WASHINGTON — The US House Appropriations Committee this week approved the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, which covers US assistance to Armenia and the region. The bill maintains Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which was enacted in 1992 to address Azerbaijan’s hostile actions against Armenia. While funding for the countries of the South Caucasus was not specifically delineated, the SFOPS Report did highlight the need for additional assistance to Syrian refugees, Christians and other minorities afflicted by the Syrian civil war and the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).
“The Assembly has consistently advocated for robust funding to assist minority communities at risk in the Middle East, and strongly supports the provisions within the House Bill and report that help in this regard, including resettlement assistance,” stated Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) Board Co-Chairmen Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian. “We urge Congress and the Administration to ensure that appropriate funding is also provided for those seeking refuge in Armenia,” they said.
The bill’s report includes language calling attention to and funding for minority communities in the Middle East “including Christians.” The measure also expresses the Committee’s concern about “the plight of refugees from Syria and the burden they face as well as the strain on host communities,” and calls on the Secretary of State to take steps to assist US allies in the region and to deliver critical aid to refugees effectively. Finally, the Report, cognizant of Turkey’s growing authoritarianism, calls on 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.”
Earlier this year, Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny testified before the House Appropriations Committee in the US Capitol building where he outlined nine key policy priorities for the Armenian American community, including assistance to Christian Armenians in the Middle East, the majority of which are descendants of survivors of the Armenian Genocide.
“Christians, Yazidis and other non-Muslims have been put at extreme risk of survival in much of the Middle East continuously for many years now, and while this type of humanitarian aid will assist them, the policy changes that must follow to solve the root problems scream out for implementation,” Barsamian and Krikorian said. “Turkey continues to deny the United States use of the Inçirlick air force base to fight ISIS, and under President Erdogan has openly served as the lifeline of the Islamic State. We thank the committee for drawing attention to our concerns and we will continue to work with them to effectively address the situation on the ground,” stated Barsamian and Krikorian.