By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
As Turkey becomes the target of worldwide condemnation for its human rights violations, the Turkish government decides to spend a fortune on lobbying and public relations firms to try to cleanse its tarnished reputation. On the heels of the April 16 flawed referendum which Erdogan barely won to give himself a wide-ranging dictatorial powers, and his bodyguards’ brutal attack in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington D.C., on innocent protesters has been universally criticized by the executive and legislative branches of the US government, including a resolution adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives 397-0!
Unfortunately, for Turkey and its autocratic president, the country’s reputation is so tainted that public relations firms, regardless of how powerful and competent they are, cannot whitewash its image. Turkish leaders are simply wasting millions of dollars of their taxpayers’ money attempting to accomplish an impossible task.
The Turkish government has already been paying five million dollars a year to 10 lobbying firms: The Gephardt Group $1,700,000; APCO $741,000; Amsterdam Partners $600,000; Greenberg Traurig $480,000; Capitol Counsel $384,000; Mercury $240,000; Madison Group $240,000; Mcbee Signal $240,000; Jim Arnold $240,000; and MediaFix $108,000! In addition, a business associate of Pres. Erdogan paid Pres. Trump’s disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn $540,000 in September 2016 to lobby on behalf of the Turkish government!
In recent months, trying to get out of its P.R. quagmire, the Turkish government and groups affiliated with it have hired three new firms. This week we will present one of these lobbying firms, leaving the other two to a future column.
Monte Advisory Group was hired in August 2016 for a fee of $400,000. According to the Daily Beast, the firm is run by Douglas Baker, the son of Republican James Baker [Chief of Staff and Secretary of State for Pres. George H.W. Bush; and Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury for Pres. Ronald Reagan). The firm is supposed to improve public perceptions of Turkey! Douglas Baker is the “sole and managing member” of the Monte Advisory Group. The contract is signed by an Istanbul-based mysterious non-governmental organization known as Knowledge Economy Association (KEA). The Daily Beast reported that KEA’s “activities aligned sometimes with the interests of the Turkish government.” More ominously, the Daily Beast reported that “at least one member of the KEA leadership was a representative of the Turkish government.” Furthermore, the founder and former president of KEA, Davut Kavranoglu, is now a scientific advisor to Pres. Erdogan, according to the Daily Beast. Kavranoglu had tweeted a photograph of himself with James Baker!
The Daily Beast reported that, according to its filing with the Department of Justice, Monte Advisory Group was “engaged in outreach to the Trump Presidential Campaign and Presidential Transition Team” on behalf of KEA “to improve the overall relationship and public perceptions between Turkey and the United States.” Monte also made contacts with “outgoing Obama administration officials, holding meetings with staff from the Department of Defense and emailing Colin Kahl, the National Security Advisor to then Vice-President Biden.”
Israfil Kahraman, an Istanbul lawyer, was listed in the Department of Justice filing as the legal representative of KEA, according to the Daily Beast. Israfil stated that the purpose of the contract was “to develop friendship and cooperation between Turkey and the United States in the fields of scientific and economic development.” Kahraman is quoted by the Daily Beast as stating that the KEA was founded “by a group of distinguished scientists with the aim of conducting civil society activities in order to raise awareness in Turkey about developing an economy with high added value.” This makes no sense. Why would a group whose aim is to raise awareness about the economy in Turkey hire a lobbying firm in Washington? This sounds more like a front for the Turkish government than an independent group of scientists. It would be interesting to find out who is funding the KEA!
Interestingly, when contacted by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), Douglas Baker stated that there had been some concerns the US-Turkey relationship “has soured a little” in the latter years of the Obama administration. “There could be opportunities to either strengthen that relationship or see it undergo further harm. And that’s the reason that [KEA] retained Monte -- to help during that transitional phase.”
Douglas Baker added that his company’s work for KEA “was never designed to be broad brush public relations campaign. It was a bit more of an opportunity to present their point of view… they felt we were positioned to help them with the necessary introductions.”
Not surprisingly, after Pres. Trump’s inauguration, and after “the necessary introductions” were made between the KEA and Trump administration officials, KEA did not renew the contract with Monte when its initial six-month term expired in February 2017. “Only $105,000 of the contracted $400,000 was paid by this point,” according to the BIJ.