Oct. 9, 2012, the American subsidiary of the State Oil Company of the
Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR) purchased a
five-story, 23,232-square-foot mansion in the heart of Washington, D.C., for
the purposes of "expand[ing] its operations in the United States,"
Business Journal put it. Oil is the one thing Azerbaijan has
plenty of, and it's the one thing the United States is most interested in, so
SOCAR's "operations" are bound to be
Given the money
at stake, the mansion's sale price was a pittance: $12 million. The exact address is
1319 18th St. NW, which ought to be familiar to many an old Cold War hand
as the former office of Jeane Kirkpatrick, a onetime U.S. ambassador to the
United Nations and one of the most influential officials in Ronald Reagan's
administration. This mansion is where Demokratizatsiya, the
journal of post-Soviet democratization, founded in 1992, used to be published. And,
for a time, its most famous lessee was Freedom House, the
respected human rights monitor, which today counts Azerbaijan among the "not
speechless," said Jennifer Windsor,
the executive director of Freedom House when it was based at the Kirkpatrick
address and now the associate dean for programs and outreach at Georgetown
University's School of Foreign Service. "I find it the highest
form of irony that one of the world's least free countries
is now occupying what was the house of freedom."
much a sign of the times as it is an irony. Barack Obama's
administration has cut
the U.S. budget for democracy promotion and has
struck all manner of cynical bargains with kleptocratic authoritarian regimes.
Realpolitik and isolationism are trading at high premiums again, as whole
swaths of Congress, beholden to a libertarian or Tea Party ideology, view human
rights as, at best, an afterthought of the national interest or, at worst, as
an inconvenience that America can ill afford in the 21st
SOCAR USA's tony new address also underscores the quiet success of one of
the most energetic and free-spending foreign lobbies in American and European
politics -- that of the regime headed by Azerbaijani President Ilham
Aliyev. Over the past decade, a South Caucasian country the size of Ireland but
with possibly twice the
oil reserves of Texas has managed to win friends and influence people who include
past and present members of the U.S. Congress, British Parliament, and the
Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which was once known for
pressuring dictatorships, not embracing them. Where it hasn't
resorted to all-expenses-paid vacations to Azerbaijan's
capital, Baku -- a form of what one European think tank witheringly describes as
diplomacy" -- it has poured millions
of dollars into top-drawer U.S. lobbying, consultancy, and PR firms to
whitewash its image in the American media.
it's a bit more subtle than that: The Aliyev regime has quietly
made inroads into transatlantic establishments by recapitulating a hat trick of
first is that Azerbaijan is the only secular Muslim-majority state that is an
ally of the United States and NATO in the war on terror as well as a happy
commercial and diplomatic ally of Israel, which imports around a third of its
energy from the Caucasian state. Azerbaijani infrastructure is set to help facilitate NATO
and U.S. troop withdrawal from
Afghanistan later this year.
second is that its oil boom, which caused Azerbaijan's GDP
to grow tenfold from 2001 to 2011, is a necessary
counterweight for diversifying Europe's energy consumption and
putting an end to Russia's monopolistic and bullying tactics, the nadir of which were its
wars" with Ukraine and
Belarus. Almost all of Azerbaijan's exports in
2011 were in oil and petroleum products. The so-called Southern Gas Corridor, a
pipeline rival to Russia's Nord Stream, advanced dramatically last December when a BP-led
consortium began laying the groundwork for Shah Deniz 2, a $28 billion natural
gas exploration project in the Azerbaijani-controlled part of the Caspian Sea.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague and EU Energy Commissioner Günther
Oettinger were both in Baku for the signing of
this landmark deal, which will ship gas through two pipelines: the Trans Anatolian
Natural Gas Pipeline, running through Turkey, and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline,
running through Greece and Italy. Even though Azerbaijani gas going to the European
just 2 percent of the 500 billion cubic meters per year that the continent
imports, Europe wants to lower its energy dependence on Russia. Moscow's
state-owned gas giant, Gazprom, is now under antitrust investigation by the
European Commission. And the continuing Western standoff with the Kremlin over
Russia's invasion and destabilization of Ukraine will mean that Azerbaijani
gas becomes more important to Brussels in the coming months and years.
situated at the gateway between Asia and Europe, Azerbaijan is a strategic
partner for the West in resisting Iran's nuclear threat as well
as Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to "re-Sovietize
the region," as then U.S. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton memorably characterized the Russian-conceived customs union,
entry into which has sparked a political crisis in Ukraine. So as the United
States goes looking for as many friends as it can find in the post-Soviet world -- especially those with energy resources -- Baku's
influence in Washington is only poised to grow.
if the West is ever ungrateful or unreceptive to these overtures, the Azerbaijani
lobby passive-aggressively intimates, then the Aliyev regime always has the
option of turning toward Moscow or Tehran, both of which are eagerly knocking
at its door.
immediate aim of this three-tiered charm offensive is to "Johnny Mercerize"
otherwise ugly domestic political reality, as one veteran Azerbaijan
specialist, who spoke to Foreign Policy on
the condition of anonymity, termed it. That is, accentuate the positive and
ignore, downplay, or just plain lie about the negative. But there's
another encoded agenda. "The Aliyev lobby's true purpose is to send a message back home that there is
nothing that can be done to remove this family from power,"
Elmar Chakhtakhtinski, chair of Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy (AZAD), an
opposition-linked diaspora group. "When a U.S. congressman
or former congressman congratulates Aliyev on victory, it doesn't
necessarily give the regime any better position in the West, but to the regime's own
domestic population, it sends a powerful signal that even the West is behind
it, that the world outside of Azerbaijan isn't that much different."
demoralizing effect such signaling can have on embattled dissidents or civil
society groups in Azerbaijan is profound.
grim human rights record
belying the lobby's in-plain-sight efforts to portray Azerbaijan as a democracy that
shares America's values is an incredibly grim human rights situation, about
which the U.S. government -- a prominent target of Aliyev's overtures -- is
under no illusions, or at least isn't anymore. In 2010, Clinton,
then the U.S. secretary of state, claimed that
Azerbaijan had made "tremendous
progress in democracy development." But
contrast that to what the U.S. ambassador in Baku, Richard Morningstar, told
Radio Azadliq, the
Azerbaijani service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), on May 16 of
this year: "I think we are in a situation where we talk past each other on
democracy issues." That's
putting it mildly.
State Department's human rights report for Azerbaijan
found in 2013 that there were "[i]ncreased restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly,
and association, including intimidation, arrest, and use of force against
journalists and human rights and democracy activists online and offline"
administration of justice, including increased reports of arbitrary arrest and
detention, politically motivated imprisonment, lack of due process, executive
influence over the judiciary, and lengthy pretrial detention for individuals
perceived as a threat by government officials, while crimes against such
individuals or their family members went unpunished."
just a few examples. In January 2013, police beat and tear-gassed peaceful
protesters in the city of Ismayilli. Two people who weren't
there on that day, but only arrived afterward, were
also arrested: Tofiq Yaqublu, the deputy chairman of the Musavat Party and a reporter
for Yeni Musavat newspaper, and Ilgar
Mammadov, the head of Republican Alternative, an anti-Aliyev civic movement.
