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House of Representatives Passes Five Pro-Democracy Amendments as Part of the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act

WASHINGTON, DC – On the evening of Thursday, September 23, 2021, five decisive pro-democracy amendments were adopted en bloc by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the overall National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022, known as bill H.R. 4350.

In the aftermath of last Fall’s 44-day war launched by Azerbaijan with the full support of Turkey against the Armenian people of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), the Armenian American community strongly advocated for and hailed passage of the following amendments:

  • Amendment #21 sponsored by Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), and cosponsored by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Brad Sherman (D-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Katie Porter (D-CA), Young Kim (R-CA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), and Dina Titus (D-NV): This amendment “creates a report on Azerbaijan’s activities in Nagorno Karabakh in 2020 to be submitted to the relevant congressional committees by the Secretary of Defense in consultation with the Secretary of State. Also expresses the Sense of Congress that the government of Azerbaijan should immediately return all Armenian prisoners of war and captured civilians. Urges the Administration to engage with Azerbaijani authorities, including through the OSCE Minsk Group, to make clear the importance of adhering to their obligations under the November 9 statement and international law to immediately release all prisoners of war and captured civilians.”
  • Amendment #278 sponsored by House Rules Committee Chairman James McGovern (D-MA), and cosponsored by Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Norma Torres (D-CA), and Don Beyer (D-VA): This amendment “modifies the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act (Subtitle F of title XXI of PL 114-328) to authorize sanctions for serious human rights abuse, any violation of internationally recognized human rights, or corruption; adds two new reports to Congress; and repeals the sunset.”
  • Amendment #325 sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and cosponsored by Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA): This amendment “requires a report from the Secretary of Defense, in collaboration with the Secretary of State, addressing allegations that some units of foreign countries that have participated in security cooperation programs under section 333 of title 10, U.S.C. may have also committed gross violations of internationally recognized human rights before or while receiving U.S. security assistance. This report also includes recommendations to improve human rights training and additional measures that can be adopted to prevent these types of violations.”
  • Amendment #431 sponsored by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), and cosponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Young Kim (R-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), and Anna Eshoo (D-CA): This amendment “requires a report by the Secretary of State on the activities of the Grey Wolves organization (AKA Bozkurtlar & Ülkü Ocaklari) undertaken against U.S. interests, allies, and international partners, including a review of the criteria met for designation as a foreign terrorist organization.”
  • Amendment #449 sponsored by Rep. David Valadao (R-CA), and cosponsored by Reps. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Susan Wild (D-PA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Young Kim (R-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Katie Porter (D-CA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), David Schweikert (R-AZ), David Trone (D-MD), and Don Beyer (D-VA): This amendment “requires a report within 180 days of all US humanitarian and developmental assistance programs in Nagorno Karabakh, including an analysis of the effectiveness of such programs and any plans for future assistance.”

Speaking in support of his amendment (#325), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) stated on the House floor that countries that violate human rights, such as Azerbaijan, which received over $100 million dollars in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, along with “equipment and training from the U.S. military,” and launched “a deadly attack against Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh on September 27 that led to the death of thousands and the displacement of so many more,” should not receive U.S. funding.

“Passage of this amendment sends a clear signal that the U.S. takes seriously its democratic norms and commitment to peace by ensuring oversight of our security assistance,” said Rep. Pallone, noting that in the future there will be “restraint from aiding and tolerating similar regimes, especially when their actions are aimed at destabilizing a fellow democracy.” This amendment is especially important since Azerbaijan continues to threaten Armenia’s safety and sovereignty. “The United States should not be aiding and abetting reckless, autocratic states with appalling human rights records for any reason,” Rep. Pallone said.

Upon passage, FLArmenians.com Editor Taniel Koushakjian stated, “We commend the House of Representatives for adopting these significant, pro-democracy measures, especially all of the amendment sponsors for taking a strong stand against the war crimes committed by Azerbaijan’s armed forces against peaceful Armenians who are simply defending their right to live in peace. We urge Congress to ensure these measures and kept in the final adoption of the FY2022 NDAA.”

Aliyev Family’s Financial Role In Shipping Weapons to Terrorists

By Harut Sassounian
FLArmenians Guest Contributor

Last week I wrote about the sensational revelations by Bulgarian investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva in Trud newspaper, who reported on leaked documents 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 during the last three years.

