Turkish leaders told him their concerns about a vote on April 15 by the European Parliament will vote on a resolution at the centenary of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.
Stéphane © armenews.com
Turkish leaders told him their concerns about a vote on April 15 by the European Parliament will vote on a resolution at the centenary of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.
On Thurs., Jan. 29, a coalition of organizations representing Armenian Americans sent letters to more than 200 businesses, universities, and NGOs currently working with one of 5 firms—including those led by former congressional leaders Dick Gephardt (Gephardt Government Affairs) and Dennis Hastert (Dickstein Shapiro)—that are helping Turkey to deny the Armenian Genocide in Congress. #deturkeyfication of Washington
Despite international consensus from historians about the Armenian Genocide, Turkey is well known for its aggressive, ongoing denial of this crime, which witnessed the planned and systematic murder of more than 1.5 million Christian Armenians between 1915 and 1923. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the genocide, and Armenian Americans, along with allies nationwide, will be protesting and drawing public scrutiny on both Turkey’s primary lobbying firms and the companies and organizations that continue to do business with them.
It’s a disgrace that Dick Gephardt and Dennis Hastert—two former leaders of the U.S. House—are making millions enforcing a foreign government’s gag rule on our White House and among the Congress in which they once served,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
“Gephardt and Hastert should drop their Turkey contract, and, if they won’t, their clients should drop them.”
According to U.S. Department of Justice Foreign Agent Registration Act records, the firms Gephardt Government Affairs, Dickstein Shapiro, Greenberg Traurig, Alpaytac, and LB International all support Turkey’s genocide denial agenda. Their clients include PepsiCo, TIME Inc., Amazon.com Inc., and Chrysler.
The letters to the client businesses requested that they—in light of their firm’s participation in genocide denial—demand that their firm end its contract with the Turkish government.
If the firm does not end its relationship with Turkey, the letter requests that the client company/organization end its own contract with the firm.
If neither occurs by Wed., Feb. 25—60 days out from April 24, the global Day of Remembrance of the genocide—Armenian Americans will start protests against these firms and their clients.
Coalition partners include four of the largest Armenian-American organizations: the ANCA, Armenian Assembly of America, and the Armenian Youth Federation of both the Eastern and Western United States.
“New York Times” has published documents that show the lobbying of Azerbaijan in Washington. In 2012 Azerbaijan has used the services of a company to influence public opinion and lobbying in Washington to present Azerbaijan as a reliable partner on security issues. According to the “New York Times”, the Azeri state oil company SOCAR has invested large sums to the “charm offensive” to the analysis and opinion “Atlantic Council” center. Nevertheless, according to the newspaper, the objectives of Baku would not have been achieved. Azerbaijan would nevertheless held in Washington a series of lectures and seminars obeying this lobbying, conferences, one of whose themes was “efforts visibility of Azerbaijan as a NATO partner” and had the participation of a number of officials and leaders of an American State Department stressed that the role of Baku as a strategic partner of the Atlantic Alliance. Also in this continuity, Azerbaijan would have called this year the services of a lobbying organization “Podesta Group” led by a certain Tony Podesda, close to President Barack Obama.
By Harut Sassounian
Last week, I described the terms of the $1.4 million contract signed by the Gephardt Group, the lobbying firm of former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, to promote Turkey’s interests in Washington.
Realizing that its relationship with the United States has seriously deteriorated, the Turkish government has been pouring millions of dollars into the coffers of several U.S. firms, hoping to improve its image by whitewashing the dark stains of its dictatorial regime. For that purpose, Ankara signed a contract on May 12, 2014 with former Turkish national swimming champion Huma Gruaz and her Chicago-based public relations firm Alpaytac, Inc., for $1,420,000 a year. Oddly enough, instead of making monthly payments, the Turkish government gave Alpaytac $1 million up front upon signing the agreement, and paid the balance of $420,000 in the first three months. Alpaytac thus replaced the public relations firm of Fleishman-Hillard which received from the Turkish Embassy $779,805 for the six-month period from Nov. 1, 2013 to April 30, 2014, at which time its contract was terminated.
