On his first trip to Armenia, former New York City Mayor and personal lawyer to U.S. President Donald Trump, Rudy Guiliani visited the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum-Institute in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, on October 22, ARMENPRESS first reported.
After touring the museum, Giuliani laid flowers at the memorial and planted a symbolic tree in the park in honor of Armenian Genocide victims.
He also signed the guestbook at the memorial.
“The Armenian Genocide should not be forgotten because to do so is to make possible similar horrific acts of terror in our era and in the future,” Giuliani wrote. “The recognition of this Genocide will help prevent such inhumanities in the future. God bless the souls of all who died and may they rest in peace with God.”
Speaking to reporters about possible U.S. recognition of the Armenian Genocide, he said that the genocide is a historical fact, but “I am not here in my capacity as a private lawyer to President Trump. I am here as a private citizen. It’s up to the [Trump] administration to make their own conclusion,” Giuliani said.
In his first two years as President, Donald Trump has issued statements that echo former President Barack Obama and those before him that have sidestepped the issue in order to appease Turkey, a NATO ally.
Giuliani was also asked about the expansion of U.S.-Armenia relations. “It’s up to the two governments,” he said. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton is currently in Moscow and will travel to Yerevan later this week.
As the Mayor of New York City at the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, Rudy Giuliani, who owns a home in Palm Beach, FL, is a former Republican presidential candidate, and a public figure well known to Armenian Americans, tens of thousands of whom call New York City, and Palm Beach County, home. In fact, several Armenian Americans were among those killed on 9/11.
“I’m here as a private citizen, just to learn some facts in my first time in Armenia. I know the Armenian community in America very well,” he said.
Rudy Giuliani was invited to Armenia to participate in the Eurasian Forum by Ara Abrahamyan, the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and President of the Union of Armenians of Russia who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
During his trip, Giuliani visited Armenia’s Minister of Defense and met with Davit Tonoyan, acting Defense Minister of Armenia. Tonoyan and Giuliani discussed the current security environment in Armenia and the South Caucasus. They exchanged views on a number of regional and international issues.
Over the last two decades, U.S. engagement in the South Caucasus has been sparse, allowing Russia to strengthen it’s grip. However, the low flame of U.S.-Armenia relations has found new fuel since Armenia’s ‘Velvet Revolution’ earlier this year. The latest color revolution to hit the former Soviet space, hundreds of thousands of people descended onto the streets of the capital to demand the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan, Armenia’s President-turned-Prime Minister (the Armenian Constitution was amended by the President’s ruling party in 2015, thus transferring greater power to the Prime Ministerial post as Sargsyan’s Presidential term was coming to an end).
The largest citizen assembly since the country declared its independence in 1991 worked, and Sargsyan stepped aside without a single shot being fired. The peaceful revolution symbolized a clear rejection of the Putin style of authoritarian democracy that has expanded in the region (see Azerbaijan, Turkey) and across the globe.
During the Eurasia Forum, Armenia’s new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan commented on the recent and upcoming visits of senior U.S. officials and ties between to the two countries. “Unfortunately, as for the U.S. our contacts were not so intensive until now.” On October 15, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent visited Armenia and met with Pashinyan. U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton is expected later this week.
“We are going to intensify our relations,” Pashinyan said.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that he will be traveling to Russia and all three Caucasus nations this month for talks with senior officials.
In a tweet on October 11, Bolton said he would depart on October 20 for Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.
Bolton’s visit to the Caucasus comes on the heels of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s meeting with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent in Yerevan on October 15. During that meeting, Pashinyan reiterated that “Armenia is moving forward on [a] path to democracy, which is an inner belief and value for our society,” according to a tweet from the Armenian government. The “Fight against corruption, reforms in different spheres & #NKconflict” were also discussed.
While in Russia, Bolton will meet with senior Russian leaders, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
The scheduled Bolton visit to Russia comes at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria as well as alleged Kremlin interference in U.S. elections.
In August, Bolton told Patrushev that the United States “wouldn’t tolerate meddling” in the upcoming U.S. midterm elections. Bolton also said U.S. sanctions against Russia would remain in place until Moscow changes its behavior.
Therefore, it was no surprise that on October 19, the day before Bolton was scheduled to depart on his trip, the Justice Department brought its first criminal case over alleged Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections.
According to POLITICO, “Elena Khusyaynova, 44, a St. Petersburg, Russia-based accountant, was charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to defraud the United States for taking part in a scheme to spend in excess of $10 million since the beginning of the year on targeted social media ads and web postings intended ‘to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system.’”
In a tweet on October 12, Georgian Foreign Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said the upcoming visit of Bolton to Georgia would “further strengthen the deep friendship and strategic partnership between” the United States and Georgia.
It is interesting to observers that in September President Trump announced his nomination of a new U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Lynne Tracy, as current U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills wraps up his three year tour. Meanwhile, there has been no U.S. ambassador in Azerbaijan, or Turkey, since Trump took office two years ago. The fact that there is no gap in the high-level U.S. presence in Armenia, and that President Trump only last month nominated a representative to the the one of the two hostile muslim countries, indicates the strengthening U.S.-Armenia partnership, and symbolizes the decreased importance of Turkey and Azerbaijan as they continue to engage in activities that run counter to U.S. interests in the region.
