By Taniel Koushakjian
Armenian Agenda Editor
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.”
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.”
By exposing groups like the TIP, Armenians in the Diaspora grow stronger.