WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff and eight colleagues in the California congressional delegation sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown to urge him to sign AB 1597, legislation passed by the state legislature which would require the California Public Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) to divest from investments in assets owned, issued, or controlled by the Turkish government if certain conditions are met. AB 1597, which was sponsored by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, passed the Assembly and Senate in August, and Governor Brown has until the end of September to sign it into law. The requirement to divest would come into effect upon the passage of a federal law imposing sanctions on Turkey for its failure to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
The legislation was introduced to respond to Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide, which was carried out by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923, killing 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children.
As Schiff and the other signers wrote in the letter, “We believe this legislation is a proportionate and appropriate response to Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide, as well as its violations of human rights and actions counter to United States interests.” The letter also makes note of the increasingly autocratic rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including the suppression of dissent and the imprisonment of journalists, as well as other steps they have taken contrary to U.S. national security interests.
In addition to Schiff, the letter was signed by Reps. Jackie Speier, Tony Cárdenas, Salud Carbajal, Jim Costa, Anna Eshoo, Grace Napolitano, Zoe Lofgren, and Brad Sherman.
The full text of the letter is below:
Dear Governor Brown:
We write to express our support for AB 1597, legislation which has passed the California legislature and awaits your signature. AB 1597 would prohibit the California Public Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) from making new investments or renewing existing investments in assets owned or issued by the government of Turkey, contingent upon the imposition by the federal government of sanctions against Turkey for failing to recognize the Armenian Genocide. The legislation was passed overwhelmingly by the Assembly and Senate. As Congressional representatives from California, we believe this legislation is a proportionate and appropriate response to Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide, as well as its violations of human rights and actions counter to United States interests. We urge you to sign it into law.
The extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923 is a historic fact, a campaign of terror that all reputable historians agree amounted to the first genocide of the 20th century. Turkey has engaged in a decades long campaign to deny the historic fact of the Armenian Genocide, and to deter U.S. leaders from discussing the genocide by opposing recognition by either the Congress or the President. California has been a leader in the United States in speaking frankly about the genocide, serving as a home for hundreds of thousands of Armenian-Americans whose families survived the genocide to build new lives in the United States.
Turkey’s negative behavior extends far beyond the denial of a historic genocide. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s democratic traditions have decayed, leaving an increasingly autocratic state. Turkey has become the world’s leading imprisoner of journalists, suppressed free speech, and has engaged in a brutal campaign to stamp out political dissent. They have persisted in holding an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, prisoner under scurrilous charges. Turkey has even exported its brutal repression to our soil when last year members of Erdogan’s security detail assaulted peaceful protesters in Washington, DC, an action which was condemned unanimously by the House of Representatives and for which four members of the Turkish delegation still face criminal charges.
Finally, the bill has been substantially narrowed from the version which was first introduced and passed last year by the Assembly. The Senate adopted an amendment which provides that the legislation would only go into effect should the federal government implement sanctions on Turkey based on the denial of the Armenian Genocide. AB 1597 sends the message that California rejects providing economic support, directly or indirectly, to Turkey so long as it denies the killing of 1.5 Armenians. This legislation, the first of its kind in the United States, would be deeply meaningful to Californians of Armenian descent.
We hope you agree and will sign the bill into law.