By Harut Sassounian
Last year, I wrote an article reporting that the Silk Way Airlines of Azerbaijan made 350 secret flights to transport hundreds of tons of weapons from Bulgaria to ISIS terrorists in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries between 2014 and 2017. We now have a new surprising revelation that Silk Way received $419.5 million of loans from the U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM) to buy three 747-8 cargo planes from Boeing to continue its sinister operations.
The disclosure was made by a reporter for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) by filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. government in 2016. It is noteworthy that Silk Way, “owned by a company with past ties to Azerbaijan’s Aliyev family, won some lucrative contracts from the U.S. military,” according to FOIA documents. In fact, “Silk Way was given contracts worth more than $400 million with the U.S. Defense Department’s Transportation Command for more than decade,” according to Devansh Mehta of OCCRP. Silk Way transported “ammunition and other non-lethal materials” to Afghanistan as of 2005. “In addition to its relationship with the U.S. government, Silk Way Airlines has also worked as a subcontractor for the Canadian Department of National Defense, the German armed forces, and the French army,” Mehta revealed.
In April 2017, Silk Way increased its purchases from Boeing, signing a $1 billion deal for 10 new 737 MAX passenger planes, according to reporter Mehta. However, it is not known how the new acquisition was financed. Last October, Silk Way announced plans to buy two more 747-8 cargo planes.
Mehta disclosed that “the airline is owned by Silk Way Group, which, at least at one point, was closely associated with Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family (which has used its planes for private trips) and has benefited from benevolent state deals. Information obtained through FOIA shows that Silk Way Airlines took steps to conceal its owners’ identity, perhaps to improve its chances of winning the valuable U.S. loan guarantees and military contracts.”
Mehta added that “Azerbaijan ranks 122nd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, while President Ilham Aliyev’s family owns luxury properties around the world worth over $140 million. The Panama Papers and other leaks have implicated the country’s first family as being involved in nearly all sectors of the Azerbaijani economy, from luxury hotels to mining to banking.”
According to the terms of the Export-Import Bank’s $419.5 million loan to Silk Way, in case of default the loss would be repaid by the state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan (IBA). The problem is that IBA has been “implicated in the Azerbaijani Laundromat, a massive scheme that pumped nearly $3 billion out of the country through various shell companies,” Mehta wrote. Furthermore, IBA is not in a position to guarantee the Silk Way loan, as the IBA itself declared bankruptcy in 2015, unable to pay its $3.3 billion debt!
Nate Schenkkan, project director of the Nations in Transit report at Freedom House, a US-based nonprofit that monitors democracy and human rights around the world, questioned the wisdom of EXIM Bank’s loan to Silk Way: “In Azerbaijan, where one family dominates economically and politically, and is then using state institutions to back its economic projects, there’s an obvious conflict of interest.”
Arzu Aliyeva, Pres. Aliyev’s 21-year-old daughter in 2010, was one of the three owners of Silk Way Bank, the financial arm of Silk Way Holding. Since 2017, her name is no longer mentioned as an owner. “Silk Way Holding, also referred to as Silk Way Group (SW Group) on its website, is a conglomerate that has currently listed 11 companies in its portfolio, including the airline,” according to Mehta. Silk Way Holding dominated Azerbaijan’s aviation sector after the state carrier AZAL airlines was privatized in a highly secretive manner without any bids and tenders. Mehta wrote that “a similar privatization of the telecom sector ended up with the [Aliyev] family earning about $1 billion in bribes in cash and share value, according to an earlier OCCRP story. The investigation also found that the money was funneled to the first family through various secret offshore companies. These companies have enabled the Aliyevs to control stakes in gold mines, telecommunications and construction businesses in Azerbaijan.”
According to a filing in 2006, Silk Way Airlines was owned by IHC (International Handling Company), an offshore entity based in the British Virgin Islands. In a 2017 filing, Silk Way Airlines stated that 40% of the company was owned by IHC, while 60% was owned by SW Holding, “effectively controlled” by Zaur Akhundov, an Azerbaijani citizen. Mehta stated that “IHC is linked to the Aliyev family through its director Jaouad Dbila who reportedly served as a proxy for the first family’s business interests in the past.”
In 2011, a Russian-born manager, Grigory Yurkov, was given power of attorney for both Silk Way Holding and IHC, according to Luxembourg’s official gazette. This appointment was used as a means to conceal the true owners of IHC.
Meanwhile, Zaur Akhundov had mysteriously become the 100% owner of the entire Silk Way Group in 2014. By that time, the firm and its many holdings were already worth billions of dollars, Mehta declared, based on the company’s loan guarantee application. Akhundov, 50, had held several official positions in Azerbaijan. “It is unclear how Akhundov became the owner of a billion-dollar conglomerate with more than 10 aircrafts, an insurance company, a construction company and an aircraft maintenance company, to name a few of the enterprises in the Silk Way Group,” Mehta wondered.
According Schenkkan of Freedom House, “Azerbaijan can be described as a centralized, vertical pyramid where the benefits go to one family that collects rents throughout the economy. This includes all sorts of transactions, not only official state transactions that might involve taxes and public funds, but also things that involve what we normally consider the private sector: import-export, consumer goods, transport—any area of the economy, the family has a stake in it and receives a cut on what takes place.”
The U.S. Congress should hold a hearing to investigate the appropriateness of EXIM Bank’s $419.5 million loan guarantee to Silk Way Airlines, its arms shipments to terrorist groups in the Middle East, and its hidden ownership by the ruling Aliyev family. After all, why should Azerbaijan, a country with billions of petrodollars, be given a U.S. loan?