Mammadov was also denied
admittance into the 2013 presidential race on the grounds that many of the
required signatures were invalid; he has called Aliyev an illegitimate leader
who ought to resign. In March 2014, he was sentenced to
seven years in prison; Yaqublu was sentenced to
five years. On May 22, the European Court of Human Rights stated in a news
release that it found that
Mammadov "had been arrested and detained without any evidence to
reasonably suspect him of having committed the offence with which he was
charged" and that the "actual
purpose of his detention had been to silence or punish"
for criticizing the government.
March and April 2013, authorities used
water cannons and rubber bullets against a demonstration in Baku. They then arrested
seven members of NIDA ("Shout"), a
youth activist group, initially charging them with drugs and explosives
possession and then accusing them, along with another activist from the Free
Youth movement, of plotting mass disorder -- a common rap used
against demonstrators in Putin's Russia too. In May 2014, eight Azerbaijani activists, seven of
them the NIDA members, were given lengthy prison sentences, ranging from six to eight years.
to Rebecca Vincent, a former U.S. diplomat and a human rights activist, Aliyev
has instituted a "climate of fear" in a country that has
seen its number of political prisoners jump from 65 in January 2013 to "nearly
100 cases." The Institute for Peace and Democracy, an Azerbaijani project
funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and run by Leyla Yunus (who is
herself now being criminally investigated by the Aliyev government), puts the figure at
130. Much of the crackdown coincided with the October 2013
presidential election, the results of which were declared an Aliyev landslide -- an
before any voting took place. Following the
election, the Azerbaijani regime presided over what Amnesty International's
program director for Europe and Central Asia termed a "ruthless
and relentless attack on any dissenting voices in the media."
anything, Aliyev has regressed in his repressive methods. "Normally
President Aliyev signs pardon decrees to mark the new year, as well as the
Novruz holiday, which sometimes include cases of political prisoners. However,
this year, he did not sign decrees on either occasion,"
he locked up more people. One of them, Anar Mammadli, is the chair of the
Baku-based Election Monitoring and Democracy
Studies Center (EMDS), a respected independent monitor partly funded by the
National Endowment for Democracy and the National Democratic Institute. EMDS
had documented "serious violations"
percent of the 769 polling stations monitored during the October election. Mammadli
was arrested in
mid-December and charged not only with tax evasion and illegal business
activity, but also with trying to rig the election himself, an allegation
Vincent calls "absurd."
March 2014, the Baku headquarters of the oppositional Azerbaijan Popular Front
Party was blown
Firefighters on the scene attributed the explosion to a faulty gas tank in the
building's basement, home to a barber shop. The barber, however, insists that
no such tanks were in his establishment. The building's
Turkey-based owner, meanwhile, claimed that he had received threats against his
family from a government official, and he even posted one recorded
conversation online. The Popular Front blames the
Aliyev regime for the headquarters blast and points out that several of its
activists had been arrested around the same time on charges of "resisting
police orders." Among them was
18-year-old Tofig Dadashov, who was held in the Binagadi Police Department for
48 hours without food or water. On March 5, Amnesty posted a notice on its
website stating, "authorities
in Azerbaijan have been using every trick in the book to stop members of the
remains of an adversarial or free media is also on the ropes. The oldest opposition
newspaper, Azadliq, is nearing bankruptcy
after a spate of civil damages claims and the State Publishing House's
demand that it pay all its outstanding debts at once. Another such outlet, Yeni
Musavat, suspended publication in early November 2013 because of state
restrictions on the release of its sales proceeds. In May, Parviz Hashimli, a
reporter for the independent newspaper Bizim Yol and the editor of the
online site Moderator, was sentenced to eight years in
prison on charges that he prompted another man to smuggle weapons from Iran
into Azerbaijan. Hashimli says that not only did
he not know the alleged weapons trafficker (and now his accuser) but that he
was denied a lawyer for 20 days following his arrest and kept from talking to
anyone else. Both publications with which Hashimli is affiliated are known for
their muckraking journalism on corruption and human rights abuses.
It is something of
a national pastime in Azerbaijan that critics of the Aliyev regime or
documenters of the country's enormous state
graft end up being accused of crimes themselves, and locked away in prisons.
up with the Aliyevs
Aliyev first attained power in 2003 when he succeeded his father, Heydar, the
Soviet-era satrap of Moscow who had ruled Azerbaijan since 1969, making the
elder Aliyev both a Soviet and post-Soviet dictator. His son now
presides over one of the world's longest-running dynastic dictatorships and is paterfamilias of
a family that WikiLeaked U.S. Embassy cables variously refer to as a medieval
feudal fiefdom or Sonny
Corleone of The Godfather.
also hopelessly corrupt, according to a number of published reports. Despite
the president's official salary of $228,000 per year, his children all own
millions of dollars in property. As the Washington Post uncovered in
2010, when Heydar Aliyev (Ilham's son, who was named for the boy's
grandfather) was just 11 years old, he bought $44 million in luxury mansions on
the man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago in Dubai. Heydar's two
sisters, Leyla and Arzu, both now in their 20s, also own extravagant digs in
the United Arab Emirates, with the three children possessing a collective real
estate portfolio worth $75 million. Moreover, as I discovered several months ago, the
younger Heydar, now well into his teenage years, is technically the legal owner
of 48.99 percent of the Azerbaijani subsidiary of Vneshtorgbank (VTB), one of
Russia's largest state-owned banks, with branches in two dozen
countries and more than $712 million in French and German pensioner deposits.
(VTB was the subject of an in-depth corruption study by Russian opposition
leader Alexei Navalny and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption, the final report of
which I edited.)
three of the Aliyev brood were also found to be owners of a lucrative
Azerbaijani telecom company called Azerfon, whose more colloquial moniker, Nar
Mobile, is thought by the State Department to be named not just for the Azeri
word for "pomegranate" but also for first lady
Mehriban Aliyeva's sister, Nargiz. When RFE/RL reporter Khadija Ismayilova broke
the story that Azerfon was likely controlled by the Aliyevs, the state
targeted her for harassment by
bugging her apartment, threatening her with nasty messages ("whore,
behave, or you will be defamed") and publishing
compromising photographs of her in newspapers associated with the ruling New
Azerbaijan Party. The government has claimed to be investigating what was
obviously the professional intimidation of a journalist.
happened," Ismayilova said in an
interview several months ago. "I sued the prosecutor's office for not
investigating and for violating my rights and now the case is with the European
Court of Human Rights." But if Baku is
investigating claims of intimidation, they have a funny way of doing it. On
February 18, the Serious Crimes Investigation Department of the Prosecutor
General's Office in Baku accused Ismayilova of divulging state secrets and summoned her
for questioning. She had posted a document to her Facebook account allegedly
showing how Aliyev's security service, the MNB, tried to recruit an Azerbaijani
opposition activist as an informant. Pro-Aliyev media have branded her
an American spy, an accusation both she and the U.S. Embassy in Baku ridiculed.
