Newly surfaced Federal Election Commission (FEC) records reveal that Erdogan-allied groups –openly committed to Turkey’s aim of rolling back US recognition of the Armenian Genocide –delivered $235,000 to 82 federal legislators during the most recent election cycle.
The primary Erdogan-adjacent Political Action Committees (PACs) – organized under the umbrella of the Ten Thousand Turks Project – funneling funds to US Senators and Representatives are the genocide-denying Turkish Coalition of America PAC and its subsidiaries and affiliates – the Turkish Coalition of America-California PAC, National Coalition of Turkish American Women PAC and the National Coalition of Turkish American Lawyers PAC. The Turkish American PAC, based out of Houston, seeks to sell the US media on the false “Armenian Revolt” narrative, as a means of denying the Armenian Genocide.
Cliff Smith, Washington Project Director of the Middle East Forum, commented on these revelations, noting: “Erdogan’s intent is to use domestic political influence to cause Washington to turn a blind eye to the many, many times he has opposed America’s interests and values while still claiming to be an ally. The Ten Thousand Turks campaign is one example, and the Turkish Diyanet is another. Originally purely an internal religious ministry, the Diyanet has morphed into the Erdogan government’s international influence operation, operating in many countries as a propaganda tool. It’s telling that there are many Turkish Americans that have ceased going to mosques. They know they are getting political propaganda rather than religious instruction.”
Diliman Abdulkader, founder and spokesperson of the American Friends of Kurdistan, underscored that “AFK urges members of Congress to return all funds received from the Ten Thousand Turks Campaign. We encourage current and future members of Congress to view Turkey for what it is – an unreliable country that harms US national security interests, violates basic human rights, and targets our allies like the Kurds, Israelis, Greeks, Armenians and many more. Ironically, the Turkish government uses its state-sponsored media to push anti-American propaganda daily in Turkey. And in May 2017, pro-Erdogan supporters and Erdogan’s personal bodyguards openly attacked a crowd of peaceful protesters on American soil in Washington, DC. The Turkish government should not have any influence in American politics now or ever.”
Endy Zemenides of the Hellenic American Leadership Council stressed that “Turkey has over and over again been implicated in the worst type of influence peddling to be found in Washington, DC. The Ten Thousand Turks Campaign should make us recall Turkey’s attempted bribery of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn through a Turkish businessman. HALC urges members of Congress to return funds from the Ten Thousand Turks Campaign and to be cautious of unregistered foreign agents of the Erdogan regime.”
Benjamin Baird, director of the Middle East Forum’s Islamism in Politics project, stated: “It is no coincidence that a dozen or more Ten Thousand Turks donors have been suspected of political espionage on behalf of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party. They have been exposed in hacked emails as part of illicit lobbying activities, interrogated in FBI probes, and forced to register as foreign publicity agents of Turkey. Their mission is adversarial: undermine and attack Turkish dissidents and other ethnic minorities living in the US as free citizens, empower Turkey’s supporters in political office and silencing Erdogan’s fiercest critics.”
Baird added, “Out of an abundance of caution, members of Congress who accepted donations from these Turkish PACs in the last election cycle should return these funds and commit to refusing future contributions. Only then can Americans rest assured that their public representatives were not the target of a subversive influence operation organized by a deeply illiberal, anti-American foreign power.”
“Erdogan’s clearly doubling down on his American influence operations,” said ANCA executive director Aram Hamparian. “Even as he openly undermines US interests and our true allies in the region, he and his associates are pumping cash into Washington, DC to muffle the growing chorus criticizing Ankara’s actions.”
Each of these groups operate with the stated intent of promoting US-Turkey ties, but – in practice – act almost exclusively to cover up Turkey’s crimes and silence the voice of Armenian American, Greek American, Kurdish American and other critics of Turkey’s increasingly hostile and anti-American regional trajectory. Several, in fact, list American civil society groups – freely exercising their Constitutional rights – as the targets of their activities. The Ten Thousand Turks Project boasts that pro-Turkish PACs have received $1,750,000 from donors since 2007.
Among the top recipients of these funds are leaders of the Congressional Caucus on US-Turkey Relations and Turkish Americans, including its co-chairs – Representatives Stephen Cohen (D-TN), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA). Notably, nine of the 11 US Representatives who voted in 2019 against H.Res.296, which officially recognized the Armenian Genocide, received donations from Turkish PACs over the past 10 years.
Under President Erdogan’s rule, Turkey has dramatically escalated its influence operations in the United States, using paid agents, proxy organizations and often illegal means to overtly and covertly manipulate US policy and policymakers. US law enforcement authorities have, with few exceptions, been slow to investigate and prosecute instances of illegal Turkish interference in the US political system. Examples include an FEC fine levied in 2016 against former US Representative Jean Schmidt, a leading ally of Ankara and strident Armenian Genocide denier, for unlawfully taking $500,000 worth of legal services from the Turkish Coalition of America. The TCA also faced $25,000 in fines for this violation.