Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-NJ) made a powerful pro-peace case for lifting outdated and counter-productive U.S. travel and communication restrictions on the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) in a candid video chat with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
During the interview with ANCA Government Affairs Director Raffi Karakashian, Rep. Pallone cited the common obstacles members of Congress face when considering a trip to Artsakh. "First of all you can't use any U.S. vehicles or transportation to go to Artsakh, but beyond that, they [U.S. State Department] constantly tell you it's not safe; there's going to be consequences; you're going to be put on the Azerbaijan blacklist,” explained Rep. Pallone. “They essentially try to scare people from going - and obviously, if they are trying to scare me and other Members of Congress, that's certainly going to discourage private individuals and businesses as well."
Rep. Pallone argued for passage of his Artsakh Travel and Communication Resolution (H.Res.190), introduced earlier in March with the full backing of the ANCA. The measure calls for a U.S. policy which would:
1) Allow officials at all levels of the United States Government, including cabinet-level national security officials, general officers, and other executive branch officials, to travel to the Artsakh Republic and openly and directly communicate with their Artsakh counterparts;
2) Encourage ongoing open communication, meetings, and other direct contacts between officials of Artsakh and the Executive and Legislative branches of the United States, state and local governments, and American civil society; and
3) Seek the full and direct participation of the democratically-elected government of the Artsakh Republic in all OSCE and other negotiations regarding its future.
"It makes no sense to have this travel and communications restriction because we should try to have as much contact as possible with the people there so that there is an understanding of what the people of Artsakh and the government face," Rep. Pallone told Karakashian. "Artsakh is a functioning democracy, a market economy - very much like the United States and the rest of the West. I want people to know that. And, if it's going to be successful, there has to be not only political cooperation but economic cooperation. None of that [economic and political cooperation] is helpful if you have a restriction on communications and travel."
Rep. Pallone went on to discuss his recent testimony submitted to the House Appropriations panel in charge of preparing the Fiscal Year 2020 foreign aid bill, where he argued for expanded aid to the Republic of Artsakh among a broad range of pro-Armenia priorities. "Because of the blockade the lack of recognition by other countries, including ourselves (U.S.), Artsakh’s economy, which is pretty good from what I understand, is always threatened. [...] And it [U.S. foreign aid] is also a way of showing that there is a recognition of Artsakh. I like to do whatever I can to show that this country is there, it's real, it's democratic, it operates just like any other nation, and certainly, assistance is important for economic reasons, as well as recognition."
A Congressional letter, spearheaded by Rep. Pallone and the Congressional Armenian Caucus, addressed to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations leadership advocating for expanded Republic of Artsakh and Armenia assistance, currently has 32 signatories - a number that will likely increase later this week.
Congressman Pallone, who has traveled to Artsakh more often than any other U.S. legislator during his years in Congress, told Karakashian that he looks forward to his next trip. "I always want to go back… I want to settle the dispute with Azerbaijan and have it [Artsakh] continue as an independent nation - or perhaps if they voted in a referendum, become part of Armenia. But, to remain Armenian, which is the ultimate goal, and to be recognized as such - either as a Republic or as a part of Armenia. But beyond that - I just love the culture. I just love everything Armenian - and Artsakh is sort of the epitome of Armenian, whether it's the pottery or the rugs or the culture in general."
Rep. Pallone thanked Karakashian and the ANCA for “all you do for Armenia and U.S.-Armenia relations."