In addition, Ankara benefits from the activities of Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) which spent over $1 million to sponsor 170 congressional trips to Turkey since 2000. TCA was founded in 2007 by Massachusetts microchip millionaire Yalcin Ayasli who has donated close to $140,000 in the past 18 months to several pro-Turkish members of Congress, according to Al-Monitor.
Most people are unaware that pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, American firms representing foreign clients are required to report to the U.S. Justice Department their day-to-day activities every six months.
Alpaytac’s six-month report is not yet due. However, we would like to present excerpts from the detailed files the Gephardt Group and its subcontractors — Greenberg Traurig, Lydia Borland, Brian Forni, and Dickstein Shapiro — submitted to the Justice Department regarding their specific activities on behalf of Turkey from August 1, 2013 to January 31, 2014:
— On Sept. 19, 2013, forwarded a letter from Turkish Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek to Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Patrick Leahy.
— Sent emails to Representatives Castro, Cohen, Connolly, Deutch, Esty, Foxx, Frankel, Gabbard, Kennedy, Schneider, Wagner, and Whitfield; and Sen. Murphy regarding the upcoming visit of Turkey’s former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu; contacts were also established with several other members of Congress to discuss Syria, Iran sanctions, Hamas, and Missile Defense.
— Dick Gephardt reported making campaign contributions from Sept. 24 to Dec. 12, 2013 to: Representatives Alcee Hastings ($1,000), Barbara Lee ($1,000), Marjorie Margolies ($1,000), Richard Neal ($1,250), Brad Schneider ($500), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz ($1,500), Marc Veasey ($1,000), and Henry Waxman ($1,000); and Senators Dick Durbin ($2,500), Mary Landrieu ($1,000), Claire McCaskill ($1,000), Mark Pryor ($1,500), and Ron Wyden ($2,500).
— Gephardt Group employees contributed to Senators Dick Durbin ($500) and Jeanne Shaheen ($1,500); and Representatives Steve Cohen ($500), Colleen Hanabusa ($1,250), Jim Moran ($500), Brad Schneider ($500), and Cong. Henry Waxman ($500).
— Employees of Gephardt Group subcontractor Dickstein Shapiro LLC contacted Ben Branch, Legislative Director to Cong. Gregory Meeks, “regarding legislation focused on Turkish regional issues.” On behalf of Dickstein Shapiro, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert met with Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan and Sen. Ron Johnson “regarding U.S.-Turkey relations.”
— Other Dickstein Shapiro employees contacted the offices of Representatives George Holding, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gregory Meeks, Chellie Pingree, Robert Pittenger, Dana Rohrabacher, Ed Royce, and Ed Whitfield; and Senators John Boozman, Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and Roger Wicker to discuss Turkish regional issues, Cyprus, Travel to Turkey, and U.S.-Turkey relations.
— Dickstein Shapiro employees contributed over $60,000 to the political campaigns of congressional candidates from July 20 to Dec. 19, 2013, including: Senators Lamar Alexander ($2,500), Kay Hagan ($9,000), Amy Klobuchar ($2,000), Mitch McConnell ($2,500), Mark Pryor ($2,500), and Tim Scott ($1,000), and Representatives Sanford Bishop ($2,500), Emanuel Cleaver ($1,500), Rick Crawford ($2,500), Steve Daines ($2,500), John Dingell ($1,000), Bill Huizenga ($2,500), Eddie Bernice Johnson ($1,000), Adam Kinzinger ($2,500), Mike McIntyre ($5,000), Buck McKeon ($1,500), Dutch Ruppersberger ($2,500), and Ed Whitfield ($2,500).
Since the lobbying firms hired by Turkey are obligated by law to report their detailed activities, it is important to check regularly their Justice Department filings in order to find out who are they contacting in Congress, for what purpose, and how much are they contributing to their political campaigns?
Why has Baku teamed up with the Gulenist movement to win the hearts and minds of small-time US lawmakers?
posted on June 2, 2014, at 8:19 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Azerbaijan has launched an unusual campaign to win influence among U.S. lawmakers, teaming up with a Turkish guru in exile and the sister of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, as it seeks to translate its immense oil wealth into political support.
Since early 2013, state legislators in 17 states have introduced resolutions or memorials relating to the former Soviet Republic. Most are general statements of support or recognition of the 1992 Khojaly massacre, one of the most violent and controversial incidents in Azerbaijan’s war with neighboring Armenia.
