De-miners in Karabakh. Halo Trust image

Eighty-nine representatives and twenty-two senators backed a letter to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) urging continued U.S. support for de-mining work in Nagorno Karabakh.

U.S. has supported the de-mining program in Karabakh, implemented by British charity Halo Trust, for close to 20 years. In congressional testimony on April 9, USAID administrator Mike Green indicated support for the program through FY2020. However, the Trump Administration’s FY2020 foreign aid request removed funding for demining that stood at $700,000 in FY2019. On June 18, the House of Representatives voted to reinstate the demining aid in its foreign aid bill. Still, in a July 30 letter the Administration served notice that the program would soon end.

Aram Hamparian of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which organized public and congressional opposition to the administration’s decision, noted the link between the program’s early termination and Armenia deploying a de-mining unit to Syria last February. U.S. officials were reportedly unhappy with the deployment, both because it supported Russian military operations in Syria and involved an Armenian military unit that has received U.S. funding.

In 2017, Russia called on Armenia and other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to support its military mission in Syria, but at the time CSTO members refused without UN authorization. Armenia changed its position shortly after Nikol Pashinyan’s election as prime minister, in what was intended as a good will gesture towards Russian leadership. Unlike previous similar deployments, such as that in support of US occupation of Iraq in 2005, it was not debated in parliament.

UPDATE Aug. 12, 2019: Asked for a comment by the Institute a spokesperson for the State Department indicated that the funding would continue into FY2020, as promised, but end next January.

“Since 2001, the United States has invested more than $17 million in Nagorno-Karabakh demining efforts led by the HALO Trust,” the spokesperson said. “In addition to current funding, the United States is continuing assistance through January 2020 by allocating an additional $500,000 to assist with further mine clearing efforts.”

“HALO Trust has reported that it has achieved close to 98 percent clearance in previously identified minefields in territory defined as the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. The additional $500,000 allocation should enable the HALO Trust to complete an orderly transition and explore other funding options, including additional private funding.”

The spokesperson added further that “The United States also provides humanitarian assistance in Nagorno-Karabakh through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). We will continue to assess humanitarian needs in Nagorno-Karabakh.”