By Thomas Goltz
Early this year, I had the chance to chat with one of my two senators at a fund-raising brunch in the exquisite setting of Paradise Valley in south-central Montana.
The purpose of the party was to give the senator a chance to explain why he needed a bigger "war chest" to combat his opponent in this year's elections.
"My opponents funding is no longer local, but "soft money" from his party's national committee, as well as other special interest groups and he is using this money to conduct negative political advertisements," explained the senator. "Although I do not like it, I have to respond, which means money for my own adds, which must be paid for by other, outside support."
Discussion over the merits of outside financing for the campaign, especially those funds earmarked for return salvos on TV, ranged far and wide, that is, it lasted for about five minutes. When it was finished, the senator and I sat down to chat. It was then that I brought up 907.
"How did you vote on that bill?" I asked.
"I beg your pardon?" the senator replied, confused.
"Actually, it was article 907-a, the rider to the Freedom Support Act," I explained to the lawmaker.
The senator looked at me for several moments and then smiled sheepishly, in the manner that we in the West refer to as a "shit-eating grin."
"I don't know," he finally confessed. "Why do you ask?"
"Just curious," I replied, and let the subject drop.
I think we moved on to chit-chat about the killing the bison that wander out of Yellowstone Park because they theoretically could carry burcelosis, or maybe we talked about whirling disease among trout or even the rise in the price of gas that has resulted in lower RV traffic (and thus lower tourist revenues) this year. The truth of the matter is that I do not remember because I could not focus on these other issues because I was furious.
The beleaguered senator, greatly respected both at home and in the Washington Beltway, had just lost my vote. Call me a one-issue kind of guy, but as a member of our participatory democracy, you have to draw the line somewhere. And, although I have as big a problem as the next guy in the Big Sky state of being labeled the home of the next potential Unibomber or Freeman movement, my political line in the sand is the foreign policy black hole known as 907.
To be more accurate, my gripe is with Section 907 (a) of the Freedom Support Act, the legal vehicle for promoting Democracy, Pluralism and the Free Market Economy in the 15 republics to emerge from the rubble of the former Soviet Union. Thanks to the FSA, billions of dollars of US tax-payers money have been spent in support of everything from de-nuking Kazakhstan and Ukraine to supporting pig farmers in the Urals. A good chunk was designated for Peace Corps work in places like Turkmenistan and Estonia. Even more was connected with achieving financial stability of institutions like the Russian Central Bank, and lots and lots of it was set aside for travel-I.E., bringing western "experts" into Moscow (and Almaty, Kiev and Minsk) to advise on reform, and bringing Russian (or Lithuanian, Moldovan or Tajik) folks to the US to chat about freedom, democracy, tolerance. A governmental Kyrghyz delegation was just in-state to study the art of growing wheat in Montana, for example. The tacit idea, of course, is that American dollars will help transform what were nasty little communist dictatorships into being good little democracies, like ours.
But thanks to Section 907(a), there is one exception to this self-interested American philanthropy: the chronically unstable, oil-rich Republic of Azerbaijan. Although its supporters constantly like to remind Americans that Azerbaijan is the only former Soviet republic to successfully rid itself of Russian bases and border guards, as well as to stand up to Iranian overtures by developing ties with Israel, the country remains an official pariah. And, although one can argue that no former Soviet republic has been more eager to transform itself into a paradigm of pluralistic democracy, no American money can support any governmental-connected institution in that country.. "until the [US] 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."
One could, of course, debate the question of who was using force against whom over Mountainous (Nagorno) Karabakh during the eight "hot" years of that seminal ethnic conflict, which pitted the two mutually exclusive concepts of the Right of Self Determination versus the Territorial Integrity of Existing States. The usual number used for those killed over the status of Karabakh between 1988 and 1994 is 25,000; the conflict has also spawned some one million refugees. The Azerbaijanis represent the vast majority of both those numbers.
