Representatives Brad Sherman and Chris Smith press USAID’s Power on the devastating impact of Azerbaijan’s Artsakh blockade
U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee senior members Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) called for concrete answers from U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power regarding the Biden Administration’s two-year-long failure to operate any U.S. humanitarian aid programs in Artsakh, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
During the May 17th House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) foreign assistance budget, Rep. Sherman asked Administrator Power “We’ve got a blockade of Artsakh, part of an effort to ethnically cleanse the area. People need food aid. Does this area meet USAID’s definition of a crisis?”
Administrator Power dodged the question, instead referencing the U.S. State Department’s non-earmarked funding for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has been able to deliver limited assistance through the Azerbaijani blockade to Artsakh’s 120,000 indigenous Armenian population. U.S. funding is available for all of ICRC’s global humanitarian efforts, but Artsakh aid is solely offered at the ICRC’s discretion.
Video from the exchange with Rep. Sherman is available here:
Rep. Smith, referencing Azerbaijan’s Artsakh blockade, asked how assistance is getting to Artsakh’s Armenian population.
Administrator Power noted, “I gather that an ICRC convoy did, in fact, get in today. But access has been very, very limited. Many, many staples are in short supply. […] It should be coming in through commercial means as it always was, but since the road has been blocked and the checkpoints have been erected, commercial access has not been possible. So we understand it to have been a combination of Russian peacekeepers and ICRC deliveries when those can go in.”
Power touted that, “USAID has sent two assessment missions to the [Nagorno Karabakh] region and we are encouraging the UN to send an interagency assessment mission as well.” The most recent Artsakh aid assessment was in response to a provision in the Fiscal Year 2023 spending bill that directs the Department of State and US Agency for International Development to provide Congress with an assistance strategy for addressing humanitarian and recovery needs arising from the Artsakh conflict and identifies the US “resources and programs,” available for this purpose. Though the assessment was due on March 1st, the results have not been made widely available to Congressional offices.
Video of Rep. Chris Smith’s and Administrator Power’s exchange is available here:
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), in a contentious exchange with Administrator Power two weeks earlier, asked USAID to send him the assessments.
The ANCA has been vocal in its calls for immediate humanitarian assistance to Artsakh in response to the forced displacement of over 100,000 Artsakh Armenians resulting from Azerbaijan and Turkey’s 2020 attacks on Artsakh and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade. During Administrator Power’s time in office, USAID has not operated any U.S. assistance programs in Artsakh.