By Harut Sassounian
While it was widely publicized that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, very little was reported about similar meddling by Turkey.
The U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) released on March 15, 2021 a declassified report which confirmed Turkish hackers’ cyber-attack in the 2020 election on Joe Biden’s campaign website, to support President Donald Trump.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone, given the warm personal relationship between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Trump. Erdogan made weekly phone calls to the White House securing President Trump’s agreement on many pro-Turkish issues. Erdogan was certain that Biden would not be as accommodating as Trump.
Abdullah Bozkurt, a dissident Turkish investigative journalist living in Stockholm, Sweden, confirmed the Turkish hacking scheme by publishing the details in the Nordic Monitor on March 25, 2021.
The NIC disclosed that the Turkish group RootAyyıldız hacked the Biden-Harris presidential campaign website in October and November 2020. “Hackers promoting Turkish nationalist themes breached and defaced a website previously established for a candidate in the U.S. presidential campaign, according to US cybersecurity press,” the NIC reported.
“The Turkish hackers posted a nationalist and Islamist message that by and large repeated the narrative often promoted by ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) officials in Turkey, led by President Erdogan,” Bozkurt wrote.
The Hackers placed on the Biden-Harris website the photos of President Erdogan and Sultan Abdulhamid II, named Red Sultan because of the massacres of 300,000 Armenians from 1894 to 1896.
“The hackers identified themselves as ‘Turkish Muslim Defacer’ and emphasized that they follow the Turkish president, described as ‘Reis’ (Chief) in the posted message, and are on the path of a Turkish Islamist jihadist campaign to dominate the world. The opposition political parties were alleged to have been supported by the US, and the hackers warned of further consequences if the U.S. did not leave Turkey alone,” reported Bozkurt.
Here is the translation of the Turkish hackers’ message left on the Biden-Harris website:
“We made the ablution [used here as a means to clean oneself to get ready to be a martyr in jihad] before and set out on a journey, we said our own funeral prayer, we sharpened our blade for our brother. We made our pledge to the Great Sultan [late Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, an authoritarian ruler revered by Islamist circles in Turkey]. We will kill for Reis [Chief — President Erdogan] anybody who sets their eyes on our [Turkish-Islamic] cause.
“Damn those who live for money and fame, greetings to those who live for the Islamic cause. From here, I warn the U.S.-backed, so-called [opposition] political parties like the CHP [main opposition Republican People’s Party], HDP [pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party] and the Iyi [conservative/nationalist Good] Party.
“We’ll be your nightmare if you don’t take your hands off my [Turkish] state, my nation. We will make you afraid of walking in the street [in shame] by revealing your most private conversations.
“RootAyyıldız is not a group or organization but a patriot who fights alone. We hail anybody who fights for Turk and Islam. May Allah be our help. We do not use social media. Don’t be fooled by fake accounts.”
The hackers wrote under the photo of Erdogan and Abdulhamid II: “We are the ones who stopped the tanks with our bare hands on the night of July 15 [2016 failed coup]. We are those who killed death that night. We have been waiting for Archers’ Hill for 15 centuries [a reference to a scene in the Battle of Uhud fought by the Muslim Prophet Muhammad]! We are the keepers of that red [Turkish] flag that will never abandon its shadow on us.” Archers’ Hill is frequently mentioned by Erdogan in his campaign rallies.
Bozkurt added: “RootAyyıldız is believed to have connections to elements of the Turkish government, specifically with intelligence agency MIT and the police department. Its attacks on foreign governments, entities and individuals have coincided with the growing noise among Turkish officials who leveled harsh criticism and threats against such foreign governments, entities and individuals.”
Bozkurt ended his article revealing that the Turkish hackers group RootAyyıldız “also targeted the Greek government and institutions during the heightened tension between the two countries in August 2020. The official website of the Bihar Education Department in India was hacked in August 2019 by RootAyyıldız, which posted messages in praise of Pakistan and Islam. In October 2020, the group hacked the Armenian Football Federation’s website during the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and posted messages in support of Azerbaijan.”