When Congress passed Section 907(a) in the summer of 1992, it was the Azerbaijani army that was rolling forward. I was there on the front, and it was not pretty, let me tell you. Bang-Bang, and all that. But before and after that one summer, the Azeris were always on the defensive or in full-scale retreat. Indeed, since May 1994, when a broad cease-fire took effect, the front lines were defined in such a way that some 25% of Azeri territory (including Karabakh) remained under Armenian control and the erstwhile residents of that large swath of territory, some one million souls, or more than 10 percent of the entire population of seven million, were scattered in squalid refugee camps throughout the country.
As for the business about "blockades," Azerbaijan was never able to effect such a thing against Armenia: Baku imposed a trade embargo, and for the very good reason that it thought that conducting business as usual with the enemy is not a particularly good idea in time of war. Ask Lincoln or Wilson or Roosevelt or Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon about that.
Well, the reader may well ask. What is the relevance of this for Montana and my beleaguered senator and my vote? In other words, So what?
My response is: This what our Congress, an institution which we would hold up as a paradigm of democratic pluralism to be emulated by all, is so bought and sold by interest groups that its members, including my senator, are perfectly willing to vote for bills, amendments and resolutions that are not only in direct conflict with our national interest, but are just plain wrong. Ignorance borne of the obscure and recondite law-making process is no excuse. At the end of the day, the lawmakers we elect are responsible for the way they vote. And, in the case of 907(a), they are responsible before history of what is happening in the obscure post-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, Let me explain, and in a manner I spared my senator.
The Section 907 (a) "rider" to the Freedom Support Act was drafted, or at least pushed through both houses of Congress through the agency of such lawmakers as John Porter, the sundry Kennedys from and, pre-eminently, the recently-retired Senator and Republican Presidential hopeful, Bob Dole thanks to the successful lobbying efforts of such groups as the Armenian Assembly of America and the Armenian National Committee.
There is no secret about this. Indeed, the American-Armenians are proud of their efforts to isolate and interfere in Azerbaijani affairs through their lobbying efforts. In a recent fund-raising circular sent to me by the AAA, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Hirair Hovnanian underlines the following three legislative "successes" his organization scored in 1995:
"First, with the help of our friends in Congress, we secured an $85 million earmark in US assistance for Armenia in 1996...we are currently advocating for an increase to $95 million in assistance for next year.
"We achieved our second legislative goal with the passage of the Humanitarian Aid Corridor Act...which prohibits American foreign aid to any country that blocks the delivery of US Humanitarian assistance to a third country, is now the law of the land.
"Our third legislative success was $15 million to establish a "Transcaucasus Enterprise Fund"...
The "Transcaucasus," the author would like to remind the reader, consists of not only Armenia, but also the sovereign states of Georgia and Azerbaijan. In other words, the backers of that piece of legislation are either willfully ignorant of the fact that they are breaking US law by earmarking federal funds for Azerbaijan-let's say 1/3, or $5 million-or they are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that Armenia is in effect stealing money that should go to the other two Transcaucasus states. The main architect of the TEF, as one might have guessed, was Mister "Lucky 15," (Jack Kemp's football jersey number, flat tax percent, etc.) Bob Dole.
Why Armenia needed this extra money is not clear. It is already the single largest recipient of American aid per capita in the world after Israel. 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 the USA and elsewhere.
The Armenians are not content with a full begging-bowl, however. They want to deprive others of American largesse. On point number two above, Mr.
Hovnanian has the following to say:
"With the passage of this (the Corridor Act) bill, US aid to Turkey should have been terminated. Unfortunately, the Clinton Administration used a legal loophole-a national security waiver-in the Corridor Act to exempt Turkey from this law...but you can be sure that we are going to keep up the pressure on Turkey and Azerbaijan to lift their devastating blockades of Armenia and Artsakh (Karabakh)..."
Interestingly, Mr. Hovnanian does not even mention 907(a) although it is the very bedrock of the special relationship between Congress and the Armenia lobby. Perhaps this is because it is almost ancient history at this point, a legal fait accompli that will be very difficult to unravel, and there is no point in celebrating past successes.
Indeed, Section 907 (a) would seem to be one of the most successful lobbying efforts ever made. An influence group with a very specific agenda got in, got the job done and then got out, erasing almost all traces of its activity in the corridors of power. The Azerbaijani embassy in Washington is not even sure about who did what when and under whose influence because the article in question was passed in "committee." In other words, it was done almost anonymously as part of the usual back-scratching, horse-trading and political-favor repaying that goes on in the legislative cabals in Washington.
