. “We call upon the sides to refrain from any military action, and strongly urge them to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions and prevent any further violence. An early return to the negotiations table in good faith is the only way to resolve this long standing and dangerous conflict,” he said.

In the evening of July 4th, the Azerbaijani side used TR-107 multiple rocket launchers to shell the territory of the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) for the first time since the April aggression in April of 2016. The launchers were deployed in the village of Alkhani, in close proximity to residential houses. The Artsakh defense army said it was forced to take countermeasures to suppress the fire of the Azerbaijani army.

Zakharova stressed that Russia is keeping this topic under special control, doing everything to bring it back to the negotiation table within the framework of the OSCE Minks Group, co-chaired by the United States and France.

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted into armed clashes after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, as the predominantly Armenian populated enclave of Azerbaijan sought to secede from Azerbaijan and declared its independence backed by a successful referendum.

On May 13, 1994, the Bishkek cease-fire agreement put an end to the military operations. A truce was brokered by Russia in 1994, although no permanent peace agreement has been signed. Since then, Nagorno-Karabakh and several adjacent regions have been under the control of Armenian forces of Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh is the longest running post Soviet era conflict and has continued to simmer despite the relative peace of the past two decades, with snipers causing tens of deaths a year. On April 2nd, 2016, Azerbaijan launched military assaults along the entire perimeter of its contact line with Nagorno-Karabakh. Four days later a cease fire was reached.

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Turkish Lawmakers Could Face Punishment Over Armenian Genocide Remarks

ANKARA — Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a far right political party that adheres to Turkish ultranationalism, have drafter new Rules of Procedure for the country’s Parliament. The 18 point document, in part envisages limiting the words used by the opposition.

The new bill stipulates imposing fines on those lawmakers who will use the “Armenian Genocide” and “Kurdistan” terms. Deputies will be fined 12,000 liras for “insulting the Turkish nation and its history,” which makes up to two thirds of an MP’s salary (the salary of deputies in $5900), Hurriyet reports.

The draft law also features a series of nationalist clauses, one of which reads: “Nation is a religious and ethnic group brought together around the common values, fate and future developed through historical processes.”

Earlier this year, Istanbul-Armenian MP, Garo Paylan was punished for using the word “genocide” and was deprived of the right to participate in the next three parliamentary sessions. Later, it was proposed to deprive him of his deputy mandate for “inciting ethnic hatred.”

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