Catch-907 in the Caucasus

Catch-907 in the Caucasus

Mini Teaser: Baku, they say, is booming.

by Author(s): Thomas Goltz

How did this peculiar state of affairs come about? The wording of Article 907 gives a hint. It states that no government-to-government aid can move from Washington to Baku "until the [U.S.] President determines, and so reports to 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." In short, Congress blockaded aid to Azerbaijan because Azerbaijan was blockading Armenia.

But it was not, and is not, so simple as that. The bloody war over Nagorno-Karabakh (circa 20,000 dead; one million refugees) is so complex that one could honestly debate the question of who was using force against whom when Congress passed the 907 rider in the summer of 1992. At the time of the discussion, Azerbaijan was mounting an offensive in response to piecemeal conquest by Armenian forces over the previous year. By the time the bill was passed into law, however, the Armenians were once again in the ascendancy on the battlefront and remain so today. More to the point, a broad cease-fire has been in effect since May 1994 along front lines that have left some 25 percent of Azeri territory (including Karabakh) under Armenian control, and some one million internal refugees from those areas scattered in squalid camps throughout the country. In fact, Azerbaijan was never able to "blockade" Armenia; rather, Baku imposed a trade embargo because it thought that conducting business as usual with an enemy occupying a large swath of its territory was not a particularly good idea in wartime. Abraham Lincoln, it may be recalled, felt just the same way.

Despite its inconsistencies, the 907 rider to the Freedom Support Act was pushed through both houses of Congress, thanks mainly to the successful lobbying efforts of such groups as the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian National Committee. There is no secret here; both the AAA and the ANC are proud of their influence. The AAA recently published a congressional report card that lists how each and every member of the House and Senate voted on twenty different subcommittee, committee, or full-floor lawmaking items, almost all of
which have to do with Article 907 in one way or another, from the initial drafting of the article in 1992 to blocking efforts to repeal or amend it in 1996.

Happily, for those who take legislative actions seriously and who worry about the undue influence of lobby groups as a whole, the report card also lists the legislators who have "proactively distinguished themselves in affecting pro-Armenian and pro-Nagorno-Karabakh legislative actions." At the top of the senatorial list, both alphabetically and spiritually, is the recently retired senator from Kansas and failed Republican hopeful for the office of president, Bob Dole. He is followed by Dianne Feinstein of California, Carl Levin of Michigan, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and Paul Simon of Illinois. From the House, the special thanks list includes Peter Blute of Massachusetts, David Bonior of Michigan, Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts and, pre-eminently, John Porter of
Illinois (who, aside from sponsoring several pieces of legislation associated with Article 907, was also active in what can only be described as gratuitous Turkey-bashing legislation). At the behest of the AAA and ANC, and well orchestrated mail-in efforts mounted by these membership organizations, the above mentioned lawmakers were able to shove 907 through a largely oblivious Congress, and to make it one of the most effective pieces of ethnic group-specific legislation ever passed.

The Bush administration opposed the article's inclusion in the pending Freedom Support Act, but was reluctant to jeopardize the entire act by exercising a veto over one rider, especially in an election year. Since then, repeated efforts over the past five years to repeal 907, and contrary efforts to foil repeal, have left a trail of dust, paper, bad feeling, and frustration on nearly every side. What they haven't done is change the law; the damn thing is still on the books. The only thing that has changed, thanks to an amendment introduced by Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-Texas), is that some American money can now reach projects involved in humanitarian assistance and the building of democracy and free-market economic institutions. Wilson managed the inclusion of a narrowly drawn exception to 907 in the non-amendable "conference report" on the 1996 Foreign Appropriations Bill that allowed the president to advance humanitarian aid directly to the government of Azerbaijan if he determined that working through NGOs and private voluntary organizations (PVO) was not sufficient to meet needs.