Watching C-SPAN sheds some light on this process, for those who have the time (or stomach) to following law-making-in-progress day in and day out, as does reading the Congressional Record, for those with the time (or stomach) to keep up with every burp and fart concerning law-making-in-progress, also day in and day out. What C-SPAN and the Congressional Record usually do not reveal, however, is how bills or articles and riders get attached to other bills and articles and riders and eventually laws that have nothing to do with each other. For example, Montana"s retiring congressman (we have only one), Pat Williams, has his name attached to a bill preventing employers from subjecting their workers to lie detector tests. Fine and good. But "attached" to that legislation is an article concerning old steel mills in Indiana; the two items were passed as one connected whole.
This similar process seems to be what happened with 907 (a). Obscurity surrounds the passing of the bill. To the extent possible, this is what I have managed to ferret out.
The article (or "section") seems to have been first proposed by Senator McCaen of Arizona, (R/Arizona), who then withdrew it for reasons best known to himself. Then it reappeared as a "proposal" in a Senate-House conference (where no voting was taken) by Congressman Wayne Owens (D/Utah), who was joined by Senator John Kerry (D/Massachusetts) in arguing for its inclusion as a caveat to the FSA. The rider was opposed by a tiny minority-Senators Richard Lugar (R/Indiana), Nancy Kassebaum (R/Kansas), Mitch McConnell (R/Kentucky) and former Senator Terry Sanford, (D/North Carolina). The then-Bush administration (and the State Department) also opposed the article's inclusion, but was reluctant to jeopardize the entire Freedom Support Act by exercising a veto, especially in an election year. Other ineffectual efforts to counter or amend the bill were made by "pro-oil" representatives such as Greg Laughlin (R/Texas) who has described Azerbaijan President Heydar Aliyev, a former KGB general and Politburo member during the days of Yuri Andropov in the early 1980s Kremlin, and who took control of Azerbaijan in 1993 as the result of a rather complex coup, as the "George Washington of Central Asia." One suspects that the good Congressman has studied neither Mr. Aliyev's personal history nor the geography of the former Soviet Union-but no matter. At this point, Azerbaijan is looking for all the friends it can find, no matter what provenance.
Anyway, Section 907 (a), as attached to the FSA, passed through both houses of Congress in 1992. The first effort to change it came shortly after Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, when Senator Pat Leahy (D/Vermont) made the case to amend it to include exceptions to the proscription on government-to-government aid by allowing Washington to fund democracy building and humanitarian aid projects, like reworking Azerbaijan's constitution and doing something about the growing number of internal refugees in the country, flushed from their homes thanks to a new Armenian offensive. Leahy was forced to withdraw due to opposition from Senators Phil Gramm (R/Texas) and Bob Dole (R/Kansas), and pro-Armenian lawmakers renewed their attack when Congressman David Bonior (D/Michigan) introduced House Resolution 86, which would have condemned Azerbaijan for its continued blockade of Armenia and restrict even non-governmental American aid to Azerbaijan. It did not pass. The next attempt to lift aid restrictions to Azerbaijan, House Resolution 3765, was introduced by Congressman Lee Hamilton (D/Indiana. He was countered by Congressman Dick Swett (D/New Hampshire) who, in March 1994, argued before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the prohibition of aid to Azerbaijan be maintained until Azerbaijan ceased its "occupation of Karabakh." The problem with the argument, in the words of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, was that Azerbaijan "did not control, let alone occupy Karabakh" and that "...Armenian forces controlled all Azerbaijani provinces to the south, west and east of the enclave (sic) after having evicted an estimated 500,000 Azeri from those territories the year before."
