On February 28, the California State Senate held a hearing dedicated to the 30th anniversary of 1988 Sumgait events, the promotion of California-Armenia economic relations, as well as divestiture of University of California from Turkey.

Despite the incessant efforts and long preparation by the Armenian special interests lobby in California, where around 1 million Armenians live, and spending of large amounts of money by the lobby on individual senators, only two of the 40 members of the California State Senate (Senator Scott Wilk, whose wife is Armenian, and Senator Anthony Portantino, who represents Armenian-populated areas of Los Angeles) attended the hearing. Two other senators who attended the hearing did not participate in portions of the event dedicated to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. They only attended the portions discussing the Armenia-California economic relations and divestiture of University of California funds from Turkey.

Immediately after learning about the hearing, the activists of the Azerbaijani Cultural Society of Northern California and the Azerbaijan Cultural Society of America got mobilized and joined the event.

A representative of the Armenian lobby, who claimed to once live in Azerbaijan and witness the 1988 Sumgayit events, presented the Armenian version of Sumgait events. Trying their hardest to cater to the Armenian special interests, Senator Portantino and Senator Wilk expressed their full support for this extremely biased and one-sided presentation of the history. They also spoke of the phony “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” that was established on Azerbaijan’s territory by Armenia in the early 1990s, and that is not recognized by US or any other government in the world, as an “independent country”.

After the hearing, in accordance with the Senate rules of procedure, the public was invited to comment. At this time, making an excuse Senator Wilk left the room leaving Senator Portantino to face the crowd. Addressing Senator Portantino, one of the young members of the Azerbaijani community said: “You discussed the Sumgait tragedy earlier. Yes, it was a crime. All perpetrators of this crime were brought to justice. By the way, one of the perpetrators of this tragedy was an Armenian by the name of Grigorian. But what about the killing of 613 Azerbaijani civilians by Armenian troops in Khojaly, just 4 years later in 1992? None of the perpetrators of Khojaly Massacre was brought to justice. Will you be unbiased and fair, and hold a hearing on the Khojaly Massacre as well?” Senator Portantino, who apparently did not expect such a question, said he was going to research the issue.

Another Azerbaijani community representative, who said to hail from Karabakh, asked: “The aggression by Armenia against Azerbaijan has turned one million Azerbaijanis into refugees and internally displaced persons. The rights of these civilian Azerbaijanis have been grossly violated. What would you say to those one million Azerbaijanis who still wait to return to their homes and land?” Senator Portantino refused to answer the question.

Then another young Azerbaijani student said: "We sent you an email asking you to let us bring a member of the Azerbaijani community here to testify alongside the Armenian speaker in order to present the Azerbaijani perspective of this conflict as well. My question to you is why you have chosen to present only one side of this conflict, when there is such a fundamental disagreement on both sides and when there are so many other voices that need to be heard?"

A comment by one of the community members revealed the true face of the Armenian special interest lobby more vividly. She noted that hundreds of Azerbaijanis were massacred by the Armenian government. Referring to the Armenian officials such as the current Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan who participated in the Khojaly Massacre of Azerbaijani civilians in 1992, she said to Senator Portantino: “Those are the people you met when you visited Armenia and Karabakh on multiple occasions.” She also added: “The Armenian lobby here has been feeding you with (mis)information. And you as a responsible representative of all of California, of all of citizens; if anyone in this room had to ask questions (about the misinformation), it should have been you. And we are disappointed in you, as Californians, as citizens, that you are not asking those questions. We are Azerbaijanis and we were killed by Armenians, by the government that you supported today. So I am ashamed for you. I am ashamed!” This comment was received with complete silence by seemingly embarrassed Senator Portantino.

Other Azerbaijani community members, including the Khojaly Genocide survivor Anar Usubov, urged the legislators to avoid a one-sided approach. They conveyed the hard truths regarding the Khojaly Genocide, the Sumgait events, as well as the occupation and ethnic cleansing of 20% of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory by Armenia and expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis as a result of this aggression and occupation.

Speaking afterwards, West Coast leaders of the Armenian special interests - regional directors of the Armenian National Committee of America and the Armenian Assembly of America - who seemingly did not expect such a backlash from the Azerbaijani community - did their best to help Senator Portantino out of the difficult situation, but they only exposed themselves more blatantly with every self-perplexing comment they made.

Although during the public comments, Senator Portantino promised that he would respond to the questions from the Azerbaijani community at the end, once the comments were over, he hastily concluded the hearing, apparently having nothing to say regarding the unexpected truths he was confronted with.

BAKU. 02.03.2018. AzerTAg.

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