Although she has not been formally charged with any crime, Ismayilova has been
prohibited from leaving Baku without the consent of the authorities. In
February 2014, she posted
an appeal to her followers and defenders on Facebook, telling them not to
keep quiet if she wound up in jail: "If/when I get arrested, I want you to
make sure that your audience understand the reasons. Anti-corruption
investigations are the reason of my arrest. The government is not comfortable
with what I am doing. I am about to finish three investigations. I will make
sure to finish them before anything happens. If not, my editors and colleagues
will finish and publish [them]."
on March 12, Ismayilova was "summoned" again by Azerbaijan's
general prosecutor -- this time for two days in a row -- for questioning regarding
meetings she had with two U.S. congressional staffers in Baku in January. "Who
are these dogs that you would discuss with them Azerbaijan's education system?"
was asked. She remains unbowed: It was Ismayilova who conducted the May
interview with Ambassador Morningstar in which he said that the United States and Azerbaijan are "talking
past each other" on human rights. That
interview has already caused the diplomat a great
deal of trouble with his host government: Ramiz Mehdiyev, the head
of the Azerbaijani Presidential Administration, said Morningstar violated
the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and that his comments constituted
gross interference in the internal affairs of the country."
Azerbaijan ought to
be extremely fertile soil for the conduct of investigative journalism -- which
may account for why the Aliyev regime wants to ensure that it never is. In
2013, Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions
Index rated Azerbaijan 127 out of 177 countries -- on equal footing with
Russia. And, as the World Bank concluded in
2011, "Corruption in Azerbaijan is an integral part of the governance
regime, a multi-player prisoner's dilemma where no single player can make a unilateral move
because they owe their position to the President's
inner circle, and breaking the trust of this group would be severely punished."
Vincent, the human rights campaigner, said that this undermines the lobby's
outreach to foreign businesses: "Something that foreign
investors should definitely be aware of is the lack of rule of law in the
country. If you had to take something to a national court, you couldn't
have a reasonable expectation to receive due process and a fair trial."
while the national debate is controlled at home through means of intimidation,
censorship, and legal jury-rigging, Azerbaijan's
greater mission is to whitewash its reputation abroad. And as with any country
evocative of The Godfather, this is mainly a family business.
families control or oversee most of the overseas lobbying apparatus: the
Aliyevs, including the first lady's own family, the
Pashayevs; the Mammadovs, headed by Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov, whose
son, Anar, runs the U.S. arm; and the Heydarovs, headed by Emergency Situations
Minister Kamaladdin Heydarov, whose ministry functions sort of like FEMA
on amphetamines, retaining control over the fire departments, state grain
reserves, construction licensing, and possibly even an anti-aircraft battery
near Baku. Heydarov's son Tale runs the
European lobby arm. "Whatever business we are investigating, it turns out that it's
linked to one of these three families," Khadija
1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) forces any companies based in the
United States to report on money they have received from foreign governments. A
perusal of the Justice Department's FARA filings on
Azerbaijan reveals a welter of law firms, consultancies, and prestigious lobby
firms all on the Aliyev payroll. "The success of the Azeri
lobby really lies [in] the amount of money it pours into the effort,"
of Azerbaijani-Americans for Democracy. "And it pays top dollar."
does. The Podesta Group, a D.C.-based lobbying and public relations outfit
founded by Tony Podesta, brother of John Podesta, the current special advisor
to the Obama administration, has been the registered agent of the Azerbaijani Embassy
for several years. On January 1, 2014, the group inked a new agreement to
receive $50,000 a month from the embassy, plus expenses to provide "strategic
counsel to Azerbaijan on strengthening its ties to the United States government
and institutions." This agreement, which
was signed by Elin Suleymanov, the Azerbaijani ambassador to the United States,
and Anthony Podesta, the head of the Podesta Group, was amended on April 15,
2014, to encompass "additional services" defined
as performing "public relations services for Azerbaijan."
good through July 14, 2014.
Foreign Policy contacted the Podesta
Group for comment about the nature of its contract with the embassy. We were
referred to the FARA filings. We also asked if the firm had any reservations
about lobbying on behalf of a foreign government seen by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other
international monitors as becoming worse, not better, in its respect for human
rights norms. We were informed that someone from the "Azerbaijan
desk" would respond to our
inquiry. No one ever did.
DCI Group, LLC,
another public-affairs firm with offices in Washington, Brussels, and Houston,
also worked for the Azerbaijani Embassy in D.C., at least until Feb. 22, 2013,
when its contract was terminated for unspecified reasons. According to DCI
corporations navigate their most challenging political, legislative and
regulatory problems anywhere in the world" by "re-framing
the issue, and defining it on more favorable terms." Its work for the embassy focused on media outreach
promoting the country's
satellite launch, gas boom, bilateral relations, and SOCAR's expansion. DCI Group
also organized a dinner on Oct. 22, 2012, at the ambassador's residence, related to
economic development and investment in [the] U.S. economy and Azerbaijan
support of [the] U.S. war on terror."
Among the guests were the former deputy U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations, Ken Adelman (who served under Jeane Kirkpatrick, in fact); James K.
Glassman, the founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute;
Sheri Annis, a media consultant married to Fox News's Howard Kurtz; and George Friedman, the CEO of
private intelligence corporation Stratfor.
FP reached Craig Stevens,
spokesman for DCI Group, by phone. The termination of the contract with the
embassy, he said, was simply because "the terms had been
completed. We had a good relationship [with the embassy] and we certainly
support the ambassador." Asked if DCI Group was
ever concerned by Azerbaijan's poor human rights record or its recent erosion of journalistic
and political freedoms, Stevens replied: "Yeah, I wouldn't get
into that." DCI Group is not,
according to Stevens, "actively seeking" to work with the embassy
LLC, a "bipartisan
federal government affairs and public relations"
based in Washington and New York, received
$20,834 per month for six months -- $125,000 in total -- from SOCAR USA in
exchange for offering "strategic counsel" to
the state oil company to "strengthen its ties to the United States government and
institutions." According to the
signed in mid-July 2013, or just in time for SOCAR USA's
purchase of the Kirkpatrick building, Roberti+White was responsible for
building the company's website, manning its Twitter and Facebook accounts, and even
creating an internship program in Washington. The contract expired on Dec. 31,
2013. FP reached
Roberti+White for comment but was told that the company does not talk to the
lobbying firms have taken U.S. politicians to Azerbaijan. In late May 2013,
Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine traveled from Tulsa to Baku under the auspices of
the Houston-based Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (TCAE), a
501(c)(3) organization, which is apparently close to the Turkish Islamist
cleric in exile Fethullah Gulen. According to Bridenstine's Post-Travel
Disclosure Form filed with the House Committee on Ethics, he described TCAE as being
establishing and advancing long-term relationships and close cooperation
between the U.S. and Azerbaijan,"
"[t]o introduc[ing] and provid[ing] exposure to Azerbaijan's military, regional,
energy security and economic issues,"
promot[ing] mutual understanding through conversation." (FP contacted Rep. Bridenstine's office seeking
comment but was told the congressman was too busy with legislative matters to
be interviewed in time for publication.)
