California has always been a leader and passionate advocate for justice throughout the world. In the absence of federal action, we forged ahead to economically punish South Africa for its inhumane apartheid policies, and we once again used divestment to stand firm against the genocide in Sudan.
Now, with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide Wednesday, California has the opportunity to once again take a powerful stand against injustice. To this day, the government of Turkey still denies its well-documented role in the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1923.
As Pope Francis so eloquently stated, "Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it." Bold action is needed to force Turkey to accept its past and begin the slow, painful process of healing. The Armenian Caucus in the Legislature has introduced Assembly Bill 1410, which is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the Assembly Committee on Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security. The measure would prohibit the California Public Employees' Retirement System and California State Teachers' Retirement System from investing public employee retirement funds in the government of Turkey. CalPERS has an estimated $185 million in Turkish bonds, while CalSTRS has investment holdings in excess of several hundred million dollars.
Until the government of Turkey can come to terms with its history, it needs to understand that California is willing to draw a line in the sand and say we will not tolerate denial of genocide. California, home to the largest Armenian population outside of Armenia, has a moral obligation to divest from Turkey.
Beginning in 1915, the Ottoman Turkish government rounded up ethnic Armenians and began a campaign of deportation and executions that led to massacres, forced marches and deaths due to starvation and disease. Thanks to the efforts of many American relief organizations, a precious few — mostly orphans — survived. Many survivors eventually made it to California and have been contributing to our state ever since.
As the seventh largest economy in the world, California has the economic might to drive change. Divesting millions of dollars from Turkey will be a powerful statement to the world and would also ensure that the state is not enabling Turkey's efforts to depopulate the Middle East of its Christians, Jews, Kurds and other religious minorities.
We need to send a strong message to Turkey that we will not accept "business as usual" until its government acknowledges this crime against humanity and reaches a fair and just resolution through reparations for Armenian survivors and their descendants.