The activity of anti-Armenian lobbyist found in Yerevan, ethnic Turk Kevin (Kemal) Öksüz, whom US law enforcers are seeking, and who had founded a company in Armenia and started business activities in the country, caused concern not only in our country in our country and raised concerns among Armenian American lobbying organizations. The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is particularly interested in how he has been able to enter the territory of Armenia, to engage in entrepreneurial activity, and what exactly he has been doing during the last year.
Do you know Kemal Oksuz and what work has he done in the US in terms of anti-Armenian efforts? When did he first get on the ANCA’s radar screen?
Yeghisapet / ANCA: Mr. Oksuz has been on the Armenia National Committee of America (ANCA) radar screen since about 2011 when PBS Religion and Ethics News Weekly and the New York Times had done reports on Turkish Islamic scholar / imam Fethullah Gulen and his movement’s campaign to set up charter schools across the U.S. Mr. Oksuz was featured prominently in each news item as a lead spokesman for their efforts.
Soon thereafter, we began seeing reports that the groups he was leading – the Houston-based Turquoise Council for Americans and Eurasians and the Assembly of Friends of Azerbaijan (AFAZ), among others – were reaching out to federal, state and local officials, hosting fundraisers for them, leading trips for politicians to Turkey and Azerbaijan.
The largest of those trips came in May/June, 2013, for the “USA-Azerbaijan: Vision for the Future” – conference held in Baku. According to the Washington Diplomat – the only US-based news outlet reporting from the conference – the guest list included “317 delegates from 42 states, including 11 sitting members of Congress and 75 state representatives, not to mention the former governors of New Mexico and Oklahoma as well as three ex-Obama White House insiders: political strategist David Plouffe, former press secretary Robert Gibbs and ex-deputy chief of staff Jim Messina.” According to reports, Mr. Oksuz and his organizations – the Turquoise Council and AFAZ – coordinated the participation of elected officials at the conference. The event was a lavish extravaganza, under the leadership of President Aliyev – “caviar diplomacy” at its best.
The goals of the conference were obvious – to cover up the Aliyev regime’s dismal human rights record and advance pro-Azerbaijan and anti-Armenian policies here in the U.S. In fact, one of the participants, Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies professor Donald C.F. Daniel, a former top official at the National Intelligence Council, told the Washington Diplomat: “They had one clearly stated request: that the U.S. support them in their confrontation with Armenia, an adversary whose lobbying clout in the United States is evidenced by a law that sharply conditions American aid to Azerbaijan.”
On the Armenia/Artsakh front, the effects of the conference were seen fairly quickly. Within months, a Hawaii state legislator who had attended the 2013 Baku trip, introduced two resolutions in the Hawaii legislature – one designating February 26, 2014, as the “22nd Anniversary of the alleged Khojaly Tragedy in Azerbaijan” and the other calling for expanded U.S.-Azerbaijan relations. The Hawaii Armenian community and the ANCA Western Region mobilized immediately and were able to successfully stop passage of both resolutions.
A Tennessee elected official, who had gone on the Baku trip introduced pro-Azerbaijan legislation, which was eventually stopped thanks to the efforts ofANCA Eastern Region and local Armenian advocates, who worked with investigative reporters to spotlight how questionable donations from supporters of AFAZ and the Turquoise Council affected his decision. The ANCA helped block similar pro-Azerbaijan legislation in the states of South Dakota and Wyoming.
In Congress, former Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine, who had attended the 2013 Baku conference and had participated in many political fundraisers at Mr. Oksuz’ home, cosigned a letter calling for an end to foreign aid to Artsakh, and spoke out in favor of Azerbaijan on the House floor.
And then, of course, the 2014, Houston Chronicle news accounts showed that all 11 members of Congress who attended the conference support pro-Azerbaijani oil amendments in the U.S. House. This prompted the Office of Congressional Ethics to start a massive investigation into who actually funded the 2013 Baku conference and by 2015 it was clear that while Mr. Oksuz had personally signed all the paperwork stating that it was the Turquoise Council organizing and paying for the trips, it was actually the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) that had paid over $750,000 for the travel and accommodations alone.
Throughout that process, the ANCA called for transparency – that whatever the Office Congressional Ethics (OCE) found be made available to the public, to reveal the extent of Azerbaijani government manipulation and intervention in the U.S. political process. The ANCA led a grassroots campaign and joined civic groups calling for the release of the OCE report. By October, 2015, transparency triumphed. The 70-page report and some 1000-pages of investigative material were eventually turned over to the Department of Justice. It is likely that Mr. Oksuz’s arrest warrant on falsification of documents to Congress is a direct result of that investigation.
Were you surprised that Mr. Oksuz was apprehended in Armenia and has had a registered business here for over a year?
Yeghisapet / ANCA: We had heard Mr. Oksuz had fled the U.S. following the Office of Congressional Ethics investigation. We were of course happy to see close cooperation between Armenia police and Interpol to apprehend Mr. Oksuz and help bring him to justice here in the U.S. But, the fact that he had been apparently working in Yerevan for a year is surprising and concerning, given his history of anti-Armenia and anti-Artsakh lobbying efforts. It’s true that because he had not registered as a foreign agent for the Azerbaijani government, his lobbying efforts were not as easy to track. But Mr. Oksuz was not shy about publicizing his ties to elected officials on social media – and, of course, he signed paperwork for the 2013 Congressional trip to Baku. His presence in Armenia certainly warrants more investigation on how he was able to enter the country, set up a business, and what exactly he was doing there for the past year.
Earlier it was repeorted that in cooperation with the Interpol bureau in Armenia, Armenian police on Wednesday have found—in capital city Yerevan—ethnic Turk Kevin (Kemal) Öksüz, whom US law enforcers are seeking, and who had founded a company in Armenia and started business activities in the country.
On August 23, an international search was declared for Öksüz, under the US criminal code, and on charges of falsifying documents and submitting a false statement.
He was the chairman of a public, nonprofit organization of Turkish Americans and Eurasians. The objective of this organization was to establish close relations between Turks and Americans by organizing trips to Turkey and Azerbaijan.