On its website,
TCAE claims to "make
a bridge to the Turkic world"
focusing on Turkey, Azerbaijan, and all of the post-Soviet Central Asian
republics, but it's
also been linked to a number of charter schools founded in
the United States by the Pennsylvania-based Gulen, now said to be the main
antagonist of scandal-plagued Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Bridenstine was in Baku to attend a conference called "USA-Azerbaijan: Vision for the Future," a lavish affair
sponsored by SOCAR, BP, ConocoPhillips and other energy majors, and opened by
Ilham Aliyev. This multinational junket, complete with tours of a
glittering new Caspian capital seen by many as a cross between Dubai and Paris,
barred reporters from Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty, the one news outlet that has done the most digging on the Aliyev
business dealings. But it earned write-ups by Politico, the Washington
Post, and the Washington Diplomat (the only publication
to attend) because of its recognizable guests and speakers. Among these
were delegates from 42 states, 75 state representatives, 11 active congress
members, and three newly retired Obama administration staffers: ex-Press
Secretary Robert Gibbs, former Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, and campaign
strategist David Plouffe, all of whom received five-figure checks for
addressing the conference, according to organizer and TCAE president Kemal
attendance was Michael McMahon, the former Democratic representative from New
York, who served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Azerbaijan
Caucus.* After Aliyev's
re-election in October, McMahon told the New York Times that the vote
was "honest, fair
and really efficient. There were much shorter lines than in America, and no
hanging chads." He
also wrote a few op-eds praising Azerbaijan as a "partner to the U.S. and a stalwart in the region." (McMahon now co-chairs
the lobbying division for Herrick, Feinstein LLP, a New York-based law firm
that opened its first international office in Istanbul in the
fall of 2013.)
entity is more active in Washington -- at least judging from its FARA
disclosures -- than the Azerbaijan American Alliance (AAA). Its current
chairman is Dan Burton, former Republican congressman from Indiana and the
former chair of the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats
who announced upon his appointment on Feb. 13, 2013: "The friendship between
our two countries is very important and I shall work hard to make it even
photograph of President Aliyev is featured on the AAA's website as a clickable graphic that directs users
to its "leadership" section.
The AAA aims to "develop an alliance of
individuals and organizations in the United States and Azerbaijan," to "[a]dvance
understanding, respect, friendship, cooperation and mutual support" between the two
countries, and to "[e]ducate
policy makers and leaders of industry about critical and complex issues related
to the symbiotic relationship."
And that relationship evidently needs a lot of insider help.
website also discloses that AAA paid Fabiani & Company $2.4 million for "planning and executing
strategies to encourage research and advocacy about the Azeri people, country,
culture and international relations."
Fabiani & Company is a D.C.-based "government affairs and strategy consulting firm" founded by James
Fabiani, a former director of the House Committee on Appropriations. In October
2013, it hosted the AAA's
second annual gala dinner in Washington, which the organization described as featuring "nearly
600 invited guests from Capitol
Hill, the Diplomatic Corps, think tanks, academic and business communities." In the six months
prior to May 31, 2013, Fabiani & Company received over $800,000 from the
AAA and incurred expenses in excess of $664,000, including for advertising in
the Washington Post and Express newspapers.
In fact, AAA and
Fabiani & Company share the same address at 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. When FP
called AAA, it reached the government affairs firm for a second time. A
representative explained that AAA was indeed run out of Fabiani & Company's offices and that the
same person would get back to us on behalf of both organizations. Follow-up
attempts to reach both AAA and Fabiani & Company were unsuccessful.
Cited in a
lengthy section of the AAA's
FARA filing titled "Influential
Individuals Who Have Met With the Azerbaijan America Alliance" are 85 House members;
21 senators; employees of the Heritage Foundation, Jamestown Foundation, and
Atlantic Council; business leaders from the Thomas Reuters Foundation, Raytheon
International, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman; and reporters from the New York
Times, Washington Post, and Foreign Policy.
the AAA has even encouraged
seven state legislatures to pass resolutions or
proclamations announcing their friendship with Azerbaijan, often using language
that would raise eyebrows among human rights monitors or opposition figures.
The Oklahoma State Senate referred to Azerbaijan as a "democratic,
secular and constitutional republic." The
Illinois State Senate claimed that Azerbaijan had "equal
rights for all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or religious
affiliation" and "shares
American values," the latter phrase also
being taken up by Kentucky's House of Representatives. Mississippi's
House resolution, dated Feb. 28, 2012, made special mention of the "noteworthy
importance in supporting the continued relationship between Azerbaijan and
Israel" and that "roughly
a third of the crude oil supplied to Israel" comes
The Mammadov mystery
Azerbaijan America Alliance was founded a little over two years ago by a man named
Anar Mammadov, who, according to FARA documents, has personally met with
House Speaker John Boehner, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 13 other congress members,
and 7 senators. Mammadov is described on AAA's website as "an
independent Azerbaijani businessman and entrepreneur,"
is certainly one way of putting it.
scion of Ziya Mammadov, the state's transport minister,
Anar Mammadov has amassed a reputation as an international playboy. Allegedly
worth $1 billion, and based mainly in Baku, he sued two dissident newspapers in
Azerbaijan for reporting that
he once drunkenly ordered a restaurant -- one owned by Kamaladdin Heydarov, the
minister of emergency situations minister, no less -- to serve him up a shish
kebab made of bear meat. The alleged price for this off-menu cuisine was $1.2
million, and Heydarov was said to have personally intervened with a reluctant
wait staff to let the well-connected oligarch munch on this rarefied game.
(Mammadov was also rumored to have propositioned Rihanna when the Grammy award-winning pop
star traveled to Baku in October 2012 -- against the objections of human rights
groups -- to perform for the FIFA Under-17 Women's
World Cup, which was held in the capital.)
the Azeri's portfolio doesn't exactly bespeak an "independent"
of accomplishments, whatever the Azerbaijan American Alliance claims. Mammadov
is president of Garant Holding, a company formerly known as ZQAN Holding.
