Samantha Power Visits Armenia

On September 25, the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development Samantha Power arrived in Armenia accompanied by US Department of State Acting Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Yuri Kim.

Power has previously served in the Obama Administration as the 28th US Permanent Representative to the United Nations (2013-2017). Before that, Power served on the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. As for Armenians, Power became well known thanks to her book called A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which analyzed US foreign policy – more specifically how it failed to respond in the face of the genocides of the 20th century, including the case of the Armenian Genocide. Despite the book and her extensive work in the area of human rights, the Obama Administration, which Power was part of, did not recognize the Armenian Genocide and hence, Power was seriously criticized for not strongly advocating for its official recognition. Years later Power apologized, stating that she was “sorry that, during our time in office, we in the Obama administration did not recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

As part of the Biden administration, Power was sworn into office on May 3, 2021 as the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). As administrator, Power was much criticized for being not active concerning atrocities conducted by the Azerbaijani government against the population of Artsakh. Critics believed that during the 9-month-long blockade against Artsakh, Power as USAID Administrator did not take any concrete steps to support the people of Artsakh. Her only action was in the form of statements condemning the blockade.

Her visit to Armenia took place after the blockade, while more than 100,000 people of Artsakh were fleeing from their homes, after Azerbaijan attacked and occupied the remainder of Artsakh. During her visit Power met with the Armenian prime minister and personally conveyed Joe Biden’s letter, which read “I have asked Samantha Power, a key member of my cabinet, to personally convey to you the strong support of the United States and my Administration for Armenia’s pursuit of a dignified and durable regional peace that maintains your sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and democracy. …I assure you that the United States will continue to stand besides Armenia.” This message was also reiterated a few times by Power herself. During her visit Power announced the provision of $11.5 million in urgent humanitarian assistance ($1 million through USAID and $10.5 million through the State Department). When asked about sanctions against Azerbaijan, for example the suspension of the provision of assistance to Azerbaijan, Power dodged those questions, vaguely responding that the United States is yet looking into “what the appropriate response is” to Azerbaijani actions.

On September 27, Samantha Power traveled to Baku. The same day, Ruben Vardanyan, co-founder of Aurora Foundation, for which Power served as a member of its prize selection committee, was captured by the Azerbaijanis. However, this incident was also left without any response from Power.

During her trip Azerbaijan, Power was accompanied by Acting Assistant Secretary Kim, and US Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations Louis Bono. The three had a meeting with President Ilham Aliyev. During this visit Power also reiterated “the importance of respecting Armenia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

This statement that was reiterated many times at the highest level by the United States together with the events that unfolded can bring us to the conclusion that there has been some pressure brought to bear by the US on Azerbaijan and Turkey. The latter were strongly pushing for the so-called “Zangezur corridor” through Armenian territory, threatening the use of force in case Armenia resisted their plan. However, following the visit of Power, the aggressive rhetoric from both Azerbaijan and Turkey seems to have abated. For example, following the meeting between Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Nakhijevan, Aliyev did not talk much about the issue, just stating that “construction of the railway connecting Azerbaijan with Naxcivan [Nakhichevan] and Turkey is also progressing successfully.” There was no mention of Armenia or the term “Zangezur corridor.” Erdogan commented on the issue upon returning to Turkey, stating that “If Armenia does not pave the way for [the corridor]…It will pass through Iran.”

Thus, despite the fact that there have not been any sanctions so far against Azerbaijan for all its atrocities committed against the population of Artsakh, and there is no information on suspending US assistance to Azerbaijan, Power’s visit seems to have had an impact on the issue of the so-called “Zangezur corridor.” Aliyev and Erdogan, who were previously aggressively pushing for it, softened their statements right after Power’s visit, who reiterated many times the United States’ support of Armenia’s territorial integrity.