In a separate article by the Reuters news agency, titled: “Hackers acting in Turkey’s interests believed to be behind recent cyberattacks,” Turkish hackers attacked at least 30 organizations, including Albanian, Cypriot and Greek government email services, the website of the national security advisor of Iraq, embassies and security services as well as companies and other groups.
“The attacks involve intercepting internet traffic to victim websites, potentially enabling hackers to obtain illicit access to the networks of government bodies and other organizations,” Reuters wrote.
“According to two British officials and one U.S. official, the activity bears the hallmarks of a state-backed cyber espionage operation conducted to advance Turkish interests,” Reuters wrote.
These hacking efforts by the Turkish government-linked group are yet another example of the violation of international laws and conventions by Turkey.
By Harut Sassounian
After the United States avoided the issue for 40 years, ever since President Ronald Reagan mentioned the Armenian Genocide in a Presidential Proclamation, President Joe Biden used the term Armenian Genocide on Saturday, despite the gag rule imposed on the U.S. government by the denialist rulers of the Republic of Turkey. For good measure, President Biden used the word genocide not once, but twice, in his “Statement on Armenian Remembrance Day.”
As a presidential candidate, Biden promised to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. But, since Armenian-Americans were deceived so many times by previous presidents who had not kept their campaign promises, they were cautiously optimistic about Biden’s commitment.
Even though the United States had repeatedly recognized the Armenian Genocide beginning in 1951 when the U.S. government submitted an official document to the World Court; the U.S. House of Representatives adopted three resolutions in 1975, 1984 and 2019; the U.S. Senate unanimously adopted a resolution in 2019; and President Reagan issued a Presidential Proclamation on April 22, 1981, President Biden’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide in 2021 is a major step forward with several positive consequences:
- Because the mass murder of 1.5 million people is an emotional issue, descendants of Armenian Genocide victims felt a deep sense of satisfaction that the genocide suffered by their ancestors is formally and correctly acknowledged by the President of the United States.
- This most recent and authoritative acknowledgement by the U.S. President will enable courts to go forward with lawsuits making claims by Armenians on genocide era-demands from the government of Turkey. In the past, such lawsuits were dismissed by federal judges who claimed (wrongly) that since the U.S. government had not acknowledged the Armenian Genocide, individual states like California could not pass laws allowing these lawsuits to proceed. Nevertheless, if the courts decide that President Biden’s statement on the Armenian Genocide is not sufficient to allow the filing of such lawsuits, then Armenian-Americans would be obliged to push for the adoption of a proposed law, not a commemorative resolution, which needs to be adopted by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President into law. That should be the final word on fulfilling the legal requirements for filing lawsuits against Turkey.
- As a global superpower, pronouncements by the U.S. President have a major effect on other countries – particularly Great Britain, Australia and Israel. Therefore, it is expected that several countries would follow suit in recognizing the Armenian Genocide.
- President Biden’s acknowledgment of the Armenian Genocide comes at a particularly sensitive time for Armenians worldwide following the disastrous defeat in last fall’s Artsakh War at the hands of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Islamic jihadist mercenaries. President Biden’s April 24 statement will boost the spirits of Armenians and could create an atmosphere of goodwill by world powers toward the just resolution of Artsakh’s status and the protection of its population.
- The struggle for genocide recognition is also a political battle between the country that perpetrated the mass crime and the descendants of the victims. The government of Turkey, as in past years, did everything in its power to prevent the U.S. from acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. Turkey paid millions of dollars to American lobbying organizations to deny the Genocide, pressured and threatened the United States with dire consequences should it acknowledge the Genocide. Nevertheless, Turkey suffered a devastating political blow. Turkey’s arrogant president, thinking that no country can go against his wishes, was sternly put in his place by the President of the United States. I am sure President Erdogan endured a sleepless night after President Biden called him on April 23, advising him of his decision to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Hopefully, the humiliated Erdogan understood that the world does not rotate around Turkey.