By any index, this was clearly the case. American relief NGOs such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) had been obliged to leave their medicines and emergency foods under tarps in open fields and on the street because--surprise!--all warehouses in the post-communist country belonged to the Azerbaijani government. When Baku then donated the use of free warehouse space--thus removing itself from direct contact with the IRC, in accordance with 907--the IRC could not repair leaking roofs because governmental permission was required to do so. Even more bizarre was the fact that American NGOs, most of which receive at least some funding from institutions like the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, could not even coordinate their activities with European NGOs and international organizations such as UNICEF because all those organizations, quite reasonably, tried to coordinate their relief activities with the diverse governmental health organizations and ministries. Given such administrative antics, it is understandable that one Azeri refugee told a virtually nonplussed New York Times reporter on the scene: "You Americans are strange people."

Meanwhile, Armenia--and thus, in the real world, Karabakh--has become, after Israel, the single largest recipient of American aid per capita in the world. Since 1992, some $600 million in official American assistance has reached the former Soviet republic, not to speak of the massive amount of support sent privately through the Armenian diaspora in North America and elsewhere.

Again, there is nothing secret about this. "Through December 1993, the U.S. provided about $305 million in humanitarian assistance and $30 million in technical assistance", says the Armenia and Karabagh (sic) Factbook, published in 1996 by the Office of Research and Analysis of the Armenian Assembly of America:

"For FY 1995 Congress passed a $75 million soft earmark (Congressional Recommendation) for Armenia in the Foreign Appropriations Bill. However, total expenditures for Armenia from all sources in FY 1995 were $140 million. For FY 1996 Congress passed an $85 million hard earmark for Armenia in addition to $15 million for a Transcaucasus Enterprise Fund. The purpose of the enterprise fund is to assist in the development of small business. The above amount was in addition to $30 million to be spent by USAID on development assistance in Armenia for FY 1996."

The most interesting number here is the smallest--the $15 million for the "Transcaucasus Fund." The Transcaucasus region, of course, actually consists of not only Armenia, but also Georgia and Azerbaijan. But the backers of that piece of legislation, employing Lewis Carroll-style rules--viz., words mean whatever I say they
mean--were downright eager to turn a blind eye to the fact that Armenia is in effect taking money that should be divided among all three Transcaucasus states.

While Armenia was receiving its $600 million in American taxpayers' money from Congress, the Clinton administration managed to find a few loopholes in 907 and sent some $90 million in humanitarian assistance
to Baku through the back door, funneling the funds not through prohibited official channels but through NGOs and PVOs. At first, the AAA and ANC were stridently opposed to this and attempted to have the
aid leak hermetically sealed. This was too much for the Washington Post, which on August 1, 1996 decried the impact of the Armenian lobby on American foreign policy and asked why Washington was "comforting the victor" while "punishing the loser" in the Azeri-Armenian conflict over Karabakh.

The response of the AAA and ANC was to broadcast a plea over the internet, asking "friends" to write to the Post and protest the editorial. American-Armenians had nothing against U.S. government aid going to Azeri refugees, the ANC wrote; indeed, it actually approved of the $90 million in "non-governmental" aid that had found its way into Azerbaijan via various NGOs. The 907 rider merely restricted government-to-government aid and, the letter argued, should be kept in place until Azerbaijan meets the requirements set forth to lift it. The Post was soon inundated by letters protesting the editorial. "They're pretty good"’ said one writer, referring to the
organizational abilities of the ANC and AAA. Another staffer favorably compared the mail-in campaign to those mounted by the gun lobby.

The next phase of 907 surrealism occurred about a month later when the new, Armenian-sponsored amendment to 907, put forward by Congressman Porter, was brought to a vote. The so-called Porter Bill conditioned government-to-government humanitarian aid, this time with explicitly political conditions: For every seven dollars in
humanitarian aid sent to Azerbaijan, one dollar of aid had to be sent to Karabakh's far smaller Armenian population. "Everything else being equal--and that means questions of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and everything else--the Porter formula would mean that ten dollars would be spent on every Karabakh Armenian for every dollar spent on an Azeri", said Azerbaijan's ambassador to Washington, Hafiz Pashayev. "And it does not even begin to address the fact that one in seven Azeris are refugees in their own country, while not one Karabakh Armenian can claim that status today."

Essay Types: Essay