Turkey’s consul general pressed NY lawmakers on Cyprus resolution

Resolutions passed by the Senate are typically benign and attract little attention. But one on Turkish-Greek conflict appeared to strike an international nerve last week.


ALBANY — Turkey’s consul general sent a letter last week to members of the state Senate Finance Committee discouraging them from passing a resolution to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a major conflict in Cyprus, a territory with a history of tension between Turkish and Greek inhabitants.

The missive, which lawmakers said was unprecedented, was an apparent attempt to influence the votes of Finance Committee members, who must advance all resolutions for them to receive a full vote in the state Senate. Neither the Turkish Consulate in New York nor Consul General Reyhan Özgür, who signed the letter, have registered for lobbying activity, according to public records; lobbying activities are only required to be registered if an organization spends more than $5,000 conducting them. 

Resolutions passed by the Senate are typically benign and attract little attention. But this one appeared to strike an international nerve. 

The consulate has also in part been tied to a federal probe on certain activities of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has visited Turkey several times. In 2023, federal agents began examining Adams’ campaign for evidence it conspired with Turkish officials to accept illegal contributions. 

The consulate did not respond to repeated requests for comment. 

The letter in part criticizes the “intentionally distorted interpretation of the history” of Turkish and Greek conflict on Cyprus, which stretches back decades. Özgür cautioned that the resolution “could deeply cause resentment and feelings of injustice among the members of law-abiding Turkish American community” and cause a rift between the respective Greek and Turkish communities in New York. 

“Given the magnitude of the possible side effects of the bill, Senate and its valuable members should refuse to be part of provoking animosity between the constituents of American society by promoting one social group over unwarranted claims for the sake of alienation of others,” Özgür wrote. 

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat who sponsored the resolution but did not receive a copy of the missive, is one of a handful of Greek lawmakers in the Legislature. He said the resolution was written with caution; staff members of the Senate must vet resolutions before they are brought to the floor for adoption. Lawmakers on the Finance Committee do not vote on individual resolutions, rendering the letter irrelevant. 

“We were very careful to state facts. I suppose they must think that the facts are objectionable,” Gianaris said, calling the message unprecedented in his experience. “If the Turkish government finds indisputable facts problematic, that’s on them more than anyone else.”

Lobbying regulations don’t appear to address whether or not a consulate official is considered a government official for the purposes of lobbying on legislative action. The intent of the letter is unmistakable; Özgür asked lawmakers to “refrain from dignifying the bill.”

Yet the memo came too late. Members of the committee had already sent the resolution to the Senate floor, where it generated little argument. “We dignified it unanimously,” Gianaris said.

 Consulates provide many of the same services and carry out the same official functions as an embassy, but on a smaller scale. The consul general is considered the head of a consulate.

The article was published in Timesunion on April 2, 2024.