Turkish Lobby Flexes Its Muscles


Edmond Azadian

Edmond Azadian

By Edmond Y. Azadian

President Erdogan’s Turkey not only has the ambition to revive the Ottoman Empire, but it is acting like one. Its tentacles extend from the Balkans to the Middle East, from North Africa to China, where the restive Uyghur minority is being armed and encouraged by Turkey against the central government.

Incidentally, the latter case has some unintended consequences which benefit Armenia. Thus, as Sino-Turkish relations sour, Beijing finds itself in a common cause with Armenia.

During the Cold War, Turkey was considered a bulwark for NATO in the Middle East, opposing Soviet expansion in the region and fighting indigenous liberation movements.

With the end of the Cold War, many pundits believed that Turkey had outlived its usefulness. But as it happened, Turkey assumed a new role of executing the West’s dirty work in the Middle East. When ordinary citizens can extrapolate from the plain facts that Ankara, despite its NATO membership, is pursuing contradictory policies against the US and the West, yet Washington is looking the other way, this indicates that there is tacit understanding between those two countries. For example, when Turkey recklessly shot down the Russian war plane, playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship, President Obama uncharacteristically stated that “Turkey has the right to defend itself,” while other NATO members were deploring the incident.

The US’s ardent support for Turkey’s admission into the European Union is motivated by the same goal: to have Turkey play the role of spoiler, disallowing the development of a third pole in Europe, independent of US tutelage.

Therefore, as long as Turkey remains an indispensible instrument of evil deeds, Armenian interests will be neutralized in the US and in Europe.

The same dichotomy resurfaced recently in Iraq and Syria. When the US and its coalition partners were fighting ISIS, Ankara blatantly supported that terrorist group, with no adverse consequences for its interests.

For a long time, the Turkish government ignored the value of political lobbying, allowing Armenians and Greeks to garner enough votes in Congress to threaten its interests, which were once salvaged by former House Speaker (and current felon) Dennis Hastert, in collusion with President Bill Clinton and another time by our “friend” Nancy Pelosi, who refused to bring the Genocide resolution to the floor. The House Caucus on Armenian Issues is a thriving group, led by Representatives Robert Dold (R-Ill.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ). It seems that the Turks have learned the trick. They have discovered the value of political lobbying and they are using it successfully to their advantage. They have hired the Gephardt Group to lobby on behalf of Turkey for a handsome deal.

Dick Gephardt, the former US Representative of Missouri from 1977 to 2005, was an ardent supporter of successive Armenian Genocide resolutions before selling his soul and principles to Turkey for $2.92 million a year.

In the December 24, 2015 issue of the Turkish daily Sabah, Ragip Soylu published an eye-opening article titled “Turkish Lobby in the US Hits Record High in Campaign Donations.” The writer cites certain facts and developments which have favored Turkey through its lobbying effort. He particularly states: “The Turkish-American PAC was established in 2007 and since then, Turkey seems to be enjoying more support in the Congress, especially regarding traditional issues. For example, there were 212 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives for the Armenian Genocide resolution, which is a hot topic for Ankara because of possible political and financial fallout. This year, the representatives who co-sponsored the resolution were reduced to 63.”

It is obvious that the main thrust of Turkey’s lobbying program is to counter Armenian interests while so many issues between the two countries are not yet addressed.

The writer has also cited the individual case of Rep. Donna K. Edwards, who is facing Rep. Chris Van Hollen in the Democratic primaries for a Senate seat in Maryland. The Turks have already contributed $26,000 to Edwards’ campaign, because Van Hollen is a strong supporter of Greek and Armenian issues.

According to Sabah, Lincoln McCurdy, the treasurer of the Turkish Coalition US PAC, foresees greater Israeli support in the Congress as a result of the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations.

Of course, for those relations to get deeper, President Erdogan should put the brakes on using the government of Adolph Hitler as a good example of a strong presidency. He later said that his comments were taken out of context, but he really could not explain himself well.

On the other hand, Armenians face an uphill battle because of Armenia’s strategic alliance with Russia, which gives a cop-out for legislators who are after facile arguments.

Armenians have two major lobbying groups in the US, the Armenian Assembly and the Armenian National Committee of America, whose cooperation on critical national issues are far from exemplary. Looking at the IRS 990 filings of both organizations, we find that the Assembly had total revenues of $2,973,526 in 2013 and $3,376,822 in 2012. On the other hand, the ANCA had total revenues of $1,205,188 in 2013 and $645,050 in 2012.

The combined annual budget of both organizations does not add up to $5 million. These are the resources with which Armenians have to face the heavy artillery and deep pockets of the Turkish government. The lobbying arms of Armenians and Turks are meant to serve as an extension of the foreign policies of their respective countries

Turkey can buy lobbying firms through its vast resources but cannot buy grassroots activists which Armenians can mobilize. However, we need to further dissect the nature of a citizen movement. It is composed of two distinct groups of political activists; while many Armenians are motivated by Armenian issues, others are motivated by different factors. There are many Armenians throughout the country who write to their representatives and contribute to their campaigns promoting Armenian issues. The other group is either motivated by ideology (Democrat, Republican or independent) or by their business interests, with little thought to the position of the candidate regarding the Genocide, as long as the voter’s pocketbook is protected.

The only alternative for the Armenians is to motivate and mobilize the silent majority. That constitutes our sole resource to fight the well-oiled and powerful machinery of the Turkish lobby.