What the initiatives had in common was they nearly all had at least one sponsor who attended a conference in the capital Baku in May 2013 organized by the Turquoise Council for Americans and Eurasians. The council is a Houston-based group connected to Fethullah Gulen, the leader of the moderate Islamist Hizmet movement who fled Turkey in 1999 after clashing with secular Turkish authorities who accused him of trying to turn Turkey into a religious Islamist state.
The initiatives — brought in Utah, New Mexico, Tennessee, Kansas, South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Illinois, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Hawaii — play well domestically in Azerbaijan, a country run by a regime accused of corruption and widespread human rights abuses, even if not all of them were passed.
The president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, has so far mostly avoided the international scrutiny and criticism afforded to similar human rights abusers. This month, the country assumed the chairmanship of the committee of ministers of the Council of Europe, Europe’s leading human rights body, amid a renewed crackdown on opposition activists. Last month alone it sentenced eight youth activists to six to eight years in prison and is currently trying five people who criticized the government on Facebook, according to Human Rights Watch.
In an effort to improve this image, Azerbaijan has become one of the top 10 foreign spenders on lobbying in the United States, spending $2.3 million last year, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
Azerbaijan lobbies in the U.S. through three main conduits: its embassy; a fairly new group called the Azerbaijan America Alliance; and its state oil company SOCAR, which has opened an office in Washington.
The Azerbaijan America Alliance, which helped finance a Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania in 2013, is run by Anar Mammadov, the son of Azerbaijan’s Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov. He is perhaps best known for once allegedly paying a restaurant in the Gabala region of Azerbaijan $1 million to slaughter and grill a bear for him.
Experts say these organizations are often the work of the offspring of the Azeri elite. “There is a phenomenon of the children of oligarchs acting as lobbyists abroad,” said Tom de Waal, a South Caucasus expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“They have these very posh gala dinners,” said one Azerbaijan expert who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Alliance is “one way that [Mammadov] is making his family more important to the regime.”
Then there is SOCAR, which has hired the Washington firm Roberti + White and is listed as a partner in the Houston groups that have done much of the outreach to state legislators. The May trip to Baku, which also included members of Congress and former Obama administration officials, appears to have been key. A report by the only U.S. journalist to attend the trip (whose visit was also paid for) said lawmakers “jostled for pictures” in Azerbaijan’s parliament, which is overwhelmingly dominated by Azerbaijan’s ruling party, went sightseeing in Baku, “showered their hosts with praise” at a visit to a university, and were interviewed relentlessly by Azerbaijani TV reporters. The trip’s attendees reportedly each received a “hand-woven Azeri carpet, an executive briefcase and a set of Czech-made tea glasses.” Several of them spoke at the conference that culminated the trip, as did David Plouffe and Robert Gibbs, former top Obama administration officials, and Jim Messina, President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.
Sometimes the link between the Azeris and the resolutions was even more direct. In Tennessee, Representative Joe Towns, who was invited to attend the 2013 trips, introduced an Azerbaijan-related bill this year. Local media noticed that he had received $10,000 in campaign donations from a a handful of people in Houston, Texas who are members of the Azeri and Turkish communities there. Towns denied that the contributions had inspired him to write the resolution.
The Turquoise Council, headed by a Gulenist follower named Kemal Oksuz, paid for the travel of lawmakers who went on the trip, according to congressional records. Oksuz also chairs the Assembly for the Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ), a Houston group sponsored by SOCAR, which hosted a U.S.-Azerbaijan convention in Washington at the end of April attended by many of the same lawmakers who went on the trip to Baku, as well as other members of Congress and former administration officials. The Assembly’s vice president is Milla Perry Jones, the sister of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and its treasurer is Rauf Mammadov, the chief of SOCAR’s U.S. branch. Oksuz also owned TDM Contracting, a construction firm in Texas that worked to build a network of Gulenist charter schools there. (Reached by phone, Jones said her position with AFAZ was “ceremonial” and unpaid and that she had become involved with the group after traveling to Azerbaijan. Jones said she had “no idea” who is a member of the organization.)
