U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that he will be traveling to Russia and all three Caucasus nations this month for talks with senior officials.
In a tweet on October 11, Bolton said he would depart on October 20 for Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
Bolton’s visit to the Caucasus comes on the heels of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s meeting with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent in Yerevan on October 15. During that meeting, Pashinyan reiterated that “Armenia is moving forward on [a] path to democracy, which is an inner belief and value for our society,” according to a tweet from the Armenian government. The “Fight against corruption, reforms in different spheres & #NKconflict” were also discussed.
While in Russia, Bolton will meet with senior Russian leaders, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
The scheduled Bolton visit to Russia comes at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria as well as alleged Kremlin interference in U.S. elections.
In August, Bolton told Patrushev that the United States “wouldn’t tolerate meddling” in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. Bolton also said U.S. sanctions against Russia would remain in place until Moscow changes its behavior.
Therefore, it was no surprise that on October 19, the day before Bolton was scheduled to depart on his trip, the Justice Department brought its first criminal case over alleged Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections.
According to POLITICO, “Elena Khusyaynova, 44, a St. Petersburg, Russia-based accountant, was charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to defraud the United States for taking part in a scheme to spend in excess of $10 million since the beginning of the year on targeted social media ads and web postings intended ‘to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system.’”
In a tweet on October 12, Georgian Foreign Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said the upcoming visit of Bolton to Georgia would “further strengthen the deep friendship and strategic partnership between” the United States and Georgia.
It is interesting to observers that in September President Trump announced his nomination of a new U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Lynne Tracy, as current U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills wraps up his three year tour. Meanwhile, there has been no U.S. ambassador in Azerbaijan, or Turkey, since Trump took office two years ago. The fact that there is no gap in the high-level U.S. presence in Armenia, and that President Trump only last month nominated a representative to the the one of the two hostile muslim countries, indicates the strengthening U.S.-Armenia partnership, and symbolizes the decreased importance of Turkey and Azerbaijan as they continue to engage in activities that run counter to U.S. interests in the region.
By Red Broward
A proposed Broward charter school with ties to Fethullah Gulen, the mysterious Islamic cleric, hired Broward Democrat Chairman Mitchell Ceasar as its lobbyist before the Broward County School Board. Known as “Gulen Schools,” followers of Gulen have built thousands of charter schools all over the world. Last May, CBS News 60 Minutes television program documented the growing Gulen school movement in the United States. 60 Minutes said Gulen, living in seclusion in the Poconos mountains, appears only via video webcasts. Gulen, a Turkish citizen, was accused of treason by calling for an Islamic coup of the Turkish government. The report mentioned classified emails released by Wikileaks which disclosed some in the Turkish government see Gulen as a “political leader such as Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.”
The 60 Minutes report covered accusations that Gulen schools abuse U.S. immigration laws by bringing in thousands of Turkish citizens to teach math and science at the charter schools. An official with a Texas charter school group called the claim “not sure” saying Turkish citizens are brought over because of a lack of “qualified” American teachers. But 60 Minutes found that visa applications for Gulen teachers listed them as “English teachers.” Oops! Some American teachers claim Gulen teachers are forced to give a portion of their salaries back to the Gulen movement.
Paging the Broward Teachers Union!
Dating back to 2007, Gulen followers, under the name of Riverside Science Inc., have been trying to open a charter school in Broward County. Their first try, Riverside Science Academy, failed after school officials were unable to secure a lease. Just before the start of the 2012-13 school year, the group’s second try, “Broward Math And Science School,” was denied the right to open a Margate campus. CBS 4 News reported, “The district said each school failed to submit documentation of certain provisions they had to meet before the July 20th deadline. The schools in question were given several reminders of the deadline and notified that ‘Failure to provide the required documents within the specific timeframe terminated the charter agreement.’”
So like any other business seeking government influence, Riverside Science Inc. decided they needed a lobbyist. According to Broward Schools lobbyist records, the group hired Mitchell Ceasar in December 2012.
Caesar, a Plantation attorney, is also the chairman of the Broward Democrat Executive Committee.