(Garant gets a special mention on the AAA website's bio of
Mammadov.) That company's profit margins, as a number of media outlets have reported,
appear inextricably linked to a number of sweetheart contracts signed with his
father's Transport Ministry.
to a detailed exposé by RFE/RL and the
Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Mammadov and his uncle Elton
are partners with another family (also named Mammadov but not related) that
founded an Azeri entity that is heavily invested in "transportation,
construction, sports complexes, and oil exploration."
firm, known as the Baghlan Group, "has received
preferential treatment and the interlinked companies owned by the families have
taken large shares or even monopolized certain transportation sectors like bus
transport, taxis, road construction, and cargo-transportation services"
journalist Nushabe Fatullayeva. "In the Azeri language,"
observed, "the word 'baghlan' can mean 'closed'
can mean 'connected.' In the case of Baghlan
Group, both seem to apply."
Baghlan Group's subsidiaries have also been granted "lucrative,
apparently noncompetitive contracts to import and operate taxis and buses, and
to build roads." All of these contracts
were certified by the ministry run by Ziya Mammadov. And no minor dispensation
has that been: Baghlan has earned an estimated $1.3 billion in highway
construction contracts alone. In fact, the Baghlan Group's
registered address is the same address as Azerbaijan State Railway LLC, a
department of the Transport Ministry.
clearest case of Anar Mammadov's profiting from this connection appears to have been with the
Baghlan Group's taxi and bus companies, both the largest in their respective
industries. The bus company has "hundreds of buses,"
wrote, quoting the Baghlan website, that are responsible for transporting 20 percent of
Baku's passengers. In the lead-up to the Eurovision Song Contest 2012
hosted in Baku, Baghlan Group's cab company, Baki Taxsi, imported 1,000 London-style black
cabs into Azerbaijan for $28,000 apiece. There is no evidence that other cab
companies were given a chance to bid for the service of shuttling thousands of
international tourists around the capital city, Fatullayeva reported. And
following the Eurovision contest, Baki Taxsi edged out any and all competition,
preventing other cabs from parking in the city center or near subway terminals.
bank that processed all of Baki Taxsi's credit card
transactions is the Bank of Azerbaijan, a financial institution that has "monopolized
almost all taxi business," according to
Fatullayeva. It was also listed as one of the many holdings of the Baghlan
Group on the latter's website. (FP attempted to contact Anar Mammadov at the Baghlan Group by phone
and email. There was no voicemail set up for the company's
line and no one ever responded to our email request for an interview.)
Mammadov previously owned an 81 percent stake in that bank until he divested in
January 2013 -- well after Baki Taxsi's Eurovision windfall.
Furthermore, a subsidiary of ZQAN Holding company was given the privilege of
insuring all of Baki Taxis' London cab passengers.
At present, Mammadov's cousin Ruslan is a member of the bank's
supervisory board, of which a senior manager of ZQAN Holding is also the
chairman. ZQAN Holding also took part in the construction of the Baku
International Bus Station, which is owned by Mammadov's
uncle Elton. The Baghlan Group, ZQAN Holding, and the Bank of Azerbaijan all
sponsor the Baku Football Club, the honorary president of which is Mammadov.
of the Baghlan Group's "major
clients" is SOCAR.
How SOCAR does business
December, the London-based anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness released a
detailed report titled "Azerbaijan
Anonymous." It investigated SOCAR's business dealings that
were in some way linked to a 35-year-old man named Anar Aliyev, who, over a
five-year period, made around $375 million from them in transactions. It is
unknown whether or not this Aliyev is related to the president's
family (Aliyev is a common surname in Azerbaijan) but it bears noting that he
was born in Nakhchivan, an autonomous enclave of Azerbaijan that has produced
most of the country's elite, including the current president of SOCAR, its executive
director, President Aliyev, and his late father. Yet despite having almost no
public profile as an Azeri oligarch or industrialist, Anar Aliyev managed to
hold "ownership stakes in at least 48 deals with [SOCAR], including
production sharing agreements and joint ventures."
one case Global Witness examined, SOCAR created an oil trading company in 2007
called Socar Trading SA, which had $33.66 billion in revenue in 2011. However,
legally SOCAR only owned 50 percent of this entity; the ultimate beneficial
owners of the other 50 percent were Anar Aliyev and Valery Golovushkin, Socar
Trading SA's CEO as well as the former vice president of Lukoil, Russia's
second-largest oil company. Both men used a series of offshore shell companies
controlled by parent companies that they owned. Aliyev's
initial investment was $5 million; Golovushkin's was
$1.25 million. Then, in August 2012, SOCAR bought out both parent companies for
$103 million and $30 million, respectively -- a 2,360 percent return on Aliyev's
initial investment and a 2,700 percent return on Golovushkin's.
The fact that 50 percent equity in such a lucrative trading company was awarded
to "obscure offshore entities with opaque ownership can only raise
concerns about the motivation," Global Witness found.
did SOCAR, in responding to the report's findings, ever account
for why such an inscrutable oilman as Anar Aliyev was hand-selected to make
such a fortune. SOCAR mainly evaded Global Witness's
direct questions altogether and even claimed, against evidence, that "no
dividends were paid from the project" to
Aliyev or Golovushkin. The widespread -- but unproven -- suspicion among Azeri
journalists I've spoken to is that Anar Aliyev was a front for a
well-connected member of the regime, if not several.
while SOCAR Trading SA became fully state-owned when Aliyev and Golovushkin
cashed out, a new, partially privately owned middleman, SOCAR International
DMCC, still appears to be taking a cut of the profits. In June 2011, SOCAR established SOCAR
International DMCC in Dubai but, again, saw fit to own only 50 percent of that
company. Between June 2011 and December 2012, SOCAR International DMCC made $66
million in profit from buying oil from SOCAR and then selling it to SOCAR's now
wholly owned subsidiary, SOCAR Trading SA. Why the need for another middleman,
and who is the ultimate beneficiary owner of SOCAR International DMCC? The
state oil company declined to answer that question when it was posed by Global
Witness, although it did accuse the NGO of betraying "envy
[of] the increasing influence of SOCAR."
Global Witness's report, and after what the NGO told FP had
been three months of unsuccessful attempts to contact him for comment, Anar
Aliyev decided to go public. He gave an interview to the Azerbaijani
publication Business Time, which he said he valued as a "purely objective
business journal." He also stated that
he had "recently" changed his surname
to Alizade, owing in part to questions his former surname raised about his
possible filial connections to Baku's
ruling family. Aliyev/Alizade emphasized that he had "no family relations
with any powerful representatives of the Nakhchivani clan" or anyone else in
the Azerbaijani government. He got his start in business, he told Business
Time, by importing Turkish textiles, then trading land and private property
in Baku, then trading construction materials and equipment. "Socar Trading SA
was set up as a result of the offer came from me [sic] and well-known oil
trader Mr Valery Golovushkin," Aliyev/Alizade
insisted. As for the reason he didn't
respond to the NGO's interview
requests prior to the report's publication, he
claimed that he "was very busy this
year and had an extensive business trips schedule, and no letters or requests
from Global Witness were brought to my attention."
