OAKLAND, CA – Armenian American leaders from across the State of California held a virtual town hall meeting with Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) this week to discuss the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Artsakh as a result of Azerbaijan’s blockade. The briefing included the participation of a broad number of Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) stakeholders who are working on a unified campaign – with other ANCA grassroots leaders across the United States – to get the Biden Administration to pressure Azerbaijan to end its current campaign to expel Artsakh’s indigenous Armenian population from their historic homeland.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the powerful Ranking member of the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies, which sets foreign aid levels for the U.S. Department of State. The Congresswoman, who was first elected in 1998, represents California’s 12th Congressional District – which spans across much of Alameda County (including Berkeley and Oakland) and is home to a thriving Armenian American community.
Leaders from across the ANCA family in California, including the ANCA’s San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Fresno, San Fernando Valley, Glendale, Burbank, La Crescenta, Pasadena, Hollywood, Orange County, and San Gabriel Valley chapters, participated in the meeting, which also included insights by ANCA National Board Members Zanku Armenian and Aida Dimejian, along with ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan and Programs Director Alex Galitsky.
ANC Artsakh Executive Director Gev Iskajyan, who moved to Artsakh from California a year ago, provided a sobering update about the dire humanitarian crisis and the vital need for the U.S. to provide emergency assistance to Artsakh. “With Azerbaijan seeking to enact its policy of ethnic cleansing by starving and suffocating the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh to the brink of extinction, the U.S. must be prepared to act to prevent this humanitarian catastrophe,” Iskajyan remarked. “We’re grateful for Congresswoman Lee’s stalwart leadership throughout the years in ensuring crucial humanitarian assistance reaches Artsakh, and look forward to continuing to work with her to secure a robust assistance program to help the Armenians of Artsakh recover from this blockade,” Iskajyan concluded.
With strong support from the ANCA, Congresswoman Lee was successful late last year in including language in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L.117-103) directing that the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development provide Congress with an “assistance strategy for addressing humanitarian and recovery needs arising from the [Artsakh] conflict” that identifies the U.S. “resources and programs,” available for this purpose. This Artsakh aid provision, now signed into law, was made possible only because of the determined leadership of Congresswoman Lee – who during the recently concluded 117th Congress – served as the Chair of the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, which is responsible for foreign aid. The Artsakh provision included a sixty-day timeline for the Biden Administration to report back to Congress – a deadline that must be met by the end of February of 2023.
“Congresswoman Lee’s critical role in ensuring direct humanitarian demining assistance for Artsakh over the years has provided a beacon of hope for the people of Artsakh – even as they stare down an existential threat,” remarked ANCA National Board Member Aida Dimejian. “As a champion for vulnerable communities and a principled voice in demanding accountability over U.S. foreign policy – we look forward to continuing to work with Rep. Barbara Lee to ensure this blockade is lifted and that the people of Artsakh are given the opportunity to thrive, free from fear and aggression,” Dimejian concluded.
In response to Congresswoman Lee’s successful advocacy on behalf of Artsakh – the ANCA Government Affairs Director Tereza Yerimyan remarked, “this is a bipartisan Congressional wake-up call for the Biden Administration to deliver long-overdue, desperately needed humanitarian aid to Artsakh. The will of our community, our coalition partners, and now of our Congress is clear. All that remains is for our State Department and USAID to reject Azerbaijan’s veto and start saving Armenian lives in Artsakh.”
Last week, Congresswoman Lee spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference held in the Press Triangle at the foot of the U.S. Capitol Building and called on the Biden Administration to stop US military aid to Azerbaijan and send emergency aid to Artsakh in response to the devastating humanitarian crisis in Artsakh caused by Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor. “I have long been a strong advocate for humanitarian support and recovery needs arising from the Artsakh conflict,” explained Rep. Lee. “As we all know, Artsakh is enduring a major and growing humanitarian crisis caused by Azerbaijan’s illegal blockade of the Lachin Corridor, Artsakh’s only humanitarian lifeline to Armenia. So yes, like all of you, I strongly condemn Azerbaijan’s blockade of the vital corridor connecting Armenia and Artsakh and call for the immediate opening.” Rep. Lee applauded the leadership of the Armenian American community for working with her committee to include language in the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus funding bill calling for a comprehensive strategy to address Artsakh’s humanitarian needs. “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with the Administration to get this done,” stated Rep. Lee.
The press conference featured the participation of former U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Senator Sam Brownback, Artsakh Representative to the U.S. Robert Avetisyan, and representatives of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and a diverse group of non-government organizations led by the Anglican Office of International and Government Affairs, Christian Solidarity International, the Baroness Caroline Cox of Queensbury and founder of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), the Vulnerable Peoples Project, and supported by the Genocide Watch, Hellenic American Leadership Council, and In Defense of Christians, who announced the launch of the Save Karabakh Coalition. The press conference was moderated by Reverend Canon Justin Murff, Executive Director of the Anglican Office for Government and International Affairs.
Since the first day of the blockade, the ANCA has been working with the White House, State Department, and Congressional leaders – urging them to stop U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan and to send emergency humanitarian assistance to Artsakh. Thousands have already used the ANCA online portal – anca.org/blockade – to call, tweet, and write the White House and Congressional leaders to immediately address this growing Artsakh humanitarian crisis.