New bill will allow California agencies to divest from Turkey over Armenian Genocide denial, aggression against Artsakh

Today, Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Canada-Flintridge) and Senator Scott Wilk (R – Santa Clarita) introduced SB 457, a measure that requires the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) and the State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS) Boards of Administration to allow school districts and cities to opt out of investment vehicles issued or owned by the Republic of Turkey.

“It’s critical that we send a strong message to the Republic of Turkey that California does not support its ongoing and aggressive denial of the Armenian Genocide and its unprovoked attacks on Artsakh,” stated Senator Portantino. “The State of California is home to the largest Armenian diaspora population in the United States and we stand in solidarity with Armenian Americans living in California, most of whom are direct descendants of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide.  We must take this opportunity to make a strong statement and create a pragmatic approach to divestment,” concluded Portantino.

The State of California has a long history of divesting from countries that violate human rights. In 1986, Governor George Deukmejian condemned South Africa’s apartheid policy by signing California’s divestiture law, aimed at pressuring the government to end its system of racial segregation. In 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a Sudan divestment bill due to the ongoing genocide in the Darfur. 

“California’s record of speaking out against human rights violations and crimes against humanity is strong,” stated Senator Scott Wilk. “With SB 457, we continue this important tradition and take a principled stand against Turkey’s shameful denial of the Armenian Genocide and it’s aggression against the Republic of Artsakh. Silence is not an option, as it will embolden the government of Turkey to commit further crimes against humanity.”

Senator Portantino drafted SB 457 after discussing with Glendale City Councilmember Ardy Kassakhian the initiative he brought forth to the Glendale City Council to divest investment dollars from the Republic of Turkey. 

“I am encouraged by the work of Senator Anthony Portantino, who has brought forth this legislation to allow local agencies to divest from the Republic of Turkey,” stated Councilmember Kassakhian. “Recent aggression by Turkey against the peaceful neighboring Republics of Artsakh and Armenia demand a response from those of us who put an emphasis on democratic values.  In addition to its well-funded campaign of Armenian Genocide denial, the government of Turkey continues to supports terrorist groups, using them to expand their influence in the region. Californians should be able to divest their dollars from such dictatorial regimes.  I look forward to working with Senator Portantino and our leaders in Sacramento to make sure this bill is passed and signed into law.” 

Continuing to invest in the Republic of Turkey sends a dangerous signal and enables the government – through direct investments in its economy – to continue to deny justice to the victims of the Armenian Genocide. Divestment from Turkish bonds over the government’s denial of the Armenian Genocide would impose much needed economic consequences on a regime that continues to engage in policies that constitute crimes against humanity.

Legislators who have signed on in support of SB 457 include Senator Bob Archuleta (D – Pico Rivera) and Senator Andreas Borgeas (R – Fresno) as co-authors.

Senators Portantino and Wilk look forward to working closely with the Armenian National Committee of America – Western Region and other Armenian American organizations as the bill moves through the legislative process.

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