WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) has called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to obtain the Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) commitment to enforce the letter and spirit of laws already on the books to end Azerbaijan’s caviar diplomacy tactics.
In a letter to United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) on the upcoming nomination of Sen. Sessions for Attorney General, Assembly Board of Trustees Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian identified several issues of concern, particularly as related “to the undue influence of foreign governments on America’s democratic institutions and the need to fully enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and ensure compliance of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).” Assembly members and Armenian Americans are also pursuing this issue in their home states, considering the increasing commitment of President-Elect Donald J. Trump with the “drain the swamp” campaign.
“When it comes to the integrity of America’s constitutional system, the rule of law and our governance process, we must ensure that the law is duly enforced and that any attempt by foreign governments and their agents are roundly condemned and promptly prosecuted,” Assembly Co-Chairs added. “Both Turkey and Azerbaijan have circumvented our laws and bought influence without repercussion for many years now. That has to stop.”
The Assembly stressed their concern about President Ilham Aliyev constantly buying foreign influence, citing many instances in the letter. For example, in a Bloomberg News article published last week entitled “Azeri Oil Money Got a Pass From This Ethics Committee,” the columnist writes about the illegally funded congressional trips to Baku discovered by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which included expensive gifts given to U.S. legislators. Barsamian and Krikorian noted in the letter that such reported activities “constitute a flagrant disregard for the law and strike at the core of our constitutional government through blatant foreign influence peddling.”
The Assembly previously urged the Department of Justice to investigate the foreign trips illegally funded by Azerbaijan. “We respectfully request a full and thorough investigation by the Department of Justice into these groups and the full application of the law. The reported activities constitute plainly illegal behavior and strikes at the core of our Constitutional government through blatant foreign influence peddling,” the Assembly said in its letter to then Attorney General Loretta Lynch. A recent publication has tied Turkey to hacking of the Armenian National Institute website, and requests to the FBI since 2000 to follow up have not been effective in stopping that pattern of behavior.
The Justice Department has brought some cases involving Azerbaijan through the FCPA, but the Assembly points out that much more is needed. The Assembly Co-Chairs said, ” We prefer not to think that Azerbaijan’s retention of the Podesta Group at hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to lobby for Azerbaijan is preventing such investigations.” T he Bloomberg News columnist noted: “It’s hard to tell whether it’s this creativity and generosity or any real U.S. strategic interest that makes the U.S. overlook the country’s brutal dictatorship. A combination of both is likely: Without the ‘caviar diplomacy,’ Azerbaijan might be considered too small to defy declared U.S. values and principles for its sake.”
Last month, the European Stability Initiative (ESI) denounced Azerbaijan’s lobbying tactics and reported that expensive watches, jewelry, computers, and large sums of money, among other gifts, were provided to several politicians from a number of countries in Europe. ESI stated that “the ease with which democratic institutions and safeguards can be undermined has emerged as a fundamental threat to European democracy.”
“The Aliyev regime is also engaged in this type of foreign influence buying to distract from its efforts to continue violating its ceasefire agreements with the Republics of Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh – to avoid democracy and human rights issues there by eliminating the Christian Armenians,” Assembly Co-Chairs said. “Azerbaijan’s activities in the United States come at a time when the Aliyev regime continues to deprive its citizens of basic human rights and freedoms,” they continued.
In the past year, additional news came to light indicating Azerbaijan’s violations to international human rights standards, which were reported by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the U.S. Helsinki Commission.