Armenians Should Counteract Countless Congressional Trips to Turkey

Harut Sassounian


The Turkish government, its lobbying firms, and Turkish-American organizations have spent millions of dollars to take members of Congress and their staffs on all-expenses-paid trips to Turkey with the intent of buying their allegiance.

This is standard practice for Washington’s influence peddlers. Understandably, Turkish power brokers would want to sway congressional decision-making, as long as the trips follow proper legal procedures. However, as investigative journalist Shane Goldmacher revealed last week in the National Journal, members of Congress and their paymasters often manipulate the nebulous rules to accomplish their self-serving interests.

Goldmacher begins his article, ‘How Lobbyists Still Fly Through Loopholes,’ by describing the globe-trotting adventures of a pair of political odd fellows chasing the almighty dollar: “Dennis Hastert and Dick Gep­hardt couldn’t stand each other when they led Congress a decade ago. But now they’ve moved to K Street, where the flood of money tends to wash over such personal differences. These days, they work hand in hand as two of Turkey’s top lobbyists, with their respective firms pocketing most of a $1.4 million annual lobbying contract.” Not surprisingly, Republican Hastert and Democrat Gephardt accompanied eight members of Congress on an “all-expenses-paid journey” to Turkey last April.

The National Journal article covers congressional trips to several countries, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Israel. Under the subtitle, ‘Turkey Exploits the Biggest Loophole,’ Goldmacher discloses the extensive preparations made by Hastert’s firm for the congressional trip to Turkey, even though lobbyists are prevented under the rules from planning or paying for lawmakers’ visits: “Lobbyists have been intimately involved in the months of planning for the trip, with dozens of back-and-forth emails, phone calls, and meetings on Capitol Hill. As the trip neared, one lobbyist at Hastert’s firm, Laurie McKay, held conference calls and emailed daily with the schedulers of the eight House members who participated: Republicans Virginia Foxx, George Holding, Adam Kinzinger, Todd Rokita, Lee Terry, and Ed Whitfield; and Democrats Sheila Jackson Lee and Chellie Pingree. McKay even escorted three of them to Washington Dulles International Airport and helped them check in with Turkish Airlines.”

Ignoring the ban on lobbyists accompanying members of Congress on overseas excursions, Hastert, Gephardt, Robert Mangas, Janice O’Connell, and an undisclosed lobbyist with the Caspian Group joined the congressional delegation in Turkey. Goldmacher explains that “the Turkey trip was sanctioned under a 1961 law, the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, [MECEA] which allows foreign governments to shuttle members of Congress and their staffs abroad if the State Department has approved the destination nations for ‘cultural exchange’ trips. About 60 countries have such clearances.” Azerbaijan and Turkey are among the 60, Armenia is not! The Armenian government should make the necessary arrangements to include Armenia in the MECEA program.

The National Journal further reports: “A long list of nonprofits supportive of Turkey have paid for congressional travel there.” One such prominent group is the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA). Interestingly, besides running TCA as a nonprofit, its president, Lincoln McCurdy, “dishes out campaign cash to pro-Turkey politicians as treasurer of a political action committee.”

The National Journal’s revelations are reinforced by, a website that closely monitors congressional travel and finances. It discloses that 615 congressional visits were made to Turkey since 2000, at a cost of $3.5 million, paid by the following nonprofit organizations: American Friends of Turkey, Council of Turkic American Associations, Institute of Interfaith Dialogue for World Peace, Istanbul Center, Maryland Institute for Dialogue, Mid-Atlantic Federation of Turkic American Associations, Pacifica Institute, Rumi Forum for Interfaith Dialogue, Turkic American Alliance, Turkish-American Business Council, Turkish-American Business Forum Inc., Turkish American Federation of Midwest, Turkish Coalition of America, Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists, Turkish Cultural Center NY, Turkish Foreign Economic Relations Board, and Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians.

In 2013 alone, 87 congressional visits were made to Turkey at a cost of $640,000, and 36 trips to Azerbaijan at a cost of $262,000. During that same period, no member of Congress was sponsored to visit Armenia. Only one trip was organized to Armenia and Artsakh (Karabagh) for California State Assemblymen and Los Angeles City Councilmen by the ANCA-Western Region, in collaboration with the Armenian Consulate.

Clearly, such trips make members of Congress more sympathetic toward their host country. Unless Armenian-Americans and Armenia begin sponsoring similar trips, members of Congress could become more favorable toward Turkey and Azerbaijan, and less supportive of Armenia and Artsakh.

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  1. Sarkis said:

    I have always respected Harut Sassounian as a dedicated, patriotic Armenian-American leader, from the days when he broke the news of the “recall” aka firing of Ambassador John Evans for his unambiguous and truthful of what the Americans, Turks, and most Europeans refer to as “the 1915 events” by its actual name “The Armenian Genocide”.