A report by Radio Free Europe (RFE) Azeri investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova, who has been jailed for her disclosures of Azerbaijan government’s human rights abuses, has revealed in a 2010 report on Pres. Aliyev’s daughter, Arzu Aliyeva’s part ownership of a company that is linked to Silk Way Airlines. This fact explains how the airline managed to get all the diplomatic clearances to ship such large quantities of weapons to terrorists.

It turns out that Silk Way Airlines belongs to SW Holding, a group of companies that “enjoys a near-complete monopoly of airline service,” including mid-flight meals served by Sky Catering, and taxi service run by Airport Gate, both of which are owned by SW Holding. In addition, technical maintenance of the national carrier’s planes and helicopters are carried out by Silkway Technics, and “multiple other companies controlling everything from Traveler assistance to ticket sales to duty-free stores are all owned by SW Holding,” according to Ismayilova.

SW Holding also owns Silk Way Bank which is owned by Pres. Aliyev’s then 21-year old Arzu Aliyeva and Zarifa Hamzayeva, wife of president of Azerbaijan’s AZAL state airline company, according to RFE’s Azerbaijani Service. Silk Way Airlines is also a part owner of the Silk Way Bank.

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and his wife, Mehirban, who was recently named the country’s Vice President

Interestingly, Ismayilova reports that “the rise of SW Holding, which has seamlessly absorbed many of AZAL’s former businesses, has raised questions about dubious privatization practices in Aliyev’s Azerbaijan. It also serves to underscore how the political elite continues to use close friends and family members to preserve its hold on the country’s most valuable assets — despite Azerbaijani laws that list nepotism by state officials as an offense punishable by up to 12 years in jail.”

Pres. Ilham Aliyev is simply continuing the practice started by his father Heydar Aliyev, who after ruling Azerbaijan for two decades passed the Presidential baton to his son. In a constitutional referendum in 2009, term limits on the President were abolished making Ilham Aliyev President for Life! Not to take any chances, he recently appointed his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva, as Vice President, to become his possible successor.

As I had reported earlier, based on an article in The Washington Post,” Pres. Aliyev’s preteen son, Heydar, was the legal owner of nine luxury mansions in Dubai purchased for $44 million. President’s two daughters, Arzu and Leyla, also own property in Dubai. The three children together own property in Dubai worth $75 million. Obviously this is not money they earned nor did their parents! Pres. Aliyev’s annual salary is $230,000. Ismayilova estimates Pres. Alyev’s wealth to be “in tens of millions of dollars.” This is surely an underestimate, given the lack of concrete figures. However, just the fact that Aliyev’s three children own property in Dubai worth $75 million, Pres. Aliyev’s wealth could be safely estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars if not in the billions of dollars! Contrary to Azerbaijani law, neither Pres. Aliyev nor his wife has declared their net worth.

Under Azerbaijani law, public officials are prohibited from owning businesses, while family members are exempt from this restriction, a loophole exploited by the Aliyevs to hide their earnings in their children’s holdings. Just Arzu Aliyeva’s part ownership of the Silk Way Bank is worth over $12 million. According to RFE, “presidential secretary Azer Gasimov confirmed that Arzu Aliyeva was one of the owners of the Silk Way Bank.”

Gulu Khalilov, the spokesman for the State Committee on Privatization of State Property, told RFE that he had no information on the privatization of AZAL, the state airline company, including its holdings, like AZAL Bank. RFE was told that none of the legal procedures for privatization were followed.

“In the meantime, SW Holding has slowly but steadily acquired nearly all of AZAL’s former companies, including the insurance firm AZAL Sigorta, which is now co-owned by SW Holding and the two daughters of Jahangir Asgarov, the president of AZAL and the husband of Zarifa Hamzayeva, the current co-owner of Silk Way Bank,” according to Ismayilova. “SW Holding has also been the sole contractor on a number of high-profile AZAL projects, including airport-construction deals in Lankaran, Ganja, and Zagatala worth a total of $150 million.”

Pres. Aliyev and his family must be held responsible as part owners of a state-run airline that ships sophisticated weapons to terrorists around the world!

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.