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Turkey Spends $2.6 Million to Hire Two New Lobbying and PR Firms

By Harut Sassounian
FLArmenians Guest Contributor

Last week, I wrote about a dozen public relations and lobbying firms the Turkish government had already hired. In recent weeks, the Republic of Turkey added two new such firms: Ballard Partners and Burson-Marsteller.

Turkish officials don’t seem to realize that having more than a dozen lobbying firms not only is a waste of money due to unnecessary duplication—it is also a waste of the valuable time of several Turkish Embassy officials in Washington, D.C. These officials have to spend a lot of their time giving detailed instructions to these firms, reading their reports, commenting on them, meeting with them, forwarding their reports to the Foreign Ministry with lengthy explanations, and taking corrective action based on Ankara’s reaction. Unless such an intense and elaborate effort is made in working with so many lobbying firms, Turkish officials are simply wasting their country’s money!

I am happy that the Turkish government has decided to waste more of its money by agreeing to pay Brian Ballard’s firm, Ballard Partners, $1.5 million from May 15 to May 14, 2018. According to Ballard’s registration with the Justice Department, the firm will provide the Turkish government “with advocacy services relative to U.S.-Turkey bilateral relations.” The lobbying activities include “advising, counseling, and assisting [Turkey] in communications with US Government officials. Maintaining U.S. relations with this important NATO partner.”

Brian Ballard is the longtime lobbyist for President Donald Trump as the representative of the Trump Organization in Tallahassee. He raised $16 million for Trump’s presidential campaign while serving as his state finance chairperson and later as vice chairperson of the President’s inaugural committee.

Ballard issued a statement asserting that he “still speaks to Trump on occasion.” Susie Wiles, who was introduced by Ballard to Trump during the campaign, served as Trump’s Florida campaign manager. She is now working for Ballard Partners.

Ballard also hired former Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) to be in charge of the Turkish lobbying account. As co-chair of the Congressional Turkey Caucus, Congressman Wexler actively lobbied and voted against a proposed House Armenian Genocide resolution on Oct. 10, 2007. His new job is his reward for staunchly supporting Turkey in Congress for years!

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Ballard’s first interaction with Trump occurred several years ago when he wrote a letter to Trump after reading his book, ‘Trump: The Art of the Deal,’ and Trump answered. Ballard wrote back stating: “if you ever have any issues in Florida, please don’t hesitate to call.” Trump called him after purchasing Mar-a-Largo in 1985, and paid Ballard at least $460,000 from 2013 to 2015 for lobbying work. Trump personally called Ballard asking for his help when he launched his presidential campaign. Ballard is now organizing a fundraising banquet for Trump on June 28. The cost is $35,000 per person and $100,000 to join the host committee.

Ballard makes no secret of his special connections with President Trump. “I would imagine if Hillary Clinton were elected I wouldn’t be here,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. Ballard said, “He doesn’t discuss how he works or his contacts with the president. He’s been spotted at the White House, however, and Trump maintains phone relationships with allies.”

In addition, the Turkish Embassy in Washington signed a contract with Burson-Marsteller for $1.1 million for the period May 1-Dec. 31. Ironically, from 2012 to 2015, Burson-Marsteller was doing lobbying work for the Alliance for Shared Values, a group tied to exiled Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Erdogan opposes and seeks his extradition from the U.S. to Turkey. The Turkish government reportedly threatened Burson-Marsteller’s operations in Turkey if the firm continued to lobby for Gulen.

Burson-Marsteller is supposed to provide “integrated public relations services to support the [Turkish] Embassy’s communications objectives in the United States. Activities include media outreach, monitoring and analysis; event support; stakeholder engagement; social media counsel; and support for Turkish consulates in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York.”

It is noteworthy that despite the millions of dollars spent by Turkey on more than a dozen high-powered lobbying and public relations firms, they could not counter the large number of news articles and wide TV coverage critical of the Turkish government for the attack on peaceful protesters by President Erdogan’s bodyguards in front of the Turkish Ambassador’s residence in D.C., on May 16. This fact reinforces my firm belief that Turkey is wasting millions of dollars annually trying to cleanse its image in the U.S., which is further tarnished by the Turkish government’s brutal policies both at home and abroad.

