Armenian Assembly Calls for Public Congressional Hearings on Turkish Interference in America’s Democratic Institutions
Reiterates Call for Members of Congress to Withdraw from the Turkish Caucus
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Amid reports that Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be filing new indictments after probing a potential quid pro quo scheme, whereby then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn would be paid $15 million to secretly carry out Turkey’s bidding, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) calls for thorough public Congressional hearings to fully expose these matters. Flynn was already paid $530,000 last year for work the Justice Department says benefited the government of Turkey, and did not register as a foreign agent at the time.
The Assembly has repeatedly highlighted Turkey’s attempts to gain surreptitious influence over U.S. officials and media to the detriment of U.S. national security, and has urged investigations therein. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Member, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), in a June 2017 op-ed in The Hill titled “Did Turkey’s payments to Michael Flynn delay our military operations against ISIS?” stated that “questions regarding Turkey, however, reveal most clearly how personal considerations may have overridden our national interests.” In addition, the Assembly has also highlighted Azerbaijan’s attempts to undermine western democratic values and institutions through the billions it has spent in the “Laundromat scheme” to buy silence. Investigations are now bearing fruit. The Assembly has also urged with some success those Representatives who joined the Turkish and Azeri Caucuses to withdraw.
In Florida, Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) sit on the Armenian Caucus. Ros-Lehtinen, who will retire in 2018, is also on the Turkish Caucus, as are Reps. Dennis Ross (R-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and Ted Yolo (R-FL). Hastings is the only Florida Representative on the Azerbaijan Caucus.
“The latest news regarding secret payments to Michael Flynn to carry out Turkey’s bidding are just the tip of the iceberg,” stated Assembly Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian. “Illegal Turkish and Azerbaijani money has been flowing into D.C. and we have an obligation to immediately stop these corrupting practices. Beyond thorough investigations and indictments, exposure through public hearings and legislative reform to increase reporting and penalties are necessary to stop officials who can be bought by the Erdogans and Aliyevs of the world from hijacking the American government,” they added. “Members ought not to associate themselves with such corrupt and authoritarian regimes. Given Turkey’s treatment of Christians, dangerously rogue behavior, denial of the Armenian Genocide and support for Azerbaijan’s ISIS-style beheadings and other attacks, it is well past time for Members of Congress to withdraw their membership from the Turkish and Azeri Congressional Caucuses.”
Senate Confirms Next U.S. Ambassador to Turkey; Vote on Nominees to Yerevan, Baku Expected in December
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Managing Editor
This week, the House and Senate considered measures concerning the Armenian American community. Congress was expected to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to avoid a government shutdown on September 30th, when current funding is set to expire. However, after President Obama’s primetime address on September 10th calling for the arming of Syrian rebels, the House voted on a measure to do just that and attached it as an amendment to the CR, setting up a complex and very interesting pattern of voting.
In what Roll Call described as a vote “fractured along untraditional [party] lines,” the House approved the CR 319-108, and 273-156 on the amendment to arm Syrian rebels. 143 Democrats joined 176 Republicans in support of the CR, while 55 Democrats and 53 Republicans opposed. On the Syria amendment, 159 Republicans were joined by 114 Democrats in support of the measure, while 85 Republicans and 71 Democrats opposed.
According to several interviews with Armenian American community leaders across the United States, an overwhelming majority support US airstrikes against ISIL. However, they do not support President Obama’s call to train and arm Syrian rebel factions, especially in the wake of the Turkish-backed rebel assault on the Christian Armenian town of Kessab, Syria earlier this year.
An analysis by FLArmenians.com reveals that House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Congressmen Alan Grayson (D-FL), and David Jolly (R-FL) voted against arming Syrian rebels, yet supported the CR.
Republican Congressmen Ted Yoho (R-FL), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Richard Nugent (R-FL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), and Curt Clawson (R-FL) voted against both the amendment arming Syrian rebels and the CR. Interestingly, Democratic Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL), opposed President Obama on both the Syrian amendment and the CR.
Everyone else stood with President Obama in supporting the amendment to arm Syrian rebels and for the CR.
While it is clear that Armenian Americans support the President’s vow to “destroy and ultimately defeat ISIL,” they are wary of training and arming Islamic rebel factions with known ties to al-Qaeda and that have a record of attacking Christians just like ISIL.
Florida Armenians have an important role to play in this debate. Many Armenian American families in Florida emigrated from Syria, mostly descendants of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Some still have relatives there. They are uniquely familiar with the regional dynamics and can provide critical insight into what groups truly protect and respect religious minorities, be they Christian Armenian, Assyrian, or Yezidi.
Ambassador Nominees to Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 98-0 to confirm John R. Bass as the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mark Kirk (R-FL), and Ed Markey (D-MA) submitted to the nominee questions on the Armenian Genocide and Turkey’s blockade of Armenia. “We commend Chairman Menendez, and Senators Barbara Boxer, Mark Kirk and Ed Markey for their stance on issues concerning Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia, and other critical issues affecting the region,” stated Armenian Assembly of America Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “Following in the footsteps of Henry Morgenthau, the U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who in 1915 alerted the world to the Armenian Genocide, it is important that our Foreign Service officers execute a foreign policy that appropriately reflects America’s values,” he said.
Both Florida Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) supported Bass’ nomination without question.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony from President Obama’s nominees to be the next U.S. ambassador to Armenia and Azerbaijan, Richard M. Mills and Robert F. Cekuta, respectively. Both are expected to be confirmed by the full Senate sometime during the lame-duck session, which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, November 12th.