Bipartisan Letter Cites Portland Trail Blazer Enes Kanter Among the Critics Erdogan has Tried to Silence
WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) urged the Biden Administration to press the Turkish government to improve its human rights record, which includes an increasingly authoritarian crackdown on dissent both domestically and abroad.
The bipartisan letter signed by more than 50 other senators cited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for marginalizing domestic opposition, silencing or coopting critical media outlets, purging independent judges and replacing them with party loyalists, and jailing scores of journalists.
“President Erdogan’s foreign policy has also grown more belligerent and combative over time. In recent years, he brazenly attacked U.S.-backed Kurds fighting ISIS in Syria, he purchased Russian air defense systems despite warnings that they were incompatible with U.S. technology, and he encouraged Azerbaijan to use violence to settle a territorial dispute with Armenia,” the senators wrote.
“President Erdogan has also attempted to pressure the U.S. and other countries into extraditing Turkish nationals, whom he blames for the failed coup in 2016. The Erdogan government has sought to silence critics in the United States like Enes Kanter, an NBA player and human rights advocate, by going after his family in Turkey and placing an INTERPOL red notice on him.”
The senators note that the United States has a significant opportunity to influence Turkey’s troubling human rights record because it’s an important ally in a key region of the world.
“We believe that the United States must hold allies and partners to a higher standard and speak frankly with them about issues of human rights and democratic backsliding,” the senators continued. “We urge you to emphasize to President Erdogan and his administration that they should immediately end their crackdown on dissent at home and abroad, release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and reverse their authoritarian course.”
In addition to Rubio and Wyden, the letter was also signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), John Thune (R-SD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), John Boozman (R-AR), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Patty Murray (D-WA), James Lankford (R-OK), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mike Braun (R-IN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Todd Young (R-IN), Mark Warner (D-VA), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), John Kennedy (R-LA), Robert Casey (D-PA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jon Tester (D-MT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
The full text of the letter is available here.
Community-Backed Bipartisan Resolution Affirms that the United States Rejects Efforts to Associate the U.S. Government with Armenian Genocide Denial
WASHINGTON, DC — Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) are calling on their House colleagues to join them in introducing an Armenian Genocide recognition resolution, bipartisan legislation aimed at establishing, as a matter of U.S. policy, 1) the rejection of Armenian Genocide denial, 2) ongoing official U.S. government recognition and remembrance of this crime, and 3) the importance of Armenian Genocide education in preventing modern-day atrocities.
The resolution’s authors are currently collecting original cosponsors for the legislation and are expected to introduce the bill in April.
“Genocide must not be denied. It must be acknowledged for what it is—a scourge on humanity,” Congressman Bilirakis told FLARMENIANS.com. “Official recognition of the Armenian Genocide would represent a courageous new chapter in American foreign policy. With the bold leadership of the current Administration, it is time for the United States to take a stand against Turkish genocide denial,” stated Bilirakis.
In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to U.S. Representatives by Congressmen Schiff and Bilirakis, they asked their House colleagues to “join us as a cosponsor of a resolution affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide, which recognizes and memorializes the historical fact of the Ottoman Empire’s genocidal campaign against the Armenian people, as well as the Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and other religious minorities, from 1915 to 1923.” The letter acknowledges the life-saving U.S. humanitarian efforts during the Armenian Genocide, reminding colleagues that “Congress passed first of its kind legislation to establish the Near East Relief effort which provided millions of dollars in food and aid to survivors, including tens of thousands of orphans.”
Congressmen Bilirakis and Schiff took on Ankara’s anticipated opposition to an honest U.S. remembrance of the Armenian Genocide head-on, writing: “Let us be direct. Genocide recognition is opposed by a single entity: The government of Turkey. For decades, Turkey has deployed threats and an intense campaign of lobbying to intimidate the Congress from recognizing the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire.” They went on to argue that: “Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide is also a source of continued regional tension, undermining the foundations of a durable peace that would be in the best interests of the United States and our national security. Official recognition of the Armenian Genocide can help open a new chapter in United States foreign policy. It is time for the United States to take a stand for the truth, and against genocide denial.”
As in year’s past, the resolution will be assigned to the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), now Chaired by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), a member of the Armenian Caucus. It is not yet clear if Chairman Engel will bring up the measure for a vote this Congress. The last time an Armenian Genocide recognition resolution passed the HFAC committee was in 2010.
The new Armenian Genocide Resolution notes that the U.S. has, as early as 1951, officially recognized the Armenian Genocide through a filing with the International Court of Justice, followed by House legislation adopted in 1975, and 1984 and President Ronald Reagan’s Proclamation in 1984.
