SACRAMENTO—Senate Bill 457, a measure introduced by Senator Anthony J. Portantino and Senator Scott Wilk, passed the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee on Tuesday. SB 457 requires the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) and the State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS) Boards of Administration to allow school districts and cities to opt out of investment vehicles issued or owned by the Republic of Turkey.
“Many public employees of Glendale who are members of CalSTRS and CalPERS are descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors and most of them had to relive the intergenerational trauma during the recent Artsakh war, in which Turkey was heavily involved,” stated Senator Portantino. “SB 457 will ensure that their funds will not be invested in the same country that continues to be a threat to their families in Armenia. This is an opportunity to create a pragmatic approach to divestment and send a strong message to Turkey. I am very honored that Councilmember Ardy Kassakhian suggested this pragmatic and necessary divestment approach idea,” he concluded.
“California has a history of opposing countries that violate human rights. The Golden State has the largest Armenian diaspora in the world and we need to stand with our brothers and sisters against the regime in Turkey. Turkey’s sordid history includes genocide against the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. Until this is acknowledged by the Turkish government they should not be welcomed by the world community,” said Senator Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita).
The State of California has a long history of divesting from countries that violate human rights. In 1986, Governor George Deukmejian condemned South Africa’s apartheid policy by signing California’s divestiture law, aimed at pressuring the government to end its system of racial segregation. In 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a Sudan divestment bill due to the ongoing genocide in the Darfur. And in 2017, the University of California system successfully divested from Turkey.
“Given Turkey’s continued human rights abuses, policy of genocide denial, and deliberate acts in opposition to United States interests, our organization fully supports SB 457,” stated Armen Sahakyan, Executive Director of Armenian National Committee of America Western Region. “We believe that this bill will serve to protect California state trust monies from investment in Turkey, while sending a principled message to any country who denies genocide or works against the United States and California’s security interests and basic humanitarian principles.”
“Since the establishment of CalSTRS in 1913 and CalPERS in 1932, thousands of Armenian American retirees, as well as currently employed civil servants in California, including educators, engineers, economists, judges, and public servants, have benefited from their and their employers’ respective contributions to both systems,” stated Mihran Toumajan, Director of the Armenian Assembly of America Western Region. “Armenian American retirees and actively employed civil servants in California make up a significant constituency of the storied histories of CalPERS and CalSTRS. We salute Senator Portantino for spearheading SB 457 and strongly support Turkish divestment efforts.”
Senator Portantino drafted SB 457 after discussing with Glendale City Councilmember Ardy Kassakhian the initiative he brought forth to the Glendale City Council to divest investment dollars from the Republic of Turkey.
“I want to thank Senator Portantino with whom we have worked on this bill to create a path towards more socially responsible investments for agencies who are enrolled in the state’s retirement systems,” stated Glendale City Council Member Ardy Kassakhian. “There have been similar ideas for divestment legislation in the past. However, the true credit comes from our own history here in the Golden State during the 1980s, when then Assemblymember Maxine Waters introduced a bill to divest from South Africa based on their abhorrent human rights record that most of us know as Apartheid. It was the son of Armenian Genocide survivors – George Deukmejian – who was governor of our great state at the time, who worked across the party lines to ensure that California’s investments did not prop up a racist regime. The City of Glendale has already voted to divest itself from any financial interests in Turkey and Azerbaijan and it is my hope that our state will allow others to do the same. It helps put California on the right side of history once again and to lead the way for others just as we always have.”