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The international media is replete these days with scandalous stories about European and American politicians being wined and dined in Azerbaijan and Turkey, for self-serving ulterior motives.

By Harut Sassounian


The international media is replete these days with scandalous stories about European and American politicians being wined and dined in Azerbaijan and Turkey, for self-serving ulterior motives.

The latest such exposé, published by the Houston Chronicle on July 27, was titled: “Congress members’ trips raise red flags.” The article revealed that five Turkic non-profit groups spent $274,459 for the lavish travel of 10 members of Congress and 35 staffers to Azerbaijan in May 2013. The funds were contributed by:

-- Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians (Houston): $101,680

-- Turkish American Federation of the Midwest (Chicago): $68,324

-- Turkic American Alliance (Washington, DC): $52,975

-- Turkic American Federation of the Southeast (Atlanta): $26,550

-- Council of Turkic American Associations (New York): $24,930

The 10 members of Congress travelling to Baku on all-expenses-paid trip were:

-- Danny Davis (D-IL): $24,084

-- Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX): $19,962

-- Jim Bridenstine (R-OK): $14,173

-- Ted Poe (R-TX): $13,431

-- Steve Stockman (R-TX): $13,431

-- Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM): $12,780

-- Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX): $12,034

-- Leonard Lance (R-NJ): $9,798

-- Yvette Clark (D-NY): $8,701

-- Gregory Meeks (D-NY): $6,431

The actual purpose of the congressional trip was to attend a conference sponsored in part by SOCAR (Azerbaijan’s national oil company) which along with one of its partners, NIOC (Iran’s national oil company), was embarking on a $28 billion project to develop the Shah Deniz gas field. It was no coincidence that the junket was organized at a time when Congress was considering additional sanctions against Iran. The Azeris and their Iranian partners desperately needed an exemption from Congress to carry out their mega-project. Not surprisingly, less than two months after the congressional delegation’s return from its extravagant trip, the House of Representatives went along and approved the sought after exemption!

The Houston Chronicle explained the speedy approval of this bill by a usually slow-moving Congress by the fact that “SOCAR, along with other Azeri government interests, has become one of Washington, D.C.’s big spenders in efforts to win American allies to get its petroleum products to markets worldwide…. Lobbyists, the Azeri government and energy companies all participated in the elaborate Baku gathering” at the plush Heydar Aliyev Center with Pres. Ilham Aliyev as keynote speaker. “At least four congressmen took along a spouse or a fiancé. Some flew first-class and extended their trips with stays in luxury hotels in Turkey. The congressional travel tabs alone totaled $270,000.”

Interestingly, the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, the main organizer of the visit, “did not disclose any corporate support or foreign government assistance for the Baku congressional trips,” as required by Federal law, the Chronicle reported. The five Turkic non-profit organizations and 10 Members of Congress may have violated congressional ethics rules and federal law by not disclosing corporate donations for the trip, the Chronicle stated.

Records show that Cong. Meeks “did not disclose his Baku trip expenses until a year after the deadline,” the Chronicle disclosed. Moreover, Cong. Stockman had received an additional $5,000 in campaign contributions in three installments, during the same month as the trip, from Kemal Oksuz, president of the Turquoise Council, who leads two non-profits that share the same address in Houston. “Both groups were identified as sponsors or organizers of the Baku conference, and both have accepted money from SOCAR. One group, the Assembly of the Friends of Azerbaijan, operates as a U.S.-based public relations arm of SOCAR,” according to the Chronicle.

Oksuz reportedly told an American journalist in Baku that the oil conference had cost $1.5 million. He also said that some guests had received hand-woven rugs as gifts -- which would be a violation, if not reported to proper U.S. authorities.

The Chronicle revealed that “many of those non-profits are led by followers of Fetullah Gulen, a moderate Turkish ex-Imam who lives in exile in an enclave in Pennsylvania…. Collectively, Turkic groups have funded 272 foreign trips for members of Congress and their staffs from 2009-2013" to Azerbaijan and Turkey.

In addition to its eye-opening investigative article, the Houston Chronicle published a blistering editorial, chiding the 10 members of Congress for “being distressingly naïve or disgustingly corrupt,” and in return for “a few well-placed donations,” serving the interests of Azerbaijan, “a corrupt kleptocracy ruled by the Aliyev family, which lines its pockets while keeping political dissent firmly quashed.”

For much of the last year, Armenian politics and foreign policy have been infused with an unusual degree of dynamic change and dramatic choices.

By Richard Giragosian, Director of Regional Studies Center

For much of the last year, Armenian politics and foreign policy have been infused with an unusual degree of dynamic change and dramatic choices. In foreign policy, Armenia has faced a shift in alliance and strategic orientation, most evident in the surprise decision by the Armenian president to sacrifice nearly four years of negotiations with the European Union over a new Association Agreement. That unilateral decision firmly committed Armenia to pursue membership in the Russian-dominated Customs Union instead.

But it has been Armenian domestic politics that has been marked by an even more significant degree of change. In many ways, politics in Armenia has always been about power and wealth, based on a form of governance driven by self-interest over national interests.

Armenia’s “Game of Thrones”

Yet most recently, Armenian politics has become a new “game of thrones,” as various political parties and powerful interests compete for power and position. And for each “kingdom” of power, the stakes are high, as a new government is soon to be formed and the president seems intent on pushing through a number of structural changes to the constitution.

This new version of Armenia’s “game of thrones” has now fully emerged in the wake of the resignation of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and the recent selection of parliamentary speaker Hovik Abrahamian as the nominee for the country’s next premier.

And with no successor to incumbent President Sarkisian, now in his final second term, there is a clear transition now underway, complete with competing factions, preparing and positioning themselves as a new political elite is quickly emerging in Armenia.

The move also reflects the degradation and decay of Armenian politics, reflecting the destructive dominance of individual politicians over institutional policies.

Politics as Literature

At the same time, to better understand and decipher the intricacies of Armenian politics, it is necessary to apply an analysis based on literature.

Starting at the top of the political pyramid, President Serzh Sarkisian stands as the “last of the Mohicans,” personifying the last remnant of a powerful political elite, with its origins from Nagorno Karabakh. The rise of this specific political elite was due to more than its shared Karabakh origins, however. More significantly, the Karabakh elite was able to exploit the time and context of the Karabakh war to come to power, cemented by a politics of nationalism that forced out the moderates in favor of the militants.

But now, there is no successor, and despite its power and position, the political standing of the Karabakh elite is clearly waning.

Moreover, the earlier period of politics of nationalism and militant political posturing has lost its appeal, and no longer resonates as it once did. Combined with the deepening of entrenched corruption within the state, unfulfilled policy promises for reform, and all too obvious disparities of wealth and income, Armenian politics has devolved an degraded into an “arrogance of power” marked by a public “crisis of confidence.”

Modern Armenian politics has also become little more than a tired drama, or at best, an operatic farce. While politics has always been a superstitious endeavor, the naming of Hovik Abrahamian as Armenia’s 13th prime minister is an especially ominous sign. Abrahamian, formerly parliamentary chairman, brings a dangerous record of ignorance and arrogance to the post, and represents one of the more visible examples of the incestuous mix of business and politics in Armenia, with little real understanding or appreciation of reform or democratization.

And even more telling, he has now been placed in a position that has been the traditional avenue toward presidential power in the country.

Thus, as Armenia’s “game of thrones” evolves, the future of Armenia is even more at stake, and the coming few years will mark a crucial point in the development or demise of the modern Armenian state.

Richard Giragosian is the director of Yerevan based Regional Studies Center (RSC). The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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