Aliyev/Alizade's interlocutor at Business
Time, chief editor Mammad Hajiyev, was clearly satisfied with these answers
and impressed with his subject. In an editorial comment at the bottom of his
article, Hajiyev wrote: "Despite his young
age our interlocutor positively impressed us by his self-confidence,
experience, accuracy and patience."
seems less taken with this self-accounting. "There
are still unanswered questions regarding how and why [Aliyev/Alizade] or his
companies were selected to occupy this key role dealing with Azeri oil," Tom Mayne, a
researcher at the NGO, told FP. "We are still
waiting for a full response from SOCAR on these and other matters."
The European lobby
In addition to
being a high-stakes property owner in the Gulf, first daughter Leyla Aliyeva is
also fashion and art junkie -- and a journalist. She's editor-in-chief
of the "style magazine" Baku, a publication
financed by her father and published by Condé
Nast Contract Publishing in London. Something of an Azeri Kim Kardashian,
Aliyeva of course needs good PR people to help maintain her jet-set lifestyle.
Enter Matthew Freud, the son-in-law of Rupert Murdoch and head of the
London-based PR firm Freud Communications. Having reportedly rejected contracts
from Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi 10 times, and from ousted Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak five times, Freud was clearly more amenable to a
request for representation by the Azeri dauphine. In 2011, he organized what
the British satirical weekly Private Eye called
"a caviar-rich London party" to "launch" Aliyeva in British
high society. Guests at this soirée
included Lord Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair's onetime political svengali; Freud's wife and Murdoch's daughter Elisabeth;
Lord Browne, the former head of BP; Ed Vaizey, the current British culture
minister; Stuart Rose, formerly the top man at Marks & Spencer; and Evgeny
Lebedev, the Russian oligarch proprietor of the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers, and son of billionaire businessman Alexander Lebedev.*
journals, PR firms, and caviar-laden parties in England are the least of
the Aliyevs' outreach
in Europe. "The
Azerbaijan lobbying effort in Europe is headed by Tale Heydarov, son of the
extremely wealthy emergency situations minister and a graduate of the London
School of Economics,"
Oliver Bullough, a London-based expert on the Caucasus and the author of The
Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation, told FP.
urbane and educated, hangs out with Prince Harry, and puts a lot of money into
trying to improve Azerbaijan's
image. He wants to promote it as a reliable energy partner, a country to do
Tale Heydarov's main vehicle for this
effort is the European Azerbaijan Society (TEAS), headquartered
at Queen Anne's Gate in the Mayfair district of London, with additional offices
in Istanbul, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels. A 2010 U.S. State Department cable
published by WikiLeaks described the group as follows: "The ‘society' purports to be an
independent advocacy group, but its talking points very much reflect the goals
and objectives of the [government of Azerbaijan]. In recent meetings, Tale and
his cohorts have raised ‘Armenian
Nagorno-Karabakh and ‘double
standards' of U.S.
human rights and democracy reporting in the region, and complained about
efforts of the U.S. Congress to provide humanitarian assistance within the
Here, too, PR
professionals are not far behind. TEAS's
is Lionel Zetter, a fellow of the Charted Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)
and of the Royal Society of Arts, as well the author of Lobbying: The Art of Political Persuasion.
In an email to FP, Zetter denied that TEAS
had any kind of allegiance to the regime in Baku. "The mission of TEAS is to promote the country (not
the government) of Azerbaijan and to foster links with Western Europe," he wrote. "It is not our place to
interfere in or comment on the internal politics of any country." Asked if he considers
Azerbaijan a democracy, Zetter answered: "Azerbaijan holds regular elections for the
Presidency, for the Milli Majlis and for municipal authorities, so of course it
should be classified as a democracy. If you know of a perfect democracy
anywhere in the world please do point it out to me."
fostering links with Western Europe seems to involve regularly flying out
members of national legislatures or the European Parliament for luxurious romps
around Azerbaijan. Perhaps not surprisingly,
these officials often return home with fond things to say about their hosts.
The Guardian found, for instance, that TEAS had spent "at least £71,740" ($118,177) in sending
Tory MPs to Azerbaijan and "at
least £9,700" ($15,978) in sending
Labour MPs. Sometimes politicians don't
even have to travel to be graced with TEAS's largesse. In September 2013, for instance, the
society held jazz festivals on the margins of all of Britain's three major political
party conferences: Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat. TEAS has also founded Conservative Friends of Azerbaijan, a
London-based advocacy organization that classifies Azerbaijan as a "democratic country" and currently has 25
British MPs as members. It also sponsored an event put on by Progress, a New
group" seen as
supportive of Tony Blair's
On TEAS's advisory board sits
Lord Kilclooney, a baron from Northern Ireland, who, according to his
parliamentary disclosure of interests, is remunerated for his
services. FP managed to reach Lord Kilclooney by phone. He
said that this paid arrangement with the organization ended "some years ago" and that he has not
sat in on any TEAS board meeting in "several
to what the State Department minuted in its cable, Kilclooney saw no pro-Aliyev
bias in TEAS's
find it totally open and very promotive of Azerbaijan generally, not the
government. The Americans make a lot of mistakes; I wouldn't pay attention to what
they say," he
told FP that he had personally met Tale Heydarov, who
chairs the TEAS board meetings, and was "very impressed." He thought the same of President Aliyev, whom he
also met: "I was
very impressed there as well."
And while he noted that freedom of expression in the media is "not the best," and that Azerbaijan "has a long way to go to
become a fully free democratic country,"
Lord Kilclooney believes that it is "moving in the right direction." Asked about the recent
spate of arrests of journalists and dissidents, he told FP
that Turkey has done far worse and that the United States executes more people
per year than Azerbaijan. "I'm horrified at the way
the United States supports Armenia, as does Russia, against the interests of
TEAS also paid £6,000 a year ($10,000)
to Mark Field, a Conservative MP who happens to sit on the House of Commons
committee that oversees Britain's
intelligence and security services. Field was also formerly the chairman of the
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Azerbaijan, a body designed to "maintain good relations
between the legislatures and governments of the UK and Azerbaijan," as its website states.
According to the TEAS website, the organization first took Field to Baku in
July 2010, on a joint invitation by TEAS and the NATO International School of Azerbaijan, an NGO
founded in 2007 as a "research,
education and training center on Euro-Atlantic
security and integration and [to] further promote Euro-Atlantic values and ideas in academia and
in a wider audience in the region at large." And it was clearly
money well spent. In a subsequent interview
with TEAS conducted from his Portcullis office, Field praised Azerbaijan as a "great trading partner" with healthy oil and gas
reserves that are of great importance to British companies such as BP. His
impressions of the place? Field said he was struck by the sense of "vibrancy" and "optimism" in the country -- all
related to its burgeoning business sector, of course. He further described
Azerbaijan as a "model
tolerates religious freedom and has a handle on extremism. Not a word was said
about Azeri human rights.
tried unsuccessfully to contact Field by phone and at his parliamentary email. Zetter,
however, confirmed that Field did earn £6,000
a year for approximately one and a half years -- "which he duly declared to the Parliamentary
authorities. He no longer has any paid or formal position with TEAS."