Sure, local Republicans and Tea Party groups will be quick to blast Caesar for helping the controversial Gulen followers. However, even liberals may find fault with the Gulen schools.
The New York Times reported on State of Georgia audits which found Gulen charter schools funneled money and contracts to other Gulen followers. “The audit, released Tuesday by the Fulton County Schools near Atlanta, found the schools made purchases like T-shirts, teacher training and video production services from organizations with connections to school officials or Gulen followers. Those included more than $500,000 in contracts since January 2010 with the Grace Institute, a foundation whose board has included school leaders. In some cases the awards skirted bidding requirements, the audit said.”
Why is Mitch Caesar so eager to help followers of a shadowy Muslim cleric funnel taxpayer dollars to Turkey and who knows where? Broward school dollars should be spent in Broward, not in the Poconos mountains or Turkey.
This story originally appeared on The Daily Broward and is reprinted with the permission of the author.
Petition Launched on White House Website Calling on Government of Turkey to Open Border with Armenia for Syrian Refugees
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
Over the course of the last week, an Internet petition launched on the White House website has stirred emotions and reignited the debate surrounding Turkey’s nearly 20-year blockade of Armenia. In September 2011, the Obama administration launched “We the People” an online platform whereby American citizens can petition their government, a right enshrined in the First Amendment of US Constitution. According to the terms, a petition must reach 25,000 signatures within 30 days of its launch in order for it to receive a response from the administration. On January 15, the White House raised the signature threshold to 100,000 signatures. However, the new requirement applies only to new petitions and does not affect this petition.
The petition says that “There are 200,000 ethnic Armenians living in Syria and most of them want to escape to Armenia where they can feel safe, comfortable, find a job, a place to live and go to schools” and that the “road from Syria to Armenia goes through Turkey which closed its border with Armenia in 1993.” It concludes, “There shouldn’t be closed borders in the 21-st century.”
The petition was launched on January 5 and, as of this writing, has garnered over 500 signatures, five of which hail from Florida. The petition was initiated by Heritage Party activist Daniel Ioannisian in Armenia, ArmeniaNow first reported. There is no stipulation that the petition organizer be a US citizen, according to the Terms of Participation of the “We the People” platform.
According to the ArmeniaNow report, Petros Gasparian, who fled to Armenia amid intense fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo, welcomes the initiative. He says that many want to drive to Armenia, but avoid the long travel through Georgia, which is also complicated by the need to get an extra visa and other difficulties.
“The road is very long and unfamiliar, while it’s only half a day’s drive from Aleppo to Yerevan [it takes about 35 hours to reach Armenia from Aleppo by way of Georgia]. That would be easy to all of us, but I’m not sure Turkey would display such an attitude,” Gasparian told ArmeniaNow.
Syria’s largest city, Aleppo is home to 80,000 ethnic Armenians, most descendants of survivors of the 1915 Turkish genocide of Christian Armenians. Today, thousands of Armenians have fled Syria, many seeking refuge in Armenia. According to immigration officials in Yerevan over 6,000 Syrian-Armenians have applied for citizenship in Armenia.
As Turkey’s failed policy to blockade Christian Armenia enters its second decade, the remnants of the Soviet Union continue to linger in the South Caucasus as the last iron curtain hangs over this remote but volatile region. Support for Armenian-Turkish rapprochement reached an all time high in 2009 when Armenia and Turkey signed Protocols to establish diplomatic relations. However, the accords stalled in the Turkish parliament and still await ratification.
Others hope, however, that modern-day Turkey can play a leadership role in the region and in the Syrian conflict in particular. Perhaps in all of the turmoil in the Middle East the Turkish government can display such leadership and open the border with Armenia, at least for refugees. Although a relatively small step in this context, it has the potential to move the ball forward in a larger one: Armenian-Turkish relations. When US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Armenia in July 2010, she was asked about the state of Armenian-Turkish relations and the next step in the process. She replied, “The ball is in the other [Turkey’s] court.”
Taniel Koushakjian is an independent political commentator for Florida Armenians. He received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, and is currently enrolled at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @Taniel_Shant.
*This story was updated on January 16, 2013.