Let us now see what the Turkish government may do in retaliation. Will it temporarily recall its Ambassador from Washington, threaten to cut off commercial ties or block the U.S. government from using the Incirlik airbase in Turkey? I hope Erdogan will take all of these steps and many more. With such actions, Turkey will exacerbate U.S.-Turkish relations, provide worldwide publicity to the Armenian Genocide and drive its failing economy into bankruptcy. This could lead to internal turmoil and the eventual removal of Erdogan from the presidency during the next election, if not sooner. Interestingly, in a lengthy televised speech to the Turkish nation late at night on April 26, besides his usual lies about the Armenian Genocide, Erdogan dared not announce any actions against the US in retaliation to Biden’s April 24 statement. Thus, Erdogan displayed his utter humiliation and impotence.
As usual, not having been able to bully the U.S. into abandoning its plans to recognize the Genocide, Turkish leaders are now resorting to their usual tricks by stating that the US recognition does not mean anything. If it meant nothing, why did Turkey spend millions of dollars on lobbyists for several decades and pressure the U.S. government, threatening dire consequences?
Rather than continuing the lies and denials for over a century, it would be much better for Turkey to simply acknowledge the crimes of its predecessors, ask for forgiveness and make amends for the horrendous damages caused to the Armenian people. Turkey would do well to follow the example of Germany after the Holocaust. Germany apologized for Hitler’s mass crimes, erected memorials for the Holocaust victims and paid billions of dollars in reparations. That’s what civilized nations do when their leaders commit a grave crime.
In the meantime, Armenians around the world should pursue their demands through legal channels by filing multiple lawsuits against Turkey in various country courts and the European Court of Human Rights, seeking restitution for the damages caused by the Genocide. The government of Armenia, on the other hand, should take Turkey to the International Court of Justice (World Court), where only governments have the standing to file lawsuits.
Finally, this is the appropriate moment to remember and acknowledge a great friend of Armenians, former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Marshall Evans, whose diplomatic career was cut short in 2006 after he told the truth about the Armenian Genocide during a visit to California. It would be only proper for the Biden administration to appoint Evans as the next US Ambassador to Armenia. This is the least the US government could do, after the President issues an official apology to him.
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, California. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Florida Media Outlets Report on Local Armenian American Community’s Response to Biden’s Genocide Declaration
BOCA RATON, FL – As all eyes were on the White House last month, the Armenian American community was hyper mobilized in pressing the White House to fulfill President Biden’s pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide as President on April 24.
With all signs pointing in the right direction and anticipation of the President’s genocide declaration building by the day, two Florida media outlets covered the local Armenian American community’s response.
“Florida Armenians here and across the state welcomed President Joe BIden’s recognition of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day April 24” The Boca Voice posted on their Facebook page.
Later in the day, a headline from the Tampa Bay Times read “Biden’s recognition of genocide brings Florida’s Armenians relief.” Tampa Bay Times‘ breaking news reporter Josh Fiallo’s heartfelt reporting was the first major Florida newspaper to cover the President’s historic statement.
On Sunday, April 25, the Times devoted another story to the local Armenian American community on the west coast of Florida. Reporting “Genocide victims remembered on Red Sunday at Pinellas Armenian Church,” Times reporter Anastasia Dawson went to St. Hagop Armenian Church in Pinellas Park and spoke with Rev. Fr. Hovnan Demerjian and several parishioners.
“Demerjian, pastor at St. Hagop’s, called Biden’s statement ‘the healing of a wound’ that was a ‘long time in the making,'” he told the Tampa Bay Times. =
While no other newspaper or media outlet in Florida covered President Biden’s acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide (reprinting the AP doesn’t count), Armenian Americans in Florida should be pleased to know that the Tampa Bay Times, that state’s largest newspaper, gave them ample coverage and connected with St. Hagop’s parishioners, and that our local reporters and outlets like the The Boca Voice truly listen to their community members and amplify their stories.