A glimmer of hope for those same refugees appeared on May 16th, 1994, when then-Congressman Tim Penny (D/Minnesota), chairman of the Congressional Committee on Hunger, after reading an American Red Cross report on the refugee crisis in Azerbaijan, tried to repeal 907 (a) altogether. Penny, known for his brusque manner and ideological purity, as it were (he is not tainted by association with any of the relevant lobbies involved, neither Armenian nor Texas Oil & Gas) made one of the more interesting presentations I found in the Congressional Record. Penny opened his remarks by evoking the memory of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey of April 24th, 1915, condemning the continued Turkish denial that a genocide ever happened. Then he associated the plight of the Armenians of that time with the Jewish Holocaust in World War II and the Cambodian genocide in the aftermath of Viet Nam and finally with the current situation Rwanda. Finally, he came to Karabakh, decrying Azerbaijan's refusal to allow the Armenian majority in Karabakh the right to Self Determination.
"However, this is only part of the story," the Congressman continued.
"Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh over the last year have attacked and taken control over Azerbaijani territory outside Karabakh (and) we must show displeasure with both Armenians and Azerbaijanis for aggression and disregard for basic human rights.
"The Freedom Support Act specifies that all recipients of US aid must respect human rights. Yet Armenia has violated some of the same specific points required by Azerbaijan (A reference to Armenia's blockade of Nakhichevan and its offensive use of force to seize territory outside Karabakh in Azerbaijan proper).
"Mr. Speaker, both sides of this conflict must be held accountable for their actions. I am convinced that the prohibition of assistance to Azerbaijan as dictated under section 907 runs counter to our strategic and humanitarian interests in the Caucasus...if we ever hope to play the role of an honest broker in the region, we must treat both parties in an even-handed manner...Therefore, I propose that we rescind section 907 of the Freedom Support Act."
His colleagues declined to heed his advice.
Next came Charlie Wilson (D/Texas) who, like his colleague Congressman Laughlin, might be regarded as being in the pockets of the oil companies involved in Azerbaijan. He tried to amend 907 (a) in the name of allowing American money to reach projects involved in humanitarian assistance and the building of democracy and free market economy institutions. Wilson initially succeeded in getting his amendment through a voice vote, but when debate preceding a floor vote began, the forces aligned against changes in 907 (a) prevailed, and he withdrew the measure before it was officially defeated. Wilson did manage to do one thing, however: include a narrow exception to 907 (a) in the non-amendable "conference report" on the 1996 Foreign Appropriations Bill that allowed the President of the United States to advance humanitarian aid directly to the government of Azerbaijan if he determined that working through non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private voluntary organizations (PVOs) was not sufficient to meet needs. The unexercised waiver expires on October 1st, 1996, after which 907 (a) reverts back to its original, pristine form-and President Clinton has yet to exercise the waiver, lest he inflame the Armenian lobby in an election year.
Their man in the house, however, was already active: Congressmen John Porter (D/Illinois), reportedly seeking revenge against Wilson for the latter's legislative sleight-of-hand concerning the principle of a presidential "waiver," soon introduced his own tricky piece of legislation: an amendment to Section 907 (a) that would condition even that American aid sent to Azerbaijan via NGOs and PVOs to a set formula: for every seven dollars in aid sent to Azerbaijan, one dollar of aid would be sent to Karabakh.
This reasonable sounding "amendment" was little more than a spit in the face and salt in the wound. The first problem was with the language of the so-called Porter Amendment, which effectively described Karabakh as an independent entity, and not a part of Azerbaijan. This flew in the face not only of Azerbaijani sentiment, but also the stated policy of the Clinton administration, the State Department, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the charter of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the United Nations.
Accordingly, if not exactly surprisingly, Porter was obliged to accept changes in the language of his bill: instead of "...assistance to Azerbaijan and Karabakh," the new draft reads "..assistance to Azerbaijan, including Karabakh."
The ambassador of Azerbaijan to the United States, Hafiz Pashayev, described this to me as a "victory" for his country in the corridors of power and influence peddling in Washington.
"Victory?" A rhetorical one, perhaps, that only influences how low the government of Azerbaijan is setting its sights in Washington.
"Hurrah! We were not totally abused and utterly sold out again-only a little this time!"
Karabakh, which already gets as much aid as it could possibly want from the $600 million dollars already donated by the US to Armenia since 1992, remains "part" of Azerbaijan. Section 907 (a), meanwhile, remains in force for the rest of the country-save for what money Washington can direct toward refugee relief and democracy building without brushing up against the government of Azerbaijan.
