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U.S., Europe Should Investigate Azerbaijan Shipments of Weapons to Terrorists

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.

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Armenian Assembly of America Holds Annual Members Meeting in South Florida

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Earlier this year, the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly) held its annual members meeting in Boca Raton, Florida. Organized by the Assembly’s South Florida Regional Council (SFRC) Chair Arsine Kaloustian and Assembly Board of Trustees Member and Life Trustee Lu Ann Ohanian, the annual members weekend in March included a three-day program of meetings, receptions, and events.

The success of the Assembly’s annual members weekend was ensured thanks to the generosity of Gold Sponsors Carolyn Mugar, Joyce Stein, Lu Ann & Bruce Ohanian, and Peter Vosbikian; Silver Sponsors Michael Haratunian and Annie Totah; Bronze Sponsors Marta Batmasian, James Kalustian, and Harry & Edna Keleshian; and Donors Ara Jabrayan, Ed Shooshanian, Hagop & Arlys Koushakjian, and Nevart Talanian.

The weekend kicked off with a “Pints and Professionals” reception at Tap 42 restaurant, organized by Florida Chair Arsine Kaloustian. Over 100 guests from Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade Counties gathered in downtown Boca Raton to enjoy complimentary cocktails and appetizers in a business casual atmosphere throughout the evening.

Guests at the Armenian Assembly of America "Pints and Professionals" Reception.

Guests at the Armenian Assembly of America “Pints and Professionals” Reception.

“The Assembly is looking towards the future with fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking to build up new membership as well as engage the active member base we already have. The three events we hosted in Florida reflected that aim. Our networking event, ‘Pints and Professionals,’ was particularly successful. Over 100 young Armenian professionals in attendance were anxious to learn more about the Assembly and excited for other upcoming events,” Kaloustian said. “The South Florida Regional Council plans to continue this renewed energy and encouraging momentum for the duration of 2016,” she added.

On Saturday morning, Assembly members and friends gathered at the Boca Raton Marriott for the Members and Board of Trustees meeting. The meeting featured reports from Board of Trustees Co-Chairmen Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian, Board President Carolyn Mugar, and other board members and staff. Members also approved the Assembly’s annual budget and amended by-laws. The Board of Trustees meeting will hereafter convene every two years, rather than annually, to review the organization’s budget, endowment fund, and audit reports.

The Assembly’s current Board of Trustees include Anthony Barsamian, Co-Chairman; Van Krikorian, Co-Chairman; Hirair Hovnanian, Chairman Emeritus; Carolyn Mugar, President; Robert A. Kaloosdian, Vice Chairman and Counselor; Edele Hovnanian, Vice President; Bianka Kadian-Dodov, Treasurer; Oscar Tatosian, Secretary; Lisa Kalustian, Assistant Secretary; Aram Gavoor; Alex Karapetian; Raffi Kassarjian; Lu Ann Ohanian; Toros Sahakian; Joyce Stein; Annie Totah; and Talin Yacoubian. Mark Momjian will continue to serve as Solicitor.

During the meeting, the Assembly thanked Michael and Marie Haratunian, who became life trustees after years of dedication with the Assembly. Former Chairman of the Board Michael Haratunian participated in the Airlie House conferences that established the Armenian Assembly of America in 1972 and served as a member of the Board of Directors for many years. He also participated in the Assembly’s Mission Trips to Armenia in 1993, 1994, and 1997.

“The Armenian Assembly, the Armenian American community, and Armenians around the world are grateful to Michael and Marie Haratunian for their hard work over the years, preparing a new generation of leaders,” Assembly Board of Trustees Co-Chairs Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian said. “The value they place on the Assembly’s core philosophy to approach important issues in Washington in a professional and on a non-partisan basis yielded a remarkable record of success, promoted four decades of interns, and helped Armenians everywhere.”

Krikorian and Barsamian also recognized several Assembly members and other prominent Armenian American leaders who passed away over the last year, honoring them with a moment of silence. Assembly members spoke in memory of the departed: Harry Keleshian; Gregory Adamian; George Kay; Hirant Candan; George Yacoubian, Sr.; former Washington Post Editor Ben Bagdikian; and former U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Harry Gilmore. While speaking about Ambassador Gilmore, the Armenia Tree Project (ATP) shared about the tree planting on October 14 at the Memorial Park in Parakar Village, west of Yerevan, which was done in his honor.

Assembly Mtg2

Armenian Assembly of America Board of Trustees Co-Chairmen Van Krikorian and Anthony Barsamian, President Carolyn Mugar, Board Member Aram Gavoor, and Armenia Tree Project Deputy Director Jason Sohigian.

During the meeting, the Board of Trustees reviewed the Armenian Genocide centennial anniversary year and presented updates on Assembly activities from around the world, including Vatican City, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston, Chicago, Yerevan, and more. The Assembly members reviewed the events in 2015 and additions to the Assembly’s staff, with new positions filled in California, Washington, D.C., and Armenia.