The ability of
TEAS to recruit pro-Aliyev politicians in Europe is made more disconcerting by
the fact that Tale Heydarov's
father is quite well known to the U.S. government. Previously the chairman of
the State Customs Committee, which the State Department called "one of the most corrupt
operations in Azerbaijan,"
Kamaladdin Heydarov "gain[ed]
massive wealth, as significant illicit payments were paid 'up the food chain' in an elaborate and
well-orchestrated system of payoff and patronage." The Heydarov clan, considered by Foggy Bottom to be
the second-most-powerful family in Azerbaijan, owns everything from fruit juice
companies to real estate.
Nowhere have TEAS's attentions been
better rewarded than at the Council of Europe, the Strasbourg-based
supranational institution sometimes known as Europe's oldest human rights monitor. Founded in 1949, it predates
the European Union and today consists of 47 member states, encompassing more
than 800 million citizens. There are three statutory bodies to the council: the
Committee of Ministers, made up of all the foreign ministers of the member states;
the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which consists of
parliamentarians from the member states; and the Secretariat, which is headed
by a secretary-general. All member states are meant to be democracies, and
while the resolutions passed by the Council of Europe are nonbinding, they are
still seen as highly symbolic -- capable of conferring a clean bill of health
on a member state's
civil liberties and human rights record, or capable of demonstrating where that
member state has fallen short.
Azerbaijan's admittance in 2001 to
this purportedly exclusive club of democracies was itself the spadework of a
contentious lobbying campaign. But since the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline was
laid down in 2005, making Azerbaijan a fattened oil titan, the Council of
Europe has increasingly become a vehicle for whitewashing Azerbaijan's international
reputation, argues Gerald Knaus, the chairman of the European Stability
Initiative (ESI), an independent Berlin-based think tank that has
made a series of comprehensives studies of Azerbaijan's influence in the Council of Europe. "We have a failure of
two types," Knaus
told FP. "The
failure of the parliamentarians is actually worse because they've done harm -- by
lending an alibi and giving an excuse to Azerbaijan. But the committee of
ministers has also failed. When I go around and ask ministers from friendly
countries, 'Why is
no one raising their voice about Azerbaijani human rights?' they all say it's energy interests, oil
pipelines, and such. 'Human
rights just don't
matter for us.'"
No greater proof
of this proposition is needed than the fact that on May 14, Azerbaijan ascended to the chairmanship of the Committee of
Ministers -- the very same week in which the government sentenced eight Azeri
activists to lengthy jail terms. In fact, two other political prisoners of the
Aliyev regime are affiliated with the Council of Europe itself. Ilgar Mammadov, who received a seven-year sentence in
March, ran the
Council of Europe's Political Studies Programme in Baku. Anar Mammadli, for whom the government has just requested a nine-year
prison term, had advised the PACE rapporteur
on political prisoners. Human Rights Watch's South Caucasus researcher, Giorgi Gogia, was
Council of Europe is the region's
foremost human rights body, but Azerbaijan's chairmanship comes at a time when the government
is blatantly flouting the organization's
core standards," Gogia
said in a statement
published on the NGO's
Baku has a very clear motive in orchestrating such
perverse political theater, Knaus argues. "It's to show any opponents of the regime that 'we cannot be shamed. On the contrary, we are embarrassing
you, and you have to accept it. Even the democratic guardians of Europe have
given up on you.'"
The Azerbaijani president is clearly using the Council of
Europe to congratulate himself and shield his regime from outside criticism. "[T]here are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan," he pronounced in January at a joint
press conference in Brussels with NATO
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Bear in mind that Azerbaijan's accession to the
Council of Europe was partly predicated on its agreement to release all
political prisoners in the country. However, the
most critical resolution on the status of such prisoners in Azerbaijan ever
drafted was defeated in January 2013 in what happened to be the best-attended
vote in the history of PACE. And here Aliyev really does deserve
congratulating, since this robust attendance appears to be the work of his
lobbying efforts to mobilize the "no" votes.
Knaus, the co-optation of PACE has been relatively straightforward and easy.
All Azerbaijan has had to do is get sympathetic MPs from other member states to
turn up whenever a vote on the country is held. "Usually people in PACE don't turn up for votes," Knaus said. "And the people who come whenever Azerbaijan is being
voted on are already in favor of the government's line. Then they become the majority."
As a result, Baku
has an excellent track record in watering down resolutions about its human
rights abuses, assigning the sensitive role of rapporteur for Azerbaijan's human rights
monitoring committee to Aliyev loyalists, blocking attempts to suspend Azeri
rights, and dispatching delegations to give fraudulent Azeri elections the stamp
of approval. It's
this last trick in particular that has been so embarrassing to PACE that it has
led to a major confrontation with Europe's most respected and deferred-to election monitor.
call that a clean vote?
The Office of the
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for
Security and Co-operation in Europe -- which famously shined a spotlight on the cooked polls in Georgia in 2003 and
Ukraine 2004, leading to those countries' "color revolutions" -- was the only organization to send both long- and
short-term teams of monitors to cover Azerbaijan's parliamentary election in November 2010.
It documented countless cases of fraud.
Some ballots cast,
ODIHR found, exceeded the number of voter signatures at polling stations. Votes
were also registered in some districts a full day before the election. In one prison,
1,000 inmates were handed filled-out ballots in closed envelopes and told to
file them; one inmate demurred and was beaten by guards. A third of the 150 stations
observed by ODIHR were listed as "bad" or "very bad." One official from the
office claimed that he'd
never seen so many instances of ballot stuffing.
"By the end of the day," ESI found in its
widely discussed report Caviar Diplomacy: How Azerbaijan Silenced
the Council of Europe, "it
was clear that these had probably been the most fraudulent elections ever
monitored in a Council of Europe member state." A similar act of sanitization of Aliyev's vote-rigging occurred
during the October 2013 presidential election, which ESI also helpfully exposed in a follow-up publication. Disgraced:
Azerbaijan and the End of Election Monitoring as We Know It states that that
election "may have
been the worst vote count ever observed by an ODIHR election observation
mission anywhere." As
discussed, before the election was even held, an Azerbaijani smartphone app run
by the Central Election Commission released the results, with Aliyev taking 72.76
percent of the vote. In the event, the "official" results
gave him 84.55 percent.
