US Senator Bob Menendez has come under the limelight recently amid growing calls for his resignation after federal prosecutors charged him and his wife with taking bribes from three businesspeople in New Jersey – his own state.
Amid the allegations of corruption, his long-standing anti-Turkiye stance has also been questioned due to his close ties to the Greek and Armenian lobbies in the US, both of which are financially powerful groups with considerable political clout.
Menendez is also known for his utterly pro-Armenia stance remaining unchanged throughout the years he has been in the Senate.
In August 2007, the then-US President George W. Bush’s administration withdrew the nomination of Richard Hoagland for the position of Ambassador to Armenia due to the fact that Menendez, then a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had placed a hold on the nomination due to Hoagland’s “unwillingness to acknowledge” the events of 1915 as a “genocide” – a charge Turkiye vehemently denies.
In December 2019, Menendez co-authored the “Promoting American National Security and Preventing the Resurgence of ISIS Act” in “direct congressional response to Turkiye’s military incursion into north-east Syria and attack on the Kurds, as well as their purchase of the Russian S-400 defence system.”
Even though Turkiye was the first country ever to fight Daesh terror on the ground with its own troops, Menendez called Turkish actions in Syria “destabilising” and called for support to “Syrian Kurds” – or rather, members of US-recognised terrorist group PKK’s Syrian wing, YPG.
“From purchasing the Russian S-400 air defence system, to engaging in offensive operations in Syria against the Kurds, and committing, directing or knowingly facilitating human rights abuses against our Kurdish allies in Syria, the Foreign Relations Committee is saying enough is enough to [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan with this strong sanctions package,” he said in a statement – also calling for a “Special Immigrant Visa Program” for YPG terrorists.
In the same month, Menendez also spearheaded efforts to make the US government recognise the events of 1915 as“genocide”.
“By passing my Armenian Genocide resolution, the Senate finally stood up to confirm history: What happened from 1915 to 1923 was – most assuredly – genocide. There is no other word for it. There is no euphemism. There is no avoiding it,” said Menendez in complete denial of historical facts that show both sides, namely Turks and Armenians, suffered casualties amid the complexities of World War I. Turkiye has called to set up a joint committee of historians to probe the matter countless times, always falling on deaf ears.
On 15 October, 2020, Menendez again called for recognition of 1915 events as “Armenian genocide”.
“Leading academic authorities, including experts on genocide issues, all agree that the Armenian Genocide was genocide,” he claimed.
In March 2020, Menendez again issued another anti-Turkiye statement, this time criticising the country’s purchase of Russian S-400 anti-missile defence systems.
“Countries whose spending violates the spirit of the NATO alliance and puts member states at significant physical risk should be punished; they should certainly not be rewarded. As I said on the Senate floor in November 2019, I remain deeply concerned that the administration has not imposed sanctions on Turkiye for this sale. Not only are you violating the law by refusing to impose mandatory sanctions under CAATSA, you are sending a signal to other would-be purchasers of major Russian systems that the United States will not enforce its own laws when it comes to Russia-origin equipment,” Menendez said in a letter to then-US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
What was glaringly hypocritical, though, was the fact that the country Menendez staunchly lobbies for in the Senate, NATO member Greece, also has Russian missile defence systems – the S-300.
Again, in March 2020, Menendez delivered anti-Turkiye remarks with regards to the situation in Syria.
During a senate hearing titled “Nine Years of Brutality: Assad’s Campaign Against the Syrian People,” Menendez criticised Turkiye’s efforts to realise a ceasefire in the country to stop the bloodshed.
“We talk of humanitarian relief, and Russia and Turkiye continue to calculate the implementation of yet another ‘ceasefire’. But we need serious leadership and commitment,” he said.
“Following the withdrawal of US troops last year, Turkiye stepped up its military involvement, pouring more fuel onto a raging fire and undermining our ability to respond,” he said – even though Turkiye and US are on the same page with regards to the Syria’s Bashar Assad regime.
A month prior to those statements though, he called for a ceasefire in Syria himself.
In a statement on 20 February, 2020, Menendez criticised the administration of former US President Donald Trump and blasted Turkiye for its presence in Syria.
“President Trump’s green light to Erdogan to attack our Kurdish partners — who are on the frontlines of America’s counter-ISIS efforts — allowed these three players to advance their own interests at the expense of hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrian lives,” he said in reference to YPG terrorists that the US does not recognise as being the Syrian wing of the PKK.
“Now is the time for an immediate ceasefire between Russia, the Syrian regime and Turkiye. Now is the moment for the Turkish government to realign its security interests with those of the United States and NATO allies against the murderous regimes it is fighting on the ground,” he added.
On 10 July, 2020, the embattled Senator issued a bipartisan statement alongside his Republican colleague, Jim Risch, on a Turkish court’s annulment of a 1934 Cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its use again as a mosque.
The move is a “deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site,” the senators said in reference to Turkish judiciary’s sovereign prerogative of choice.
On 13 August, 2020, Menendez again took to the stage in apparent lobbying for Greece along with Senator Chris Van Hollen.
The senators criticised Turkiye’s drilling activities in the Mediterranean – with the only problem being with their criticism, the fact that it is entirely based on Greece’s unilateral exclusive economic zone (EEZ) claim that Turkiye does not recognise, citing its outrageously large size and near total omission of Turkiye from the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, despite the country’s thousands of kilometres long coastline.
“The failure of the United States to act decisively at this critical time will only invite further Turkish escalation. Therefore, we urge you take all appropriate measures to ensure Turkiye removes its naval vessels from Greece’s EEZ and adheres to its international obligations,” the senators wrote in a letter to Pompeo.
“In accordance with your prior statements, we ask you to call on Turkiye to remove its ships from Greece’s EEZ and to resolve this matter in accordance with international law,” they said.
Menendez has also criticised Turkiye’s support to Azerbaijan’s move to restore its territory in Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is recognised as Azerbaijani territory by international laws.
“As the regime in Baku, with Turkiye’s support, continues choosing a path of violence instead of a peaceful, negotiated process between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it is long past time for this and all future administrations to halt this type of assistance,” he said in a statement issued on 4 November, 2021, calling for a halt to US military assistance to Azerbaijani government.
Nearly two weeks after this statement, Menendez again delivered remarks in criticism of Turkiye’s support of Azerbaijan’s retrieval of its rightful territories.
“Under Erdogan, Turkiye has engaged in unbridled aggression outside of its borders, in violation of NATO’s founding principles and international norms,” he said.
“The historically and religiously significant city of Shushi now sits in Azerbaijani hands, and the security of many sacred Christian sites falls to President Aliyev and his backer Erdogan,” he also added in blatant denial of international law.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.