Krikorian spoke about the new, young leadership and the updated by-laws, aimed at charting the Assembly’s path toward a successful future. The board announced the now-mobile friendly Armenian Genocide Museum of America (AGMA) website as an example, and showcased the virtual museum. AGMA is now easily accessible on mobile and tablet devices.

Reflecting on the situation on the front line of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, prior to the four-day war, Krikorian displayed the Assembly-created Artsakh Cease-Fire Map, depicting violations by Azerbaijan on the Line of Contact. As feared, Azerbaijani aggression reached new heights in the weeks following the Assembly’s Annual Trustees Meeting, further endangering the region for Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh, as well as refugees being forced to escape persecution in Syria and Iraq.

Barsamian discussed recent meetings he had with various officials, including President Serzh Sargsyan in Armenia as well as OSCE Minsk Group U.S. Ambassador James Warlick in Washington, D.C. He mentioned exciting new projects in store for Armenia, including the Smithsonian Armenia spotlight on the National Mall Discovery Center to be opened in 2018, where the Armenia Tree Project plans to play a significant role.

Assembly President Carolyn Mugar presented on the Assembly and ATP’s tree planting projects. She focused on last April’s commemoration dedicated to the memory of U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau in Armenia, where ten members of the extended Morgenthau family, including eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren of Ambassador Morgenthau, participated in several ATP events.

On Saturday evening, Assembly members and friends gathered for a reception where guests discussed the new energy and planned initiatives of the Assembly. Attendees enjoyed the rest of the night dancing with live music provided by Dick Barsamian (Oud), John Arzigian (Accordion), and Mike Gregian (Dumbeg).

The Assembly’s Annual Members Meeting weekend concluded on Sunday with a book presentation at St. David’s Church where renowned Armenian American photojournalist Scout Tufankjian presented her book There is Only the Earth: Images from the Armenian Diaspora Project. Released in April 2015, the publication culminates six years dedicated to documenting Armenian communities in over 20 countries. Tufankjian is best known for her photography during the Barack Obama campaigns and her work in the Middle East reporting on the Egyptian Revolution.

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.

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NR#: 2016-029

In South Florida U.S. Holocaust Museum Memorial Presents Findings on Genocide and Mass Atrocities in Iraq

By Mercedes Gechidjian
FLArmenians Miami Contributor

A displaced Iraqi Christian woman prays at the home where she is staying in Erbil. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

A displaced Iraqi Christian woman prays at the home where she is staying in Erbil. Photo courtesy of Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin for The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

On Tuesday, February 9th and on Wednesday, February 10th, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton and the University of Miami (UM), respectively, had the honor of hosting a presentation by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) entitled “Exposing the Darkness: Perspectives on Mass Atrocities.” The panel discussion featured human rights experts Naomi Kikoler, Deputy Director at the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the USHMM, and photographer Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin. This brilliant, powerful discussion was co-hosted by FAU’s Center for Holocaust and Human Rights Education and by the University of Miami Hillel.

In 2015, Kikoler and Knowles-Cousin travelled to northern Iraq to document evidence of mass atrocities carried out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). The USHMM report found that IS has committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and ethnic cleansing against various minority groups and perpetrated genocide against the Yezidi people.

“The event discussed previous atrocities, such as the Holocaust and crimes in Iraq, and brought forth ideas on how these atrocities could be prevented,” stated Michael Bezjian, a University of Miami Armenian Student Association (UM-ASA) member who was present at the Miami panel.

USHMM-FIU pic

Naomi Kikoler, Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin, and Michael Bezjian

Knowles-Coursin’s work focuses on identity within the context of migration and statelessness, so his photographs documenting the Islamic State’s brutality brought to life the plight of the displaced and persecuted.

According to USHMM’s mission statement, the “Museum strives to broaden public understanding of the history of the Holocaust through multifaceted programs: exhibitions; research and publication; collecting and preserving material evidence, art and artifacts related to the Holocaust; annual Holocaust commemorations known as Days of Remembrance; distribution of education materials and teacher resources; and a variety of public programming designed to enhance understanding of the Holocaust and related issues, including those of contemporary significance.”

Florida Armenians were encouraged to attend the USHMM discussion in the hopes of raising awareness and broadening perspectives on genocide and man’s inhumanity to man.

“Growing up as an Armenian American, I’m no stranger to the stories of genocide, as they were told to me by my grandparents, who learned from their parents. Attending high school in South Florida, we learned about Nazi Germany and the atrocities that took place in the concentration camps during WWII,” stated Florida Armenians Boca Raton Chair George Sarkisian who was present at the FAU presentation.

“’Exposing the Darkness: Perspectives on Mass Atrocities’ was truly eye-opening, and really put in context the level of violence currently taking place in Iraq and Syria. The pictures and stories shared by the panelists provided a small but powerful glimpse into the lives of the people suffering at the hands of ISIS. I was especially touched by the pictures and stories of the displaced people living in camps located in northern Iraq and it feels like the history of the Armenian people a century ago may well be repeating itself today,” Sarkisian said.