But that didn't stop Aliyev's most vociferous
apologists in Europe from giving his "victory" the all-clear. The
head of PACE's
election monitoring delegation, Robert Walter, a Conservative MP from Britain,
gave a joint press conference with Pino Arlacchi, the Italian head of the
delegation, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Baku. "[F]ree, fair and transparent" was their verdict.
certification, it was found that six of the nine MEPs who observed the election
had committed a "manifest
violation of the code of conduct"
for European Parliament, according to a five-member advisory committee
that monitors compliance with that code. The news service European Voice reported that "[m]ost of the trips had been organised and sponsored
parliament and by two organisations that refused to reveal the source of their
funding, the Society for the Promotion of German-Azerbaijani Relations (GEFDAB)
in Berlin and the European Academy for Elections Observation (EAEO), registered
in Belgium." However,
the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, decided to take no
disciplinary action against the six MEPs.
meanwhile, is the chair of the European Democrat Group (EDG) in PACE, a voting
bloc that includes the British Conservatives, Putin's United Russia, Aliyev's New Azerbaijan Party, Turkey's ruling Justice and
Development Party, and Ukraine's
Party of Regions, the party of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In
2011, Walter co-led a British trade mission to Baku sponsored by the Middle
East Association, self-described as the "UK's
leading business forum for promoting trade and investment with the Middle East
and North Africa." That
mission, according to the association, had the "full support" of the British Embassy
in Baku, the Azerbaijani Embassy in London, and TEAS.
Other allies of
Azerbaijan have now gotten into trouble. Take Leonid Slutsky, a deputy from the
chauvinistic Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and a member of PACE
since 2004. Aliyev awarded Slutsky the "Order
of Friendship" in
2009, and the camaraderie has been repaid. "Slutsky speaks at every debate in PACE on
says. He's also
the current chairman of the State Duma Committee on the Commonwealth of Independent States, Eurasian Integration and
Links with Compatriots. It was in this capacity that Slutsky found
himself sanctioned by the U.S. government after Crimea's Duma-certified "referendum" last March.
apologist is Mike Hancock, a Liberal Democrat MP from Portsmouth, England, who
declared in a PACE debate in 2011 that he was "proud"
to have been in Azerbaijan during the 2010 contest and that the "best you can say about
any election in any country ...
is that one the day following the election, the majority of people have
the result that the majority want"
-- a proposition sometimes difficult to test in Western democracies, let
alone in dictatorial petro-states.
Hancock resembles Karl Marx as dressed by Savile Row, and his famous tastes
have cost him political credibility back home. He was forced to stand down from
the Liberal Democrats in June 2013 owing to allegations that he had sexually assaulted a mentally handicapped
constituent. Before that, in 2011, the married Hancock became embroiled in
scandal because of his love affair with Ekaterina Zatuliveter, a 20-something parliamentary
aide whom British intelligence identified as a Russian spy, although a security
court later exonerated her of the charge. It had raised MI5's concerns that
Zatuliveter met with a Russian spook based at the Russian Embassy in London,
and that Hancock was at the time a member of the House of Commons Defence
Committee. (She also had affairs with a senior German NATO official and a
Dutch diplomat, according to Britain's
Telegraph.) However, Zatuliveter had other foreign interests, as well.
She was formerly paid £3,000 (nearly $5,000) for services rendered to none
other than TEAS. TEAS director Zetter told FP that Zatuliveter was
compensated in 2009 "for
her work in helping to organize events highlighting the plight of Azerbaijan's 875,000 refugees and
An unnamed Azeri
source explained to ESI how the quid pro quo arrangement
for cultivating PACE MPs works. This, too, is remarkably straightforward. "One kilogram of caviar," the source said, "is worth between 1,300
and 1,400 euro. Each of our friends in PACE receives at every session, four
times a year, at least 0.4 to 0.6 kg."
Azerbaijan heads the Committee of Ministers, both the art of gentle persuasion
and buying up friends with sturgeon roe has become more naked and perverse. As
chair, Baku is set to host a number
of events on countering corruption, strengthening the rule of law,
and educating children on the importance of human rights. "All the dignitaries,
the MPs from the Council of Europe, are traveling to Baku to stay at these
hotels linked to the First Family of the President," Knaus said. "All of this is now totally open and transparent. It
is a masterstroke of political engineering."
Viewed from afar,
Azerbaijan may not seem like an important or newsworthy country. The Middle
East, after all, has no shortage of resource-fattened authoritarian regimes
ready to line up to do business with Big Oil or to lend a hand with overseas
military operations. But the image Azerbaijan has cultivated over the past
half-decade, as a secure and stable Muslim country that backs the West, is
deeply attractive to policymakers of all ideological persuasions.
The timing for
Azeri outreach also couldn't be better. Russia's invasion of
Crimea hasn't just killed off
the zombie-corpse of the U.S.-Russian "reset," it's also led
Washington to sanction Russian officials and politically keyed-in oligarchs.
Rapprochement or detente with Iran may well be in the offing. As a result, this
South Caucasus nation looks geopolitically poised to grow more important to the
United States and the EU. But it pays to scrutinize who's selling that
importance. The children of the Aliyev regime have essentially "eclipsed Azerbaijan's diplomats and
effectively privatized the country's
foreign policy, from London to Brussels to Berlin," in the words of Oliver
the United States, the lobby's efforts seem to be paying off not only in the fulsome rhetoric
of politicians and legislatures, but also in shrinking the maneuvering space
for members of the anti-Aliyev diaspora and civil society. "I've
been here for five years and every year the list of people I can talk to grows
smaller and smaller," Alakbar Raufoglu, a
Washington-based Azeri journalist with Turan News Agency, told FP. "Someone
will call me up asking if I know this or that person at the Azerbaijani Embassy,
tell them I don't, and that's the last I'll hear from them."
acquiescence of London,
Brussels, and Berlin is one thing. But if the only Azeris now worth talking to
in Washington are those connected to the embassy, should anyone be surprised to
learn that the former address of a respected human rights organization now
belongs to Aliyev's state oil
The only question
in America's narrowing foreign
policy appears to be how the erosion of freedoms or the imprisonment and
harassment of dissidents and journalists abroad impact its "national interest," which is to say how
they don't. The Obama
administration simply doesn't care to make
these issues a priority. K Street, meanwhile, has always existed to ensure that
smiling, post-Soviet dynasties can buy friends in high places in the United
States to ensure that our national interest is best served by serving
kleptocrats bearing hydrocarbons. "In
five years," Michael tells Kay
in The Godfather, "the Corleone Family
is going to be completely legitimate." At
great expense, and with deft propaganda, the Corleones of the Caspian have
convinced the West that they've gotten there in
even less time. The tragedy is, no one seems to give a damn.
*Correction, June 11, 2014: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This error has been corrected. (Return to reading.)
*Clarification, Aug. 25, 2014: Evgeny Lebedev was born in Russia but became a British citizen in 2010. (Return to reading.)
Photoillustration by FP