By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
I wrote a column last August warning that the Armenian-American community and all people of good will would boycott the products and services of Anheuser-Busch, Boeing, Chevron, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, Google, Los Angeles Airport, National Football League, Port of Oakland, and United Airlines, unless these companies cancelled their contracts with the Gephardt Group, one of Turkey’s notorious lobbying firms.
Ironically, former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt had championed recognition of the Armenian Genocide during his long years in Congress. Yet, soon-after his retirement, Gephardt became a staunch opponent of Armenian issues by peddling Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide. The latest contract on file with the U.S. Justice Department reveals that the Gephardt Group is paid $1.4 million a year to lobby for Turkey in Washington.
Documents filed by the Gephardt Group with the Justice Department under the ‘Foreign Agent Registration Act’ indicate that Gephardt and his colleagues contacted dozens of House and Senate Members last year to lobby against: 1) congressional resolutions on the Armenian Genocide and return of Christian Churches by Turkey, and 2) revelations that Turkey supported Islamic Jihadists during their invasion of the Armenian-inhabited town of Kessab in Syria.
More ominously, Justice Department records show that just before April 24, 2014, Janice O’Connell, Gephardt’s colleague, contacted Brian McKeon, Chief of Staff of the National Security Council at the White House and Chad Kreikemeier, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, to modify Pres. Obama’s annual statement on the Armenian Genocide, following Prime Minister Erdogan’s deceptive and disingenuous apology for all victims of World War I in Ottoman Turkey.
Justice Department’s records also reveal that Gephardt and O’Connell traveled to Istanbul and Ankara on Turkish Airlines on March 3, 2014 to meet Turkey’s National Security Advisor. Gephardt flew from Paris to Istanbul and Ankara at a round trip cost of $1,513, while O’Connell flew from Washington, DC to Istanbul and Ankara at a round trip cost of $6,986. The two lobbyists stayed at the Conrad Hotel in Istanbul for three nights at the cost of $710 each. While in Turkey, they spent $600 on limousine service.
Last month, the Armenian National Committee of America, Armenian Assembly of America, and Armenian Youth Federation (Eastern and Western U.S.) sent over 200 letters to businesses, universities, and NGOs that are clients of the Gephardt Group and four other lobbying firms for Turkey: Dickstein Shapiro, LLC; Greenberg Traurig; Alpaytac; and LB International. One such letter asked the United Airlines to demand the lobbying firm to end its contract with the Turkish government, if not, the airline should then terminate its own contract with the lobbying firm. If neither action is taken by Feb. 28, Armenian-Americans would carry out a protest campaign against both the lobbying firm and United Airlines.
The efforts to counter Turkey’s lobbying firms already bore its first fruits. On February 23, ANCA-WR announced that Los Angeles World Airports [LAWA], a wholly-owned entity of the City of Los Angeles, has decided to terminate its contract worth over $845,000 with the Gephardt Group, after ANCA called upon Mayor Eric Garcetti last December, “to end any ties between the City of Los Angeles and Dick Gephardt.”
ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian applauded “LAWA and City of Los Angeles officials for their principled stand enforcing a zero-tolerance policy against deniers of genocide. LAWA’s action reflects the highest standards of good governance and reinforces the proud standing of Los Angeles as a leader -- nationally and internationally -- on issues of genocide prevention and human rights. As a genocide denier, Gephardt does not deserve a single dollar from the citizens of Los Angeles, and should have no association with our city.”
According to U.S. Government documents obtained by ANCA-WR, the Gephardt Group “had a contract worth over $845,000 with LAWA, which was agreed to in 2012 during the term of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Since the approval of the contract with LAWA, the Gephardt Group has been drawing over $23,000 a month for its work for the airport, while simultaneously representing the interests of the Turkish Government against the interests of the Armenian-American community.”
After this first major victory, Armenian-Americans should continue urging the remaining 200 companies that are clients of the Gephardt Group and other lobbying firms hired by Turkey to terminate their contracts, because hiring genocide denialists is patently unethical and bad for business!