Category Archives: General Update
General Status Updates/News of Our Website
South Florida Congresswoman Donna Shalala (D-FL) joined 50 of her Congressional colleagues to issue a statement on April 24th, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day.
“Over 100 years ago, my grandparents fled the Ottoman Empire to escape the #ArmenianGenocide”, she posted on Twitter.
Shalala was the only Florida Representative to issue a statement this year. She was also an outspoken supporter of the Armenian Genocide recognition resolution and spoke on the floor of the House during the debate when it passed on October 29, 2019 for the first time in U.S. history.
Armenians around the world commemorate the World War I-era mass killings of 1.5 million of their kin every year on April 24th, when in 1915 the Ottoman Turkish government rounded up and murdered over 200 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople (Istanbul) marking the beginning of the Armenian Genocide.
By Harut Sassounian
Halkbank, whose majority shareholder is the Turkish government, pleaded not guilty in New York on March 31, 2020, to criminal charges that it helped Iran illicitly transfer tens of billions in dollars and gold, wrote Aykan Erdemir and Philip Kowalski in an essay published on April 3 by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute based in Washington, D.C.
On October 15, 2019, the Federal Southern District Court of New York accused Halkbank of “fraud, money-laundering and sanctions offenses,” alleging that Halkbank and its executives aided Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab in a “multi-billion dollar scheme to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran.”
Initially, Halkbank refused to appear in court “claiming that the criminal charges are beyond the U.S. court’s jurisdiction,” Erdemir and Kowalski wrote. However, when “prosecutors proposed escalating contempt fines which could have totaled $1.8 billion after eight weeks,” the bank agreed to respond to the court charges.
Originally, the Turkish and Iranian officials had concocted a scheme to exchange gas for gold to circumvent the U.S. sanctions, by claiming that the gold was headed not to Iranian government entities but to Iran’s “private sector.” Erdemir and Kowalski stated that “the scheme ultimately yielded the Iranian regime some $13 billion in Turkish gold between 2012 and 2013. Once the U.S. Congress introduced legislation to close the ‘golden loophole’ in 2013, Iran used Turkish front companies to issue invoices for fake transactions of food and medicine that fall under the humanitarian exception to U.S. sanctions. In one infamous case of over-invoicing, a Turkey-based luxury yacht company used Halkbank to sell nearly 5.2 tons of brown sugar to Iran’s Bank Pasargad at the price of approximately $240 per pound.”
This scheme was first exposed in December 2013 by Turkish investigators who implicated then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, several of his ministers and other senior officials, including Halkbank’s managers. Erdogan shut down the probe by firing the police officials, prosecutors and judges!
The scandal resurfaced in March 2016 when Iranian-Turkish ring-leader Reza Zarrab was arrested in Miami after he flew to Florida to visit Disney World with his family.
In March 2017, U.S. authorities arrested Halkbank Deputy CEO Mehmet Hakan Atilla upon his arrival in New York. Zarrab pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in court against Atilla. Zarrab confessed that he had bribed senior Turkish ministers and top Halkbank executives. He even implicated Erdogan in the corruption scheme, stating that Erdogan had personally approved the illegal actions.
“Halkbank’s Atilla received a 32-month prison sentence in May 2018, a significantly shorter one than prosecutors had originally sought,” according to Erdemir and Kowalsky. “After Atilla’s return to Turkey, Erdogan rewarded the convicted sanctions buster by appointing him CEO of the Istanbul stock exchange, following the president’s established pattern of rewarding other senior accomplices of Zarrab with cushy appointments.”
Erdogan personally appealed to Pres. Trump and other senior officials to block the court case of Halkbank, claiming that US courts have no right to try Turkish citizens. The Courthouse News Service reported that “One of Zarrab’s shell companies, Royal Holding A.S., listed its address as a 35th floor unit in Trump Towers Istanbul. Before pleading guilty to money laundering, sanctions evasions and bribery, Zarrab retained Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to lead a campaign of shadow diplomacy that echoed the one in Ukraine. Shuttling between Turkey’s capital of Ankara and the White House, Giuliani met with Erdogan, Trump, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and other senior U.S. and Turkish officials in an attempt to negotiate a prisoner swap. The New York Times reported that Tillerson resisted the White House pressure for a deal that would have effectively killed the Zarrab case.”