The resolution resolves that it is the policy of the United States to:
- Commemorate the Armenian Genocide through official recognition and remembrance;
- Reject efforts to enlist, engage, or otherwise associate the U.S. Government with denial of the Armenian Genocide or any other genocide; and
- Encourage education and public understanding of the facts of the Armenian Genocide, including the U.S. role in the humanitarian relief effort, and the relevance of the Armenian Genocide to modern-day crimes against humanity.
Text of the Schiff-Bilirakis “Dear Colleague” regarding the Armenian Genocide Resolution
We ask that you join us as a cosponsor of a resolution affirming the United States record on the Armenian Genocide, which recognizes and memorializes the historical fact of the Ottoman Empire’s genocidal campaign against the Armenian people, as well as the Greeks, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, and other religious minorities, from 1915 to 1923. Millions of men, women, and children were killed, shot, beaten, starved, and raped as they were marched through deserts and over mountains. When the killing finally ended, 1.5 million Armenians had been killed and millions more had been displaced from the land of their birth.
There is no debate among historians that the Ottoman Empire committed atrocities against the Armenians, or that it meets the definition of a “genocide.” Indeed, the facts of the genocide were recorded contemporaneously by American diplomats, including the Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau, who transmitted a flood of cables and reports describing the wholesale slaughter of the Armenians. It was partially the study of the experience of the Armenians which inspired Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew whose family was killed in the Holocaust, to coin the word “genocide” to describe the crime of destroying an entire people and culture.
The campaign to destroy the Armenian people failed, in part thanks to the humanitarian assistance provided by the American people. Hearing reports of the wholesale killing and displacement of Armenians and other minorities in the Ottoman Empire, Americans responded with generosity and support. Congress passed first of its kind legislation to establish the Near East Relief effort which provided millions of dollars in food and aid to survivors, including tens of thousands of orphans.
For over 100 years, genocide survivors and their descendants have sought truth and justice. They have fought to have this horrific chapter in their history recognized by the international community and, for the sizeable Armenian-American diaspora, by their own government. Forty-eight U.S. states have recognized the Armenian Genocide, as have 28 foreign nations including some of our closest allies. Although the United States has made direct reference to the genocide in the past, including by proclamation of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and through the passage of House Resolutions in 1975 and 1984, Congressional acceptance of the fact of the genocide is long overdue.
Let us be direct. Genocide recognition is opposed by a single entity: The government of Turkey. For decades, Turkey has deployed threats and an intense campaign of lobbying to intimidate the Congress from recognizing the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire.
Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide is also a source of continued regional tension, undermining the foundations of a durable peace that would be in the best interests of the United States and our national security. Official recognition of the Armenian Genocide can help open a new chapter in United States foreign policy. It is time for the United States to take a stand for the truth, and against genocide denial.
The United States should never be complicit in genocide denial, what Elie Wiesel described as the final stage of genocide and a “double killing.” As we confront continuing mass atrocities around the world, including the genocide of religious minorities carried out by ISIS in Syria and Iraq or the extermination of the Rohingya in Burma, Congress’s silence about the Armenian Genocide of a century ago undermines our moral standing. It must end.
To join us as an original cosponsor of the Armenian Genocide resolution, please contact Caroline Nicholas in Rep. Schiff’s office or Shayne Woods in Rep. Bilirakis’s office.
Adam B. Schiff
Member of Congress
Gus M. Bilirakis
Member of Congress
By Harut Sassounian
Last year, I wrote an article reporting that the Silk Way Airlines of Azerbaijan made 350 secret flights to transport hundreds of tons of weapons from Bulgaria to ISIS terrorists in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries between 2014 and 2017. We now have a new surprising revelation that Silk Way received $419.5 million of loans from the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM) to buy three 747-8 cargo planes from Boeing to continue its sinister operations.
The disclosure was made by a reporter for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. government in 2016. It is noteworthy that Silk Way, “owned by a company with past ties to Azerbaijan’s Aliyev family, won some lucrative contracts from the U.S. military,” according to FOIA documents. In fact, “Silk Way was given contracts worth more than $400 million with the U.S. Defense Department’s Transportation Command for more than decade,” according to Devansh Mehta of OCCRP. Silk Way transported “ammunition and other non-lethal materials” to Afghanistan as of 2005. “In addition to its relationship with the U.S. government, Silk Way Airlines has also worked as a subcontractor for the Canadian Department of National Defense, the German armed forces, and the French army,” Mehta revealed.
