CA State Assembly Votes to Divest from Turkey

— ANCA-WR and AYF-WR Welcome Passage of Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian’s Measure (AB 1597); Expand Efforts to Secure CA Senate Passage

SACRAMENTO, CA — With overwhelming bipartisan support, the California State Assembly adopted Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian’s measure (AB 1597) – a movement long championed by the Armenian National Committee of America Western Region (ANCA-WR) and Armenian Youth Federation Western Region (AYF-WR) – calling for the divestment of California public funds from Turkish government controlled financial instruments, ensuring taxpayer funds are no longer used in this manner to aid and abet Turkey’s century long obstruction of justice for the Armenian Genocide.

“I am humbled and grateful for my colleagues in the Assembly for joining with me to fight for justice for the 1.5 million Armenian souls who perished in the Genocide,” said Assemblyman Nazarian, the lead author of AB 1597. “If Turkey continues to fund Armenian Genocide deniers they must be financially punished.”

Assemblyman Nazarian opened State Assembly consideration of the measure, noting that: “The Republic of Turkey’s unwillingness to recognize the Genocide and their unrelenting campaign to deny the Genocide, continues to discriminate against Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and many other ethnic minorities who suffered at the hands of the Turkish Ottoman Government. California’s investment in Turkish government bonds indirectly subsidizes Turkish denial of the Genocide. This bill continues California’s commitment to act appropriately against countries that have a record of human rights violations and undermine democracy.” Other legislators who spoke out on the measure during full floor consideration include Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, Matt Debabneh, Laura Friedman, Chris Holden, and Marc Levine.

“We are truly grateful for the leadership shown by our 2016 Legislator of the Year, Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, in introducing and guiding this unprecedented ‘Divest Turkey’ bill to a successful vote in the California State Assembly,” said ANCA-WR Chair Nora Hovsepian, Esq. “We are also grateful to the thousands of California Armenians who heeded our Action Alert to call upon their elected representatives to support AB1597 and to the AYF for initiating this Divest Turkey movement by successfully securing resolutions from all nine campuses of the University of California and for working with us side by side to educate our elected representatives and to mobilize our grassroots.”

Hovsepian continued, noting, “As home to the largest Armenian community outside Armenia, it is time for California to stand firm against funding Turkey’s ongoing Genocide denial with California State pension investments and encouraging Turkey’s bad behavior on the world stage. We have been diligently working for many months in Sacramento informing and educating our legislators on this issue, and we look forward to a full enactment of this groundbreaking legislation as it goes to the Senate and then to the Governor. We remain committed to continuing to do all we can to accomplish this goal.”

ANCA-WR and AYF-WR leaders have been working closely with Assemblyman Nazarian and principal co-author Senator Scott Wilk since its introduction in February, 2017, with ANCA WR Chief Legislative Consultant Haig Baghdassarian offering testimony at the initial policy hearing held by the Public Employee, Retirement and Social Security (PERSS) Committee on April 19th. ANCA WR and AYF WR led multiple grassroots advocacy trips to Sacramento advancing the measure, which encountered tough opposition from well-funded pro-Turkey lobbyists. Throughout the Committee and full Assembly consideration process, thousands of Californians have reached out to legislators in support of the measure through the ANCA – WR’s action alert system. The measure has also gotten broad support from U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a broad range of CA State legislators and grassroots coalition partners, including the American Hellenic Council and the Assyrian American Association of Southern California.

The AYF-WR welcomed California State Assembly of the measure, stating: “The passage of AB 1597 through the Assembly floor is an important step towards the State of California finally ending its financial complicity in one of the world’s largest purveyors of human rights violations, the Republic of Turkey, and its continued denial of justice for the Armenian Genocide. Beyond the unassailable ethical case to be made for divestment, it’s a financial mistake to risk half a billion dollars of California taxpayers and pension holders’ hard earned money in the failing economy of President Erdogan’s corrupt dictatorship, which has seen its currency devalued and credit ratings plummet since a failed military coup last summer. While the bill has many hurdles ahead of it, nothing will stop an idea whose time has come.”

AB 1597 prohibits the boards of the California Public Retirement System (CalPERS) and California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) from making additional or new investments, or renewing existing investments issued, owned, controlled, or managed by the government of Turkey. The measure notes that CalPERS and CalSTRS must liquidate any of the investments within six months of the passage of a federal law imposing sanctions on Turkey.

Currently, CalPERS and CalSTRS have invested more than $500M in Turkish government-owned or controlled investment vehicles, predominantly in Turkish government bonds.

The Divest Turkey campaign started as a collaborative initiative in December 2014 between the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Western United States and Armenian students on local University of California campuses. The campaign calls international divestment of funds from the Republic of Turkey in any and all institutions in order to hold Turkey accountable for its continuing human rights violations toward Armenians, Kurds and other minorities in Turkey today, and for the yet unpunished crime of genocide against the Armenian people, as well as the Assyrian and Greek peoples.

At its inception, the Divest Turkey campaign’s first target was University of California’s $74 million investment in the Republic of Turkey’s government-issued bonds, one of the largest university systems in the world. To date, after a multiple-year, coordinated effort mobilizing AYF members and students up and down the coast of California, all 9 UC campus schools — UCLA, Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Merced, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz — as well as the University of California Student Association have voted overwhelmingly to demand divestment from the Republic of Turkey, representing the will of a combined 238,000 students across the University of California. The campaign announced on March 14 that it will formally begin communications with the University of California Board of Regents Office in order to discuss the divestment of those funds.

California set the precedent by divesting from South Africa in 1986 in response to the government’s oppressive and discriminatory policy of Apartheid, leading the way for our federal government to follow suit and ending this reprehensible policy. More recently, California divested from Sudan due to its role in the genocide in Darfur. Now, all nine undergraduate student governments of the University of California passed resolutions calling on the Regents to divest from the Turkish Government.

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