Tereza Yerimyan, Government Affairs Director at the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), a non-partisan Armenian-American advocacy organization, spoke to a December 19th Middle East Forum (MEF) Webinar (video) in an interview with Benjamin Baird, head of MEF's advocacy and community engagement efforts and deputy director of Islamism in Politics (IIP), a project of MEF's Islamist Watch. Baird spoke to Yerimyan about her advocacy on behalf of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), and ANCA's lobbying of Congress to sanction Turkey and halt U.S. arms deals to the Islamist regime. The following is a summary of Yerimyan's remarks:
In the final years of the Ottoman Empire, from 1915 to 1921, Turkey conducted a genocide against the Armenians that claimed 1.5 million lives. Even after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Turkish Republic in 1923 and democratized the country, his blockade of goods bound for Armenia caused the death of more Armenian from illness and disease.
Turkey continues to deny responsibility for and acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide, including incorporating this denial into a revisionist historical narrative in order to influence other countries, including the U.S., despite documented facts disproving this narrative. Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish Polish lawyer who lost most of his family during the Holocaust and who coined the term "genocide," specifically referred to the massacre of the Armenians as an example of this phenomenon. Turkey continues to deny the more recent persecution of Armenians, including the 1988 massacres of Armenian in Azerbaijan.
Instead of defending the U.S. and its allies, as stipulated in the NATO charter, Turkey exacerbates global tensions. Examples include its invasion of Cyprus in 1974, its aid to Libyan rival military groups in 2019 and, most recently, its airstrikes on Kurdish militias in northern Syria and threatened invasion of that territory. In 2016, U.S. military planning was thrown into turmoil when, during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Turkey temporarily blocked America's access to the U.S. military base in Incirlik.
In 2017, during his visit to the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., members of Turkish president Erdoğan's security detail attacked and beat peaceful Kurdish and Armenian protesters, including women and children. Unfortunately, the police did not respond quickly enough to prevent serious injury. Two of Erdoğan's security personnel were imprisoned for their actions, but were released after serving only one year. The Turkish government was not only involved in their release but is also "manipulat[ing] the judicial system" in the U.S. in an effort to get the D.C. court to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Kurdish Americans over the incident.
Turkey employs more subtle methods to conduct its disinformation campaign denying the Armenian genocide, such as establishing nonprofit non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to bring Congressional members and American educators on joint trips to Turkey and Azerbaijan. The objective of such trips is to influence America's foreign policy towards Turkey. ANCA counters Turkey's "foreign money and lobbying" by educating individuals about the geopolitics of Turkey's human rights violations. Once educated, voters can exercise their right to communicate their concerns to Congressional staffers in the hopes of advancing and ultimately passing legislation.
Thirteen states now have required instruction about the Armenian genocide and, building upon that success, ANCA has been involved in the Genocide Education Project (GenEd), a nonprofit organization that provides curricula about human rights, especially the Armenian genocide, to school districts and educators. In addition, U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has introduced the Armenian Genocide Education Act, a resolution to provide $10 million over five years through the Library of Congress and increase resources for teachers so they can learn and teach the historical truth about the Armenian genocide. The legislation is scheduled to be introduced during the next Congress.
In response to Turkish airstrikes on Kurds in northern Syria, ANCA is working to prevent humanitarian disaster by partnering with the American Friends of Kurdistan (AFK) and educating politicians on the issue. ANCA is also working with the U.S. to safeguard the human rights of the large Armenian population situated between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the disputed area of the breakaway Republic of Artsakh in the aftermath of Azerbaijan's closure, with Turkey's support, of a critical supply corridor.
Partnering with other organizations to fight Turkey's influence over America's foreign policy, ANCA is part of a coalition united in informing the U.S. government of the varied communities affected by Turkey's "belligerence" and adventurism. The coalition includes the Middle East Forum, the Hindu American Foundation, and the forementioned AFK. Another coalition member, the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), is committed to the defense of Christian communities in Turkey and the protection of Christian heritage sites being destroyed there. HALC is also involved in the defense of Cyprus in an effort to counter Turkey's attempt to justify, as a NATO member, its invasion of Cyprus's airspace.
America's proposed sale of upgraded F-16 fighter jets to Turkey is the most recent pressing issue for Yerimyan. ANCA, which is lobbying the U.S. government to halt the sale, has been involved in the issue since 2020, when Azerbaijan unleashed mercenaries and airstrikes against the Armenian civilian population in Artsakh. Thousands of civilians died, and Turkey provided Azerbaijan with air support from F-16s purchased from the U.S. in the past. Now Turkey is requesting upgraded American F-16s with advanced technology compatible with the Patriot Air Defense System. Following Turkey's purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, the U.S. declined to sell it the Patriot system. That the proposed sale of upgraded F-16s contains technology compatible with the system America previously declined to sell to Turkey "doesn't logically make sense."
Arguments that denying military sales to Turkey will push it closer to Russia and China overlook the fact that Turkey is already involved in robust trade with both U.S. adversaries. America is permitting its foreign policy to be "manipulated" by a purported NATO ally. What might the ramifications be if the U.S. permits an authoritarian like Erdoğan to foment global conflicts without consequence? "Then [the U.S. is] telling the world, 'You can do whatever you want, and we'll continue funding you. We'll continue giving the most lethal arms to you and let you do whatever you want with it,' rather than saying: 'There are consequences to your actions, and we're worried about our adversaries, be it terrorists or be it other countries getting these [F-16s].'"
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.