In April 2017, Silk Way increased its purchases from Boeing, signing a $1 billion deal for 10 new 737 MAX passenger planes, according to reporter Mehta. However, it is not known how the new acquisition was financed. Last October, Silk Way announced plans to buy two more 747-8 cargo planes.
Mehta disclosed that “the airline is owned by Silk Way Group, which, at least at one point, was closely associated with Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family (which has used its planes for private trips) and has benefited from benevolent state deals. Information obtained through FOIA shows that Silk Way Airlines took steps to conceal its owners’ identity, perhaps to improve its chances of winning the valuable U.S. loan guarantees and military contracts.”
Mehta added that “Azerbaijan ranks 122nd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, while President Ilham Aliyev’s family owns luxury properties around the world worth over $140 million. The Panama Papers and other leaks have implicated the country’s first family as being involved in nearly all sectors of the Azerbaijani economy, from luxury hotels to mining to banking.”
According to the terms of the Export-Import Bank’s $419.5 million loan to Silk Way, in case of default the loss would be repaid by the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA). The problem is that IBA has been “implicated in the Azerbaijani Laundromat, a massive scheme that pumped nearly $3 billion out of the country through various shell companies,” Mehta wrote. Furthermore, IBA is not in a position to guarantee the Silk Way loan, as the IBA itself declared bankruptcy in 2015, unable to pay its $3.3 billion debt!
Nate Schenkkan, project director of the Nations in Transit report at Freedom House, a US-based nonprofit that monitors democracy and human rights around the world, questioned the wisdom of EXIM Bank’s loan to Silk Way: “In Azerbaijan, where one family dominates economically and politically, and is then using state institutions to back its economic projects, there’s an obvious conflict of interest.”
Arzu Aliyeva, Pres. Aliyev’s 21-year-old daughter in 2010, was one of the three owners of Silk Way Bank, the financial arm of Silk Way Holding. Since 2017, her name is no longer mentioned as an owner. “Silk Way Holding, also referred to as Silk Way Group (SW Group) on its website, is a conglomerate that has currently listed 11 companies in its portfolio, including the airline,” according to Mehta. Silk Way Holding dominated Azerbaijan’s aviation sector after the state carrier AZAL airlines was privatized in a highly secretive manner without any bids and tenders. Mehta wrote that “a similar privatization of the telecom sector ended up with the [Aliyev] family earning about $1 billion in bribes in cash and share value, according to an earlier OCCRP story. The investigation also found that the money was funneled to the first family through various secret offshore companies. These companies have enabled the Aliyevs to control stakes in gold mines, telecommunications and construction businesses in Azerbaijan.”
According to a filing in 2006, Silk Way Airlines was owned by IHC (International Handling Company), an offshore entity based in the British Virgin Islands. In a 2017 filing, Silk Way Airlines stated that 40% of the company was owned by IHC, while 60% was owned by SW Holding, “effectively controlled” by Zaur Akhundov, an Azerbaijani citizen. Mehta stated that “IHC is linked to the Aliyev family through its director Jaouad Dbila who reportedly served as a proxy for the first family’s business interests in the past.”
In 2011, a Russian-born manager, Grigory Yurkov, was given power of attorney for both Silk Way Holding and IHC, according to Luxembourg’s official gazette. This appointment was used as a means to conceal the true owners of IHC.
Meanwhile, Zaur Akhundov had mysteriously become the 100% owner of the entire Silk Way Group in 2014. By that time, the firm and its many holdings were already worth billions of dollars, Mehta declared, based on the company’s loan guarantee application. Akhundov, 50, had held several official positions in Azerbaijan. “It is unclear how Akhundov became the owner of a billion-dollar conglomerate with more than 10 aircrafts, an insurance company, a construction company and an aircraft maintenance company, to name a few of the enterprises in the Silk Way Group,” Mehta wondered.
According Schenkkan of Freedom House, “Azerbaijan can be described as a centralized, vertical pyramid where the benefits go to one family that collects rents throughout the economy. This includes all sorts of transactions, not only official state transactions that might involve taxes and public funds, but also things that involve what we normally consider the private sector: import-export, consumer goods, transport—any area of the economy, the family has a stake in it and receives a cut on what takes place.”
The U.S. Congress should hold a hearing to investigate the appropriateness of EXIM Bank’s $419.5 million loan guarantee to Silk Way Airlines, its arms shipments to terrorist groups in the Middle East, and its hidden ownership by the ruling Aliyev family. After all, why should Azerbaijan, a country with billions of petrodollars, be given a U.S. loan?