It turns out that it wasn’t as much the concern for “the safety of American soldiers in Iraq” but  for losing free airfares to Turkey that made some United States lawmakers drop support for commemorating the Armenian Genocide.

New investigation by Politico states that “[o]rganizations promoting Israel, China and Turkey were among the biggest trip sponsors this year” for Congress members.”

According to the report, the trips to Turkey might have paid off.


Sixteen lawmakers and congressional staffers flew to Istanbul and Ankara on two different trips this year, courtesy of the USAFMC’s “Congressional Study Group on Turkey,” a 2005 creation whose funding includes pro-Turkey interest groups and companies that do business with the country.

Turkey has been in the spotlight this year as it fought a possible congressional recognition of the genocide in Armenia.

The Turkish government mounted a full-court lobbying press against the resolution, which ultimately was defeated.

The nation is also involved in sensitive negotiations over whether it can wage its military battle against the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) over the border in Iraq.

“There was not a meeting we had where those two things did not come up,” said Marilyn J. Dillihay, the legislative director for Rep. Stephen I. Cohen (D-Tenn.). 

“For somebody who is a new staffer like me, it was a fabulous immersion in those kinds of issues,” she said, especially because the issues “were at the forefront this year.”

The week-long trips occurred in May and August, just when Congress was debating the Armenian resolution.

The new ethics rules say that such trips cannot be planned or arranged by a lobbyist.

That doesn’t mean that lobbyists cannot meet the delegations when they arrive.

While the sponsors are not allowed to explicitly tell lawmakers how to vote on a piece of legislation, there is nothing to prohibit them from making the case for their position.

The talk about the Armenian genocide resolution made a big impact on her, Dillihay said.

What she learned, she said, was that “what seemed like a nonbinding, whoop-de-do resolution, had huge resonance somewhere else.”

“The more I have learned about it, the less I thought it was the proper thing to do,” she said.

The Capitol Hill delegation’s agenda included meetings with Turkey’s prime minister and the ministers of foreign affairs and economic affairs.

The trips were entirely planned by the USAFMC, according to the group’s executive director, Peter Weichlein, who responded to written questions.

“No representatives of the Turkish government have any influence over any aspect of our trips, programming and funding,” he wrote.

During the August trip, the travelers stopped at the home of former U.S. Rep. Stephen Solarz, a longtime lobbyist for Turkey.

Solarz spoke to the group about the Armenian resolution and the PKK issue, Dillihay said.

“He expressed a sense of what kind of effect it could have on Turkey and U.S.-Turkish relationships,” Dillihay said.

“If it was lobbying, it was soft as it could be. It was just like somebody hosting you in their house for lunch,” she said.

The purpose of the meeting with Solarz was refreshments and a discussion of history, Weichlein wrote.

Cohen, who also went on a trip to Turkey, opposes the Armenian resolution, citing Turkey’s strategic importance in the Middle East region and support for the U.S. in the Iraq war.

Bob Livingston, the former congressman whose firm took the lead in lobbying for Turkey on the Armenia issue, told Politico he was not involved in planning the congressional delegation’s visit.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with this trip,” he said.

Livingston said Solarz was working with his firm to lobby for Turkey at the time he met with the congressional delegation, and that he himself is on the USAFMC board.

In fact, even if Solarz did lobby the group, he would have been in compliance, said Jan Baran, an ethics expert at Wiley Rein.

Baran, who has done work for USAFMC on other matters, said the rules prohibit a lobbyist from traveling with a congressional delegation, not from meeting with one once it has arrived.

The ethics rules definition of “a trip” as only applying to the physical movement between locations “is fundamentally absurd,” Baran said.