That issue was taken up in a Senate hearing on July 25th of this year, when Senator William Cohen (R/Maine) went on record to voice his support for a "clarification" of 907, in order to make the delivery of humanitarian aid to Azerbaijani refugees "easier to deliver." The truth of the matter, the senator suggested, was that there was a very real relief dilemma in getting American aid to its target, even when sent through NGOs and PVOs like the International Rescue Committee and CARE. Because the government of Azerbaijan owned most of the warehouses, clinics and even support vehicles involved in tending to internal refugees, the American organizations were obliged to keep their aid under tarps in the street, lest they violate Section 907 (a) by having anything to do with Azeri officialdom. The situation was even more tragically ridiculous than that, however.
"When the (Azerbaijani) government allowed the IRC to use (warehouse) space rent free, (the) IRC still had to store supplies under tarps inside the warehouse because (the) IRC was not permitted to pay to repair a leaking roof since that would have been a contact with the government of Azerbaijan," the senator explained. As for the money earmarked for Azerbaijani refugee relief, much was going into the pockets of "others" with the full, furious knowledge of the IRC.
"Two thousand IRC-built latrines to prevent water-borne diseases among the refugee population cost twice what they should have because a middleman had to be retained for purchasing supplies so as not to conduct business with the government," Senator Cohen related.
Equally bad, he suggested, was the lack of coordination between those few American NGOs and PVOs in Azerbaijan and the rest of the international NGOs and PVOs there. Because there is no Section 907 (a) preventing diverse governmental or private institutions in England, France, Germany, Turkey, Russia or Iran from contact with the Azerbaijani government and its institutions, the latter can and do so. But that, in effect, means that the Americans cannot work with them.
Senator Cohen's legislative interlocutors agreed that this was not exactly an ideal situation, and promised to relax some of the more onerous aspects of the "do not touch the government" clauses of Section 907 (a), provided there was "proper monitoring."
It was around this time that the Eyes and Ears of Beltway, the Washington Post, finally had enough of the anti-Azeri flim-flammary in the halls of Congress. On August 1st, the Post ran an editorial under the banner headline ARMENIA LOBBY. Summing up the situation created by 907 (a) as "punishing the loser and comforting the conqueror" of the Karabakh war, the Post continued:
"...what is on display is ethnic political power. The irony is that its wielding may not even be to the advantage of the Armenians. They would be better served, as would the Azeris, by enlisting the United States as an impartial moderator...But instead the Armenian lobby tends to tip American policy and to invite political intervention by an imperially inclined Moscow."
The American response to this was an Internet appeal, calling on "friends" to protest the Post editorial along the lines of a draft missive the urgent email bulletin provided as a guide. The following is the essence, if in paraphrase mode: "Shame on the Post for suggesting that the patriotic Armenian community in America, a community that has added so much to the American mosaic, would ever think of trying to skew foreign policy for its own ends...The Armenian American community had nothing against American humanitarian assistance reaching the Azeri victims of the sad and unnecessary Karabakh conflict. Some $90 million had already been spent along these lines, via NGOs and PVOs...As for repealing Section 907, the Armenian American community wants nothing more than for the government of Azerbaijan to fulfill its conditions, and thus begin qualifying for direct aid...
Not surprisingly, the Post was soon inundated by nearly identical letters.
"They're pretty good," a staffer in the editorial department confided in me, referring to the organizational abilities of the ANC and its rival organization, the Armenian Assembly of America. Another compared the response to a mail-in campaign mounted by the NRA gun lobby crowd.
The ironic thing is that despite all the congressional squabbling and hair-splitting over Section 907 (a) about how American money can best reach a target group of Azeri refugees, the Freedom Support Act itself is not about temporarily alleviating misery, but permanently changing society.
Changing society? Well, yes. And there are two means of doing so: incremental change from the top down-that is, through decrees and new laws passed by the government for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole, or through revolution.
In the neighboring state of Georgia, for example, the Washington-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) spends something like 60 per cent of its resources working with various parliamentary committees to write and reform laws, bills and initiatives including a real and enforceable Bill of Rights that will, one hopes, result in the creation of the bed-rock of pluralistic democracy. The same goes for the money spent in Armenia, Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan.