    But here I have to respectfully disagree. No matter what steps Armenian-Americans take, and no matter how much of our money we as individuals or the Republic of Armenia as a state spend “sponsoring” trips, we will not be able to accomplish anything of substance in Washington, apart from empty, symbolic gestures. Let’s face reality: the United States pursues realpolitik-based interests it sees in the South Caucasus region, which mainly involves turning the entire region into a cheap brothel to service American energy and weapons interests, and which sees as its main rival as Russia, and to a lesser degree Iran. Understanding this, it becomes very clear that Turkey, a militarily capable Sunni Islamic nation which has been the natural, historical enemy of Russia for centuries, is way too important for the United States to ever abandon, especially for a traditionally pro-Russian state like Armenia America would not force Turkey to play nice with fellow NATO member Greece over Cyprus, what makes us think they will risk alienating their regional minions and henchmen in Ankara for the sake of what they see as small, weak, divided geopolitical nuisance (to western interests) like Armenia or Armenian.

    And further, American “democracy” is limited to small amounts of voter input over mainly domestic matters. Congress cannot effect foreign policy. We’ve seen “pro-Armenian” Representatives and Senators do an about face when they were promoted to positions in the Executive branch, John Kerry, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton were recent examples in a very long historical line. For any readers interested, here is a good explanation of why Washington will remain an anti-Armenian viper’s nest regardless of what we Armenians do:

    I say that rather than waste a cent on America’s professional liars aka politicians, we Armenians rally every cent we can and invest it into the economy and infrastructure of our sacred Armenian homeland. Instead of showering an undeserving American Congressman or woman, use the equivalent money to provide food and heat to Armenia’s poor population. United Armenian Fund, and Armenia Fund (Himnadram) are two excellent choices. If you don’t trust them, and you have money for charity, look to other organizations or even consider starting a charity yourself… And right now our Armenian brothers and sisters in Syria could also use the money much more than any Congressman. Instead of wasting a penny on Congress, use the money to help ease the process of turning “Syrian-Armenians” into Citizens of the Republic of Armenia.

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  3. Avetis said:

    Mr. Sassounian, I agree with a lot of what you write but what you are suggesting here is utterly silly, a waste of time and money and a distraction. Please come to the realization that US politicians are pro-Turkish not because of money donations or tacky trips to Turkey but because of GEOPOLITICS. Moreover, we simply do not have the resources that Turks and their buddies the Jews have to buy or bribe American officials into compliance. The US is a lost cause. The US has become the most dangerous and corrupt political entity on earth. Stop encouraging the wasting of our limited resources in the US and start seeing the big picture. In this big picture, experienced men such as yourself should be organizing delegations to Moscow in an attempt to collaborate with Russia’s large and affluent Armenian community and to help deepen Russian-Armenian relations. At the end of the day, Armenia does not fit into the Western world’s geopolitical agenda. The West has always been in bed with our historic enemies and they are in the Caucasus region today only to exploit energy reserves and to contain Russia and Iran. The only nations on earth today that care to see the existence of Armenia is Russia and Iran. So, please stop distracting us from the things we need to do and stop wasting our time and resources in an anti-Armenian vipers next like Washington.

  4. GeorgeMardig said:

    NO values, NO discency, NO justice is left in the world, only cheapskate people.

  5. T.K. said:

    Exposing the fact that USA politicians are sleeping with turks is very important. for years turks have been successful to create this image of a very powerful armenian lobby who is standing in between turkey and america. USA public knows nothing about inter dealings of USA and turkish military industrial complex and lobbying efforts.
    however, to hope that there will be any change from some congressmen coming to Armenia is not real. to bring an example senator Melendez who is active in Armenian issues, is a staunch anti-russian who will do everything (including arming turkey just to piss off Russia). So unless USA political scenes goes through revolution and things really change there is no use for us as Armenians to spent money on them. We don’t have caviars to gift them by kilos.

  6. Louis Derderian said:

    To be more precise it is the Gulen Movement in the USA that is the culprit of these trips to Turkey and Azerbaijan. They use their “missionaries” to pay visits to lawmakers and they originally come here illegally as teachers for their some 140 charter schools they manage. They suck out American take money intended for educating American children and teach Turkish this and that with their famous Turkish olympaids that our taxes are paying for. It is correct they are strategically located which gives them the green light to literally get away with “murder”. This CIA Gladio B project that uses Turkey to topple governments and put in AMerican puppets in: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, trying in Syria and now in their own country with Erdogan, is really in control. Turks don’t have any control anymore its NATO and CIA, now it is backfiring with all of the Taksim square protests. This is America’s interest in Central Asia oil and other natural resources and to de stabilize Russia and China.