Oksuz has has donated directly to several of the members involved in the trip as well as other politicians and party committees. Oksuz denied there was any anything improper in his relationship with Towns or any other lawmaker. He told BuzzFeed that the Turquoise Council organizes trips to Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan to provide an opportunity to “meet there with the government officials, civic society leaders, U.S. Embassy staff, and people from public” and “get briefing about the relations. So that they learn more about the country and its relations with the U.S.”
Nevertheless, the Baku trip raised eyebrows in some places. In Hawaii, local media questioned why two state legislators introduced a pro-Azerbaijan resolution after going on the trip, and in Washington state, concerns were raised about ethics violations.
Most of the lawmakers contacted for this article either declined to comment or did not return a request for comment.
New Mexico State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino told BuzzFeed that he introduced a Khojaly memorial at the request of the Turkish community and the “honorary Azeri consul” in Albuquerque. He said he and a delegation of New Mexico legislators had visited Azerbaijan in 2012.
“Many New Mexico legislators (me among them) have traveled in the past five years to Turkey for meetings with Turkish legislators and to Azerbaijan for meetings with Azeri officials and legislators,” Ortiz y Pino said. “We have also hosted a delegation of Turkish elected officials during their visit to the U.S. a couple of years ago. The Azeri government is keen to repair its image in the U.S. press and has undertaken a strong initiative among state legislators to impress us with how supportive they are of the U.S. government and its people.”
Azerbaijan, a secular majority Muslim country, has sought to lean westward since the fall of the Soviet Union, developing a burgeoning defense partnership with Israel and adopting a wary stance toward Iran. The U.S. has bilateral ties with Azerbaijan and supported the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline as an alternative to Russian and Iranian energy; a statement by Secretary of State John Kerry on Azerbaijan’s National Day noted the two countries’ “commitment to diversifying energy supplies and promoting regional security.”
Ortiz y Pino acknowledged that many were confused about his initiative. “To be honest, our memorial was met with mostly blank stares by most legislators who haven’s [sic] visited Azerbaijan. The issue didn’t generate a great deal of comment or questions and passed unanimously, I believe.”
Wyoming state Rep. Dave Zwonitzer said he and four other Wyoming lawmakers were contacted in 2013 by the Gulenist group the Mosaic Foundation, which offered the free trip to Baku. On the trip, he said, were “four buses full of legislators” from around the country. Zwonitzer said that though he personally was not directly encouraged to introduce a resolution, “I did get the impression from other legislators I talked to that they had been encouraged.” He said that it was “never clear to us” who exactly was paying for the trip, “which was a little disconcerting.”
Zwonitzer and his colleagues introduced their resolution based on model legislation provided to them by the Mosaic Foundation, though they changed one sentence, he said. It failed to pass, but they plan to reintroduce something similar in the 2015 legislative session.
“You don’t get a free 10-day trip sponsored by the oil company without somebody asking for something,” Zwonitzer said.
Experts say the Azeris are looking to both compete with the Armenian lobby in the U.S. and also show their bosses back home they are simply accomplishing something. “In part they’re taking their cues from things the Armenian-American groups have done in California where they’ve gotten cities or state governments to pass similar kinds of resolutions on behalf of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Kauzlarich. Nagorno-Karabkh remains disputed between the two countries, and experts have warned for years that conflict could again break out over the territory.
“On a state level [the lobbying] is useless, but mostly it is for domestic consumption,” said Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, the president of Azerbaijani Americans for Democracy, a U.S.-based opposition group. “They’re trying to please [Aliyev], they’re trying to do something.”
This is all happening as Azerbaijan has drawn sharp criticism worldwide for its treatment of its people. The Council of Europe criticized Azerbaijan earlier in May as the country was assuming its chairmanship of the ministerial committee, saying that the situation there “is a more than worrying state of affairs for a member state taking up the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.”
U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Morningstar also publicly rebuked the country during his speech at the U.S.-Azerbaijan Convention in April in Washington, which was co-sponsored by SOCAR and organized by the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan and featured many of the same lawmakers who had traveled to Baku.
“The elephant in the room regarding our relationship is in the area of democracy and human rights,” Morningstar said. “We seem to talk past each other. We are who we are and hold strong democratic values. When we see what we think are abuses we speak out.”
An earlier version of this story misstated the circumstances under which Fethullah Gulen left Turkey. This story has also been changed to reflect the fact that Oksuz no longer owns TDM Contracting.