But even with all the direct refugee relief assistance in the world, until 907 is rescinded, not one dime of American money can or will be invested in the process of reforming the governmental institutions of Azerbaijan, or even reforming the thinking of one individual associated with that government.
Forget about warehouse repair or the fact that not one doctor or nurse who receives a state salary can be trained or even put on retainer and not one American doctor or nurse can be seconded to a government-owned hospital (and all hospitals in Azerbaijan are owned by the government): not one member of the constitutional committee or ministry of agriculture or atomic energy professor or narcotics police chief or captain in the military can be allowed to gain or learn or be contacted in any way that is associated with US governmental money so long as Section 907 (a) is in force.
"We cannot even invite anyone from the government to a conference on inter-ethnic tolerance," the former American Charge d'Affaires in Baku, Robert Finn once told me. And hereby lies the greatest paradox perpetrated by 907 (a) and the congressmen who voted for it. Proscribed from any and all government-to-government assistance to Azerbaijan, the US government has settled for giving assistance to non-governmental entities, or local NGOs.
There are lots of these in Baku nowadays for the very good reason that just about any organization that can prove it is not governmental qualifies for getting on the Freedom Support gravy train. There are women's NGOs and anti-censorship NGOs and Pro-democracy NGOs and Environmental/Green NGOs, all of whom are receiving some support from the United States government/FSA, either directly or via intermediaries like the Eurasia Foundation or, most recently, the ubiquitous SOROS.
Some, of course, are not NGOs at all but "GONGOs," or "Government Organized Non-Governmental Organizations. They may receive some support for awhile, but when they get found out, they get cut off.
More interesting is the case of the real NGOs. The majority, precisely because they are non-governmental are, in fact, oppositional organizations, and seen by the government as politically charged groups interested less in building civil society in conjunction with the government than solely in changing the government and replacing it with themselves.
And rightly so, because most of the leaders of today's NGOs were formerly associated with the government of Abulfaz Elchibey that preceded that of Heydar Aliyev -and many have scores to settle.
In other words, not only is the Congress of the United States depriving the current government of Azerbaijan of the democracy and pluralism building blocks we are supplying to every other post-Soviet society, it is, in effect, promoting revolution in Azerbaijan-and perpetual revolution at that.
This may seem shrill and arcane, but consider the following: if tomorrow there are new elections (or even yet-another coup) in Baku, the oppositional people and organizations that are now receiving the lion's share of US government largesse would be, by definition, cut off from all American assistance the moment they could use it most-that is, if and when they succeed in becoming the government again.
Weirder still, theoretically ex-President Heydar Aliyev and his people would once more be eligible to attend seminars on human rights, judicial reform and the beauties of including a system of checks and balances in the new constitution, as promoted by the founders of the basic law in the USA.
Indeed, that was exactly the case in early 1993, when Aliyev, as chair of the then-opposition New Azerbaijan Party, was able to receive direct US aid in his bailiwick of Nakhchivan, the sliver of Azerbaijani territory on the other side of Armenia. The then-Elchibey government was driven to distraction by its inability to control those goods, funds and services, resulting even in threats to Aliyev's life by less-than-stable members of the Elchibey regime. Then they were putsched from power, and the same American organizations and institutions who had been obliged to eschew all contact with the Elchibey regime were then allowed to court and finance them while everyone who had been in opposition to them but then became the government had to be shunned. Imagine a scenario in which the US only supported the Dashnaksutyun in Armenia, or the remnant supporters of Zviad Gamsakhurdia in Georgia until those forces were returned to power, and you get the picture.
Thus, to friendless and isolated Azerbaijan, the US Congress's real lesson in democracy building is that you can be just like us as long as you are in opposition. The independent ideal of civil society actors is redefined as one of irrelevance: as soon as you matter, you are out.
Is this what the good US Congresspeople had in mind when the passed the Section 907 (a) of the Freedom Support Act in the first place?
Probably not; they probably didn't have anything in mind at all.
That is what I wanted to ask my Senator from Montana at that fine, fund-raising brunch not so long ago, but thought he might become a little confused.
I know I am.