WASHINGTON—Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and nine of his Congressional colleagues from California sent a letter this week to California State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De León in support of California Assembly Bill 1597, which would divest California’s public pension funds from investment vehicles that are owned, controlled, or managed by the Turkish government.
“California has acted in the past to prohibit new investments by its pension funds in sectors that are inimical to our state’s values, such as the 2015 state law mandating divestment from coal companies,” the Members wrote in the letter. “The narrowly drafted AB 1597 proposal is an appropriate use of that authority, blocking future investments directly owned by the Turkish Government, such as government bonds.”
Rep. Schiff sent the letter along with Jackie Speier (CA-14), Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Brad Sherman (CA-30), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Salud Carbajal (CA-24) and Jim Costa (CA-16).
“Given the recent assault on peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C. by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s personal security forces, as well as Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide, divestment by California is an appropriate response,” the members wrote in the letter.
AB 1597 passed the California State Assembly on June 1st by a vote of 67-0, after being introduced and championed by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian for the past two years.
“We are so grateful to Congressman Adam Schiff who upon learning from us of the Divest Turkey statute pending in Sacramento, immediately took the lead in drafting this powerful letter of support for AB1597 and securing the support of his colleagues from California’s congressional delegation. We thank him and each Member of Congress who signed the letter for their recognition that long-standing public policy calling for justice for the Armenian Genocide is inconsistent with State investments in the Turkish government which enable it to continue funding its multi-million dollar denialist campaign,” said Nora Hovsepian, Esq., chairwoman of the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region.
“Now that AB1597 has passed by a vote of 67-0 in the State Assembly, we look forward to successful passage in the State Senate and then to the Governor’s signature. We call upon all members of our community, especially public employees whose pension funds are invested in the Turkish government, to make their voices heard with their elected officials in Sacramento that their money should not fund Turkey’s PR campaigns in the US and that AB1597 should be enacted as a safeguard,” added Hovsepian.
The Armenian Youth Federation Western US Central Executive, in a statement issued Wednesday, thanked Rep. Schiff and his colleagues for advancing this important issue, which has been a focal point of the AYF’s activities in the past two years. Working with Armenian Student Association chapters on college campuses, the AYF has spearheaded the passage of divestment resolution by student governments on all University of California campuses.
“The support for AB 1597 from all across the state has been steadily increasing, showing that our calls to divest from the government of Turkey have become more crucial and relevant than ever. California must not be complicit in Turkey’s crimes, and divestment is an important way to ensure that Turkey is held accountable for its policies and actions that are in such stark opposition to those of this state,” said the AYF CE.
“With the grassroots call for Turkish divestment now echoing from the halls of the United States Congress, we must push with renewed vigor to pass AB1597 and end the State of California’s $500 million dollar risky investment in Turkey’s failing economy, genocide denial campaigns, and human rights violations. We want Turkish Dictator Erdogan to know that we will relentlessly pursue divestment on local, state, national, and international levels until Turkey is brought to account and justice is realized,” added the AYF.
Full text of the letter is below:
Dear Mr. President:
We write to voice our strong support for AB 1597, which would divest California’s public pension funds from investment vehicles that are owned, controlled, or managed by the Turkish government. This legislation passed the Assembly on June 1st by a vote of 67-0. Given the recent assault on peaceful protestors in Washington, D.C. by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s personal security forces, as well as Turkey’s continued denial of the Armenian Genocide, divestment by California is an appropriate response. We hope that the State Senate takes up and passes this legislation as soon as possible.
As you are aware, the once dynamic and relatively open Turkish democracy has slid towards authoritarian rule by President Erdogan. With the recent passage, beset by voting irregularities, of a constitutional referendum, Erdogan has amassed dictatorial powers. 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 recently brought that campaign to the United States. On May 16th, members of Erdogan’s security detail brutally attacked a peaceful protest outside of the Turkish Embassy, causing serious injuries. Videos show Erdogan speaking to his security forces immediately prior to the attack, and observing from a distance as his armed security beat peaceful protestors. The House of Representatives recently passed H. Res. 354 unanimously, condemning this assault and calling on the Administration to hold Turkey responsible and take appropriate actions against those who carried out the attack.
Finally, Turkey has engaged in a decades long campaign to deny the Armenian Genocide, expending millions of dollars to lobby against recognition of the historic fact of the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915-1923. California has been a leader in the United States in speaking frankly about the genocide, serving as a home for tens of thousands of Armenian-Americans whose families survived the genocide to build new lives in the United States.
California has acted in the past to prohibit new investments by its pension funds in sectors that are inimical to our state’s values, such as the 2015 state law mandating divestment from coal companies. The narrowly drafted AB 1597 proposal is an appropriate use of that authority, blocking future investments directly owned by the Turkish Government, such as government bonds. The investments make up a small portion of the pension funds’ holdings, and reallocating these resources in an orderly fashion will have no measurable impact on their fiduciary duties.
We hope that the Senate acts quickly on AB 1597, and that it can be signed into law as soon as possible.
Adam B. Schiff
Anna G. Eshoo
cc: Assembly Member Adrin Nazarian