BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
After identifying the lobbying and PR firms hired by the government of Turkey, we now report on four similar firms hired by Azerbaijan.
By observing Azerbaijan’s devious approach to foreign relations, I have noticed the following pattern:
1. Whatever actions Armenian-Americans take for their causes, Azerbaijan seeks to emulate and counter them in the United States through its hired companies. Pres. Aliyev in a 2013 speech stated that Azerbaijan’s “main enemy is the Armenian lobby.” He also stated: “the Armenian lobby day and night is trying to slander Azerbaijan, to undermine its authority. They have broad financial resources. They are closely connected with the authorities of their countries where they donate to the legislators under the name of ‘lobbying.’ But, in fact, it is a bribe. Thus the Armenian lobby is at the forefront of an organized campaign against us.” In his lengthy diatribe, Pres. Aliyev falsely ascribes to Armenians the persistent bribing campaign carried out by his own government around the world.
2. Azerbaijan follows the footsteps of Turkey’s more experienced officials in its policies on Armenia and Armenian issues, including the denial of the Armenian Genocide and accusing Armenians for the crimes committed by Azerbaijan and Turkey. Regrettably, Azerbaijan has been also emulating Turkey in the repression of its own citizens, making it difficult to determine which of the two countries is more autocratic.
3. The government of Azerbaijan, realizing its tarnished image in the West due to widespread human rights violations, has hired PR and lobbying firms to whitewash its negative reputation. One would expect a regime that is so concerned about its poor image overseas that it would improve its human rights record at home, so it does not need to waste millions of dollars on American firms to carry out the impossible task of cleansing its image. In his 2013 speech, Pres. Aliyev wishfully described Azerbaijan as a “modern, progressive, open, tolerant country.” Who can be fooled by such outright lies?
The government of Azerbaijan has hired dozens of PR and lobbying firms over the years. However, at this time, it employs only four such firms.
1. Podesta Group, Inc., is paid $45,000 a month by Azerbaijan to “research and analyze issues of concern to [Azerbaijan]; counsel [Azerbaijan] on U.S. policies of concern, activities in Congress and the executive branch, and developments on the U.S. political scene generally; and maintain contact, if necessary, with members of Congress and their staff and executive branch officials, media and non-governmental organizations.”
2. SOCAR USA (U.S. subsidiary of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan) pays Roberti White LLC $125,000 to “research and analyze issues of concern to [Azerbaijan]; counsel [Azerbaijan] on U.S. policies of concern, activities in Congress and the Executive branch, and developments on the U.S. political scene generally; and maintain contact, as necessary, with members of Congress and their staff, executive branch officials, members of the press, and non-governmental organizations.” It is not surprising that the description of the functions performed by Roberti White for SOCAR USA is identical to the ones performed by Podesta Group, Inc., for the government of Azerbaijan.
3. BGR Government Affairs, LLC is paid $50,000 a month by the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington, D.C., to provide “strategic guidance and counsel with regard to government affairs and public relations activity within the U.S. This may include relevant outreach to U.S. government officials, non-government organizations, members of the media and other individuals within the U.S.”
4. The Tool Shed Group LLC, originally headquartered in Woodland Hills, California, now relocated to Parker, Colorado, was hired by the Consulate of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles in 2009 for a period of four months for a flat fee of $35,000. The Tool Shed Group now also represents the Republic of Azerbaijan. Since then the contract has been renewed every six months. Tool Shed is led by Jason Katz, former Director of Public Relations and Public Affairs for the American Jewish Committee. Tool Shed provides “consulting services to the Consulate, including organizing briefings/lectures; facilitating meetings with community members, elected and appointed officials, and business leaders; write and disseminate op-eds.”
Recently, the Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles disseminated to all Consulates in Los Angeles, and probably many others, a color brochure entitled, “Nagorno-Karabakh: Background and Facts.” This 16-page propaganda piece, full of misrepresentations about Artsakh, most likely was prepared by The Tool Shed Group, Azerbaijan’s and its consulate’s PR and lobbying firm. At the end of page 16, there is a note which states: “Published by the Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles.” It is interesting that this sentence does not indicate who prepared the brochure, but simply who published it!