From Peace to Hit-Piece: Turkey’s New Lobbying Strategy Against Armenian Americans

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By
Taniel Koushakjian

Armenian
Agenda Editor

Hit
Piece

On February 22, the Turkish Institute
of Progress retained Mercury Public Affairs, LLC to lobby on its behalf in
Washington, D.C. According to the filing, Mercury will lobby specifically on
“Turkish-US relations.” Two days later, Mercury’s Vice Chairman, Adam Ereli, a
former U.S. Ambassador and Deputy Spokesperson at the State Department, penned
a hit-piece on Armenia entitled “Putin’s Newest Satellite State,” on Forbes
opinion page. However, Forbes neglects to mention the fact that Ereli’s
firm is under contract with the anti-Armenian lobby group. It is not yet clear
whether or not Ereli disclosed to Forbes his business relationship
behind the story.

It appears that either the Turkish
lobby planted this story with the full knowledge and support of Forbes,
or that Mercury’s connection with Forbes was used as a pawn in the Turkish
lobby’s anti-Armenian campaign.

This is not the first time a
high-priced Washington lobbyist has used the stroke of the pen to attack
Armenian Americans. In 2014, Brenda Shaffer wrote a piece in the New York
Times
opinion page entitled “Russia’s next land grab.” The title sounds
familiar. The story’s byline for Shaffer states that she “is a professor of
political science at the University of Haifa and a visiting researcher at
Georgetown.” However, Shaffer did not disclose her role as a paid consultant to
Azerbaijan’s state-run oil company SOCAR. After the Times realized they had
been duped, the editor’s rightly appended the story with the following
statement: “This Op-Ed, about tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, did not
disclose that the writer has been an adviser to Azerbaijan’s state-run oil
company. Like other Op-Ed contributors, the writer, Brenda Shaffer, signed a
contract obliging her to disclose conflicts of interest, actual or potential.
Had editors been aware of her ties to the company, they would have insisted on
disclosure.”

Peace?

The Turkish Institute of Progress
(TIP), a New York based Turkish lobby group is the latest player trying to prop
up Turkey by putting down Armenian Americans. The group was established months
prior the centennial anniversary of the Armenian Genocide to “provide a forum
for dialogue in pursuit of peace and cooperation between Turkey and the
international community,” according to its website.

Instead of outright opposing Armenian
Genocide recognition efforts by American human rights activists, the Turkish
lobby’s genocide denial strategy shifted its approach to the issue on the
centennial anniversary. TIP’s other hired public relations firm, Levick, tried
to get a counter genocide resolution introduced that “focused on the next 100
years” by Rep. Curt Clawson (R-FL) who had been recruited to introduce the bill
by Clawson’s predecessor, Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL), now a lobbyist for
Levick.

A pushback from Clawson’s own
constituency thwarted the TIP’s efforts, and the resolution, H. Res. 226, was
instead introduced by Rep. Jeff Sessions (R-TX). The bill currently has two
cosponsors.

I am personally aware of the Turkish
government’s coordinated anti-Armenian effort with TIP, Levick, and now
Mercury, as I was in Clawson’s district on April 12, 2015. I was invited to
give a presentation on the Armenian Genocide at the Holocaust Museum and
Education Center of Southwest Florida in Naples. Upon my arrival to the
Holocaust Museum, I was shown an intimidating letter by Ozgur Kivanc Altan,
Consul General of the Republic of Turkey in Miami addressed to the Holocaust
Museum demanding that they cancel my presentation.

From Peace to Hit-Piece

The Turkish lobby’s strategy of
genocide denial cloaked as peace has now turned to attacking the Republic of
Armenia itself in order to mask Azerbaijan’s $4 billion dollar arms purchase
from Russia
, not to mention Azerbaijan’s gross abuse of human rights,
corruption scandals, jailing of journalists, and drift away from democracy and
towards authoritarian rule.

Mr. Ereli’s anti-Armenian hit-piece in Forbes should be appended, as the New York Times did, so that its readership is
fully aware of his firm’s financial benefit from the published story. Their
readers deserve no less. 

*UPDATE: As of 4:00 PM on 2/26/16, Forbes corrected Ereli’s byline, stating he is “the vice chairman of Mercury, a public affairs and strategy firm whose clients include the Turkish Institute for Progress.”

About Armenian Assembly of America

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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