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Samantha Power to Armenians: “I am very sorry”

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Editor

Yesterday, Samantha Power became the first Obama administration official to apologize to Armenian Americans for not recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

“I am very sorry that, during our time in office, we in the Obama administration did not recognize the #Armenian Genocide,” Power posted on Twitter.

In a series a tweets on April 24th, Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, Power also discussed “Turkish denial” and expressed empathy for the “slaughter that wd kill 1.5 m.”

Samantha Power served on President Obama’s National Security Council from 2009-2013, and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013-2017.

She is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which focused on the U.S. response to 20th century genocides, including Armenia in 1915.

While the emphatic expression may be welcome to some, many Armenian Americans share the feeling of betrayal by Power, and President Obama, given the multiple statements and meetings they held with community members during the 2008 campaign.

“This is more insulting 2 our ppl than 8yrs of ignoring our requests.U sacrificed ur own conscience on the altar of geopolitical correctness,” FLArmenians Editor Arsine Kaloustian replied on Twitter.

The Obama administration’s moral laryngitis on the Armenian Genocide was compounded in 2015, the centennial anniversary, when Power and Vice President Joe Biden attended the international commemoration at the Washington National Cathedral.

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 07: President of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power attend the Armenian Genocide Centennial (NCAGC) Ecumenical Service at Washington National Cathedral on May 7, 2015 in Washington DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for NCAGC)

Power’s re-acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide came moments after President Trump’s first statement on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day was released yesterday morning.

President Trump’s statement on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day echoed President Obama’s use of the phrase “Meds Yeghern,” and invoked language similar to President George W. Bush.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about President Trump’s omission of the word genocide during the daily press briefing. “The statement that was put out is consistent with the statements that have been put out for at least several of the past administrations,” Spicer said.

President Trump Statement on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Editor

Today, President Donald J. Trump released his administration’s first statement on Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which is commemorated every April 24th by Armenians around the world. Using language invoked by presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush before him, President Trump did not use the term genocide to refer to the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish government during World War I.

“Today, we remember and honor the memory of those who suffered during the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.  Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire,” the White House statement reads.

[Click here for a complete list of U.S. Presidential Statements on the Armenian Genocide]

“At a time when Christians and minority communities continue to be in imminent danger and under constant attack, the President’s statement fails to stand up for human rights and is inconsistent with American values, and represents the same kind of capitulation to Turkish authoritarianism which will cost more lives,” stated Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian, co-chairs of the Armenian Assembly of America.

Earlier this month, 84 Members of Congress sent a letter to President Trump urging him to reaffirm the U.S. record on the Armenian Genocide. “By commemorating the Armenian Genocide, we renew our commitment to prevent future atrocities,” the letter reads. Florida Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) were among the signatories.

“Asked why Trump decided not to use the term, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the statement is “consistent with statements that have been put out for at least several of the last administrations,”” The Hill reported.

Trumped employed the Armenian phrase “Meds Yeghern” to describe the genocide, essentially using the Armenian equivalent of the English phrase. However, unlike, Presidents Obama and George W., Trump did not make a campaign pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide as President.

Ronald Reagan was the last U.S. President to recognize the Armenian Genocide back in 1981.

Below is the full statement released by the White House:

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Statement by President Donald J. Trump on Armenian Remembrance Day 2017

Today, we remember and honor the memory of those who suffered during the Meds Yeghern, one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century.  Beginning in 1915, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in the final years of the Ottoman Empire.  I join the Armenian community in America and around the world in mourning the loss of innocent lives and the suffering endured by so many.

As we reflect on this dark chapter of human history, we also recognize the resilience of the Armenian people.  Many built new lives in the United States and made indelible contributions to our country, while cherishing memories of the historic homeland in which their ancestors established one of the great civilizations of antiquity.

We must remember atrocities to prevent them from occurring again.  We welcome the efforts of Turks and Armenians to acknowledge and reckon with painful history, which is a critical step toward building a foundation for a more just and tolerant future.