US Upholds Aid Reduction Following Yerevan Elections


By Thomas C . Nash
Mirror-Spectator Staff

WASHINGTON — The US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) announced it was continuing its one third reduction of a $235.6 million Armenian aid program this week, citing renewed doubt in country’s democracy following the widely-criticized May elections in Yerevan.

In a statement released following an MCC board meeting in Washington chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the board said the MCC “will not resume funding for any further road construction and rehabilitation.”

“The responsibility for this outcome remains with the government of Armenia, whose actions have been inconsistent with the eligibility criteria that are at the heart of the MCC program,” Rodney Bent, the corporation’s acting executive director, said in the statement. “I do not anticipate that the Board will revisit this issue in the future.”

An MCC spokesperson confirmed that the $67 million in road funding will likely not be re-instated before the compact between the two governments runs out in 2011.

The statement came one day after the State Department again expressed its disapproval of the Armenian government’s human rights record. The funding has been on hold since the troubled 2008 Armenian presidential election, which resulted in violence and a government crackdown on opposition leaders.

US Ambassador to Armenia Marie Yovanovitch said last Tuesday that US Embassy officials observing the May 31 elections saw irregularities “throughout the city,” adding that a report on their findings will be released soon.

A report released by the State Department earlier this year painted a bleak picture of the Armenian government’s commitment to democracy, one of the benchmarks for MCC funding. In its annual survey of worldwide human rights, the Armenian report cites the government’s attempt to stifle dissent, often with violence or politically motivated imprisonment.

“The government’s human rights record deteriorated significantly during the year,” the State Department study stated, “with authorities and their agents committing numerous human rights abuses, particularly in connection with the presidential elections and the government’s suppression of demonstrations that followed.”

The State Department study can be found at www.state.gov under their 2008 Reports on Human Rights Practices page.

Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny said that while the pressure is mounting to regain the withheld funding, since it is only a five-year program already three years in, the MCC program remains valuable for Armenia.

“The MCC compact between the US and Armenia is an important program and does benefit the people of Armenia,” Ardouny said, noting the signing of the five-year compact took place during the Assembly’s 2006 Advocacy Conference. “It was another demonstration of the US-Armenia relationship and the different ways the relationship continues to grow.”

The US aid suspension led the Armenian government in July 2008 to allocate about $17 million of its own funds to rural road construction envisaged by Armenia’s MCC compact. The economic recession led the government to secure in February a $25 million loan from the World Bank for infrastructure projects.

The MCC decision will not affect the $160 million portion of aid approved in 2006, which is slated to go toward Armenia’s irrigation networks.

Ardouny said he was optimistic that the full funding amount will be restored. “We’d like to see this program continued and we’d like too see it back on track,” he said.

Armenian Ambassador Tatoul Markarian did not respond to a request for comment.

(Material from RFE/RL was used in this report.)