BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
In recent years, the Turkish government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
It can be safely concluded that these millions of dollars have not only been largely wasted, but have negatively reflected on Turkey’s image as a denialist state, at a time when it is desperately trying to present itself as an acceptable candidate for European Union membership.
Besides lining up the pockets of unscrupulous former U.S. politicians, now turned lobbyists, the Turks have very little to show for their massive expenditures in trying to cover up the genocide committed by Ottoman Turkish leaders over 90 years ago.
Interestingly, no one in Turkey seems to question why the country’s leaders are wasting such huge sums of money on perpetuating a lie instead of spending it on improving the health, education and welfare of millions of Turkish citizens who live in abject poverty.
If Turkey were a true democracy and the people had a say in how their tax dollars were spent, its leaders would be hard pressed to explain the rationale for spending millions of dollars to block a resolution that has already passed twice through the House of Representatives.
Turkish lobbying efforts, besides wasting valuable funds, have had the unintended consequence of publicizing the Armenian Genocide worldwide. The meager attempts of Armenian organizations for genocide recognition would not have attracted much attention were it not for the publicity generated by Turkish leaders and their hired guns. It is indeed difficult to find countries whose leaders would work so hard for so long and spent so much money in order to undermine their own interests and give themselves a black eye in the process. The slick Washington lobbyists, on the other hand, happily pocket the money lavishly doled out to them in return for the promise of curing the Turks of their genocide complex.
The most recent such lobbyists are former congressmen Bob Livingston and Richard Gephardt who are now being ridiculed by highly respectable U.S. publications for cashing in on the denial of the Armenian Genocide. An article published in the July 23 issue of the influential New Republic magazine, by senior editor Michael Crowley, exposes both of these scoundrels who apparently are willing to do anything for the right price. Excerpts from this significant article were reprinted in last Sunday’s New York Times and posted on dozens of websites. This is yet another example of how the Turkish government pays a fortune to hired guns to lobby for its denialist agenda and ends up shooting itself in the foot. Here is what Turkey got for the millions of dollars it paid to Gephardt and Livingston.
Cong. Gephardt, the former Democratic minority leader in the House of Representatives, now works at the lobbying firm of DLA Piper which receives $100,000 a month to represent Turkey with the aim of trying to defeat the pending congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide.
Crowley reported that "thus far, Gephardt’s achievemen’s have included arranging high-level meetings for Turkish dignitaries, among them one between members of the Turkish parliament and House Democratic leaders James Clyburn and Rahm Emanuel; helping Turkey’s U.S. ambassador win an audience with a skeptical Nancy Pelosi; and, finally, circulating a slim paperback volume, titled ‘An Appeal to Reason,’ that denies the existence of the Armenian genocide of 1915."
Crowley wrote that "while the Turks and Armenia’s have a long historical memory, Gephardt has an exceedingly short one. A few years ago, he was a working-class populist who cast himself as a tribune of the underdog –including the Armenia’s. Back in 1998, Gephardt attended a memorial event hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America at which, according to a spokeswoman for the group, ‘he spoke about the importance of recognizing the genocide.’ Two years later, Gephardt was one of three House Democrats who co-signed a letter to then House Speaker Dennis Hastert urging Hastert to schedule an immediate vote on a genocide resolution;. Today, few people are doing more than Gephardt to ensure that the genocide bill goes nowhere."
The second scoundrel covered by Crowley is Cong. Livingston, a Republican, who resigned from the House due to an extra-marital affair on the eve of becoming House Speaker. He was paid $700,000 back in 2000 to block the approval of the then pending congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide. Livingston came through with the help of Speaker Dennis Hastert and Pres. Clinton.
Crowley explained how overzealous Turkish lobbying efforts sometimes backfire. "Not long ago, one lobbyist invited a senior congressional aide to dinner at his suburban mansion. When he arrived, the aide was surprised to find himself surrounded by Turks keenly interested in his views on the genocide bill. (This time, the hard sell backfired; the staffer indignantly retorted that he believed a genocide had taken place, causing the lobbyist’s face to go ‘ashen’)."
Crowley reported that "Turkey currently maintains expensive contracts with at least four different Washington lobbying and p.r. firms. ;Turkey contracts the services of David Mercer, a connected Democratic fund-raiser and prot?g? of the late Democratic Party chairman Ron Brown. The Turks also pay $50,000 monthly to the Glover Park Group, a powerhouse Democratic firm stocked with connected former Clinton White House aides Joe Lockhart and Joel Johnson, for p.r. services. That work included advice on shaping an April full-page New York Times advertisement, which called for a new historical commission (which the Armenia’s call a sham) and urged Washington to ‘support efforts to examine history, not legislate it.’"
Cong. Livingston’s lobbying firm, the Livingston Group, made almost $13 million from the Turks in the past six years. "Back in 2000, Livingston’s team personally contacted 141 different members of Congress in the five-week run-up to the aborted vote. And on October 19, the day the vote was canceled, Livingston met personally with Hastert to ensure its demise. Mission accomplished," Crowley reported.
Besides Livingston and Gephardt, another contender for the biggest hypocrite prize is former Democratic representative Steve Solarz of New York. Crowley described Solarz as "one of the first backers of a genocide resolution way back in 1975. By 2000, he was working with Livingston to defeat it, raking in $400,000 for his efforts."
Crowley also criticized "Washington’s Jewish-American lobby" which he says earns "a special commendation for dubious behavior;. In February, Turkey’s foreign minister convened a meeting at a Washington hotel with more than a dozen leaders of major Jewish groups;. The issue ‘belongs to historians and not a resolution in Congress,’ explains Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman, who outright opposes the resolution. ‘It will resolve nothing.’ But it’s also clear that Turkey’s status as Israel’s lone Muslim ally counts for a lot, too. ‘I think a lot of Israelis agree,’ Foxman told me," Crowley wrote.
Besides enlisting the help of several Jewish American groups, "the Turks have also conspicuously hired some lobbyists with strong Jewish ties. Their payroll includes a Washington firm called Southfive Strategies, which bills itself as ‘a Washington D.C. consulting boutique with access to the White House, congressional leadership, and influential media organizations.’ Southfive is run by Jason Epstein, a former Capitol Hill lobbyist for B’nai B’rith, and Lenny Ben-David, an Israeli-born former deputy chief of mission at Israel’s Washington embassy and a longtime AIPAC staffer whose previous firm, IsraelConsult, also worked for Turkey," Crowley revealed.
When Congress returns from its summer recess, we shall see whether lobbying fueled by political prostitution for money will prevail over the solemn quest of the Armenian-American community to reaffirm the historical facts of the genocide.