By Harut Sassounian
FLArmenians Guest Contributor
A stunning investigation by Bulgarian reporter Dilyana Gaytandzhieva revealed that Azerbaijan’s state-run Silk Way Airlines has shipped under diplomatic cover 350 planeloads of heavy weapons and ammunition to terrorist groups around the world in the last three years! Azerbaijan asked the Foreign Ministries of various countries to issue a diplomatic exemption for these flights, allowing civilian planes to carry weapons which would normally be prohibited by the International Air Transport Association.
The reporter’s information is based on a large number of emails sent to her by an anonymous source: “The leaked files include correspondence between the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Azerbaijan to Bulgaria with attached documents for weapons deals and diplomatic clearance for overflight and/or landing in Bulgaria and many other European countries,” in addition to Syria, Iraq, the United States, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey, and Israel, to name a few.
According to documents obtained by Gaytandzhieva, “Silk Way Airlines offered diplomatic flights to private companies and arms manufacturers from the US, the Balkans, and Israel, as well as to the militaries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, and US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), and the military forces of Germany and Denmark in Afghanistan and of Sweden in Iraq. Diplomatic flights are exempt of checks, air bills, and taxes, meaning that Silk Way airplanes freely transported hundreds of tons of weapons to different locations around the world without regulation.”
The leaked documents also reveal that American weapons manufacturers had shipped over $1 billion of weapons through Silk Way Airlines. These were non-US standard weapons which means that they were not intended for use by U.S. forces. When Silk Way Airlines did not have enough available planes, Azerbaijan’s Air Force jets would transport the military shipments, Gaytandzhieva reported.
According to the U.S. federal contracts registry, in December 2014, the U.S. Special Operations Command signed a $26.7 million contract with the American company Purple Shovel. Bulgaria was listed as the country of origin for the shipped weapons and Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry as the consignee. Another US company, Orbital ATK, received a contract for $250 million of non-US standard weapons.
Amazingly, the daring Bulgarian reporter went to Aleppo, Syria, in December of last year where she “found and filmed 9 underground warehouses full of heavy weapons with Bulgaria as their country of origin. They were used by Al Nusra Front (Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria designated as a terrorist organization by the UN).”
Gaytandzhieva discovered that just in April and May of 2017, Azerbaijan’s Air Force jets transported 282 tons of grenades on 10 diplomatic flights.
Another major purchaser of non-US standard weapons is Saudi Arabia which cannot use these weapons for its own defense as they are not compatible with its arsenal of western weapons. In 2016 and 2017, there were 23 diplomatic flights carrying weapons from Bulgaria, Serbia and Azerbaijan to Jeddah and Riyadh. These weapons were transported to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through Silk Way Airlines and ended up in the hands of militants in Syria and Yemen that Saudi Arabia officially admits supporting, according to Gaytandzhieva.
On April 28 and May 12 of this year, Silk Way Airlines carried out two diplomatic flights from Baku to Burgas-Jeddah-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo). The military cargo on board both flights was paid for by Saudi Arabia. The aircraft was loaded with mortars and anti-tank grenades. These very same weapons were discovered by the Iraqi army a month ago in an Islamic State warehouse in Mosul. It is not surprising that Islamic State terrorists have displayed these weapons in their propaganda videos, according to Gaytandzhieva.
The same situation existed with the shipment of Coyote machine guns which appeared on propaganda videos posted online by militant groups in Syria. These weapons were transported on a diplomatic flight via Turkey and Saudi Arabia a few months earlier. There are many other examples of such shipments that ended up in the hands of terrorists, including some shipments sponsored by United Arab Emirates.
In February and March 2017, Saudi Arabia received 350 tons of weapons on Silk Way Airlines’ diplomatic flights originating from Baku. The cargo included 27,350 pieces of 128-mm rockets and 10,000 pieces of 122 mm. Grad rockets.
Some of these shipments were paid in cash which may account for the huge amount of wealth accumulated by Pres. Aliyev and his family.
Just as concerning are the shipments of large quantities (around 200 tons) of white phosphorus which could be deadly. Ironically, Azerbaijan, which possesses white phosphorus, accuses Armenia of using it in the Artsakh conflict.
This is not just another article which should be read and forgotten! The U.S. Congress and European governments should hold hearings and investigate these huge shipments of weapons, most of which are destined for terrorists in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Florida Armenians cordially invites you to a special evening for the premier of the Armenian-American film “HERE,” this Thursday, October 25th at Cinema Paradiso, the home of the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF). Director Braden King will be in attendance to meet guests and participants. FLArmenians will offer brief program immediately preceding the film’s premier.
Premier Thursday night 8:00 PM, Program begins at 7:30 PM. Also showing Friday night 8:00 PM & Saturday night 8:00 PM
Cinema Paradiso is located at 503 SE 6th St., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301. Driving directions, map and parking information can be found here.
Runtime: 126 min
Language: English & Armenian w/English sub-titles
Director: Braden King
Producer: Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy, Jeff Kalousdian, Julia
Cast: Ben Foster, Peter Coyote and Lubna Azabal
Will Shepard is an American satellite-mapping engineer contracted to create a new, more accurate survey of the country of Armenia. Within the industry, his solitary work – land-surveying satellite images to check for accuracy and resolve anomalies – is called “ground-truthing”. He’s been doing it on his own, for years, all over the world, but on this trip, his measurements are not adding up.
Will meets Gadarine Najarian at a rural hotel. Tough and intriguing, she’s an expatriate Armenian art photographer on her first trip back in ages, passionately trying to figure out what kind of relationship – if any – she still has with her home country and culture. Fiercely independent, Gadarine is struggling to resolve the life she’s led in Canada and Europe with the Armenian roots that run so deeply, if unconsciously, through her. There is an almost instant, unconscious bond between these two lone travelers; they impulsively decide to continue together. HERE tells the story of their unique journey and the dramatic personal transformations it leads each of them through.
Sponsored by Margaret Ahnert and featuring Special Guest, Director Braden King.
The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival (FLIFF), founded in 1986, is dedicated to foreign and independent film. FLIFF annually showcases over 200 films from over 35 countries. A recipient of The Guiness World Record for the longest film festival in the world, FLIFF prides itself as being the friendly non-pretentious fest where access to filmmakers is basically unfiltered.
FLIFF takes programming throughout South Florida, including The Weston Foreign Film Series, The Bay Harbor Islands Family Festival, The Hollywood Arts Park screenings, among other satellite operations.
FLIFF also tours the State of Florida and Grand Bahama Island, partnering with The Daytona Beach Film Festival, The St Augustine Film Festival, The Amelia Island Film Festival, and FLIFF On-Location Grand Bahama Island. Filmmakers who submit to FLIFF will have their films considered for one or all of the above festivals, providing a bargain to budget stretched filmmakers.
Since 1998, over $1 million had been raised and invested in our year-round space, now known as Cinema Paradiso. Today, Cinema Paradiso operates year-round featuring foreign and independent film, student films, children’s movies, and serves as a mecca for just about every kind of arts event you can imagine. Benefits for other non-profits, poetry, dance, music, as well as corporate events, book signings and celebrity appearances take place in this versatile space.
The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival and Cinema Paradiso are just two of the programs presented by The Broward County Film Society.