Erdogan’s and Giuliani’s efforts succeeded in stalling the prosecution for almost two years, but ultimately failed when the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York went forward with the charges last October.”
Senator Ron Wyden, the Senate Finance Committee’s top Democrat, told Courthouse News Service: “It sure looked like Donald Trump was doing the bidding of Erdogan and Giuliani, and there were real questions about whether this was about getting Halkbank off the hook, even though there were allegations that they were orchestrating the largest sanctions evasion scheme in history.”
During President Trump’s Senate impeachment inquiry earlier in 2020, Senators Wyden, Robert Menendez and Sherrod Brown asked a joint question which was read aloud in the Senate by Chief Justice John Roberts: “Has the president engaged in a pattern of conduct in which he places his personal and political interests on top of the national security interests of the United States?”
Wyden told Courthouse News Service: “Donald Trump has significant financial interest in Turkey,” referring to Trump Towers Istanbul. “We read regularly that his family has forged personal relationships with important Turkish officials. And so, you have to ask — which is what is part of our inquiry — whether the Trump policy toward Turkey is in a significant way colored by his personal and political interests and not the national security of the country.” If Halkbank is found guilty of violating U.S. sanctions, the court could impose a hefty penalty, regardless of Tump’s wishes.
On March 31st, the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) held free and democratic elections for president and parliament. With a turnout of 72.7%, this year’s election was the first time that the young republic held presidential and parliamentary elections simultaneously.
The Artsakh Foreign Ministry issued a statement, which states in part: “We are convinced that the strengthening of democratic traditions and their spread throughout the South Caucasus will become an important contribution to ensuring peace, stability and predictability in the region, as well as create the necessary conditions for the final settlement of the Azerbaijan-Karabakh conflict by exclusively peaceful means. The consistent efforts of the authorities and people of Artsakh should be supported by the international community, since the strengthening of democracy, human rights and the rule of law is universal and therefore is the collective responsibility of the entire world community.”
The Armenian Foreign Ministry released a statement on the successful election stating, “The right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination is the foundation for the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. This reality has been fully reflected in the principles and elements of settlement presented by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs, which envisage the determination of the final legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh through a legally binding expression of will.”
During the election process, Azerbaijan military forces again violated the cease-fire agreement and fired upon civilian Armenian villages.
Below are the presidential results reported by the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Artsakh:
- Arayik Harutyunyan – 49.26% (Free Motherland-UCA Alliance)
- Masis Mayilyan – 26.4% (New Artsakh Alliance)
- Vitali Balasanyan – 14.7% (Justice Party of Artsakh)
- Davit Ishkhanyan – 2.56% (Armenian Revolutionary Federation)
- Ashot Ghoulyan – 2.3% (Democratic Party of Artsakh)
- Hayk Khanumyan – 1.3% (National Renaissance Party)
- Vahan Badasyan – 1 percent (United Armenia Party)
- Davit Babayan – 0.8% (Conservative Party of Artsakh)
- Ruslan Israyelyan – 0.5% (Independence Generation Party)
- Kristin Balayan – 0.3% (Independent candidate)
- Ashot Dadayan – 0.3% (Independent candidate)
- Bella Lalayan – 0.2% (Independent candidate)
- Melsik Poghosyan – 0.2% (Independent candidate)
- Sergey Amiryan – 0.2% (Independent candidate)
Since no candidate received over 50% of the vote, the top two candidates, Arayik Harutyunyan and Masis Mayilyan, proceed to a runoff election which will take place on Tuesday, April 14, 2020.
In Artsakh’s parliamentary elections, twelve political parties participated and five secured participation in parliament by passing the 5% threshold for parties and 7% for blocs, according to a report issued by Artsakh Central Election Commission Chairwoman Srbuhi Arzumanyan. The elected parliamentary parties are Free Motherland-UCA Alliance (40.4%), United Homeland Party (23.63%), Justice Party of Artsakh (7.9%), Armenian Revolutionary Federation (6.4%), and Democratic Party of Artsakh (5.81%).