By Harut Sassounian
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry harshly condemned the California Legislature last week after the State Senate adopted resolution AJR 32 that “encourages and supports the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s continuing efforts to develop as a free and independent nation” and “urges the President and Congress of the United States to support the self-determination and democratic independence of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.” The resolution also acknowledged that Karabagh (Artsakh) “has historically been Armenian territory… and yet was illegally severed from Armenia by the Soviet Union in 1921 and placed under the newly created Soviet Azerbaijani administration.”
Both Houses of the California Legislature overwhelmingly supported the Artsakh resolution — the State Senate by a vote of 24-0 on August 27, and the State Assembly with a vote of 72-1 on May 8. Thus, California joins Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island in passing such pro-Artsakh resolutions.
The actions of the California Legislature infuriated the Government of Azerbaijan and its diplomats in the U.S. Elman Abdullayev, spokesman of Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, dismissed the Artsakh resolution, calling it “nothing more than a piece of paper.” The Consul General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles blasted the local Armenian community, the State of California and AJR 32. To justify his failure to block the resolution, he alleged that California Senators received “massive financial contributions for their election campaigns” from the “Armenian lobby.” Forgetting that he represents one of the most autocratic regimes in the world, the Consul General of Azerbaijan had the audacity to lecture U.S. officials on the “serious flaw in America’s political system that needs an urgent fixing.”
Before making such baseless accusations, the Azeri Consul General should have searched the internet to see how much money, if any, the 24 Senators who voted for the Artsakh resolution had received from Armenian-Americans. Campaign contributions are a public record in the United States, unlike Azerbaijan where visiting politicians are wined and dined and sent home with stacks of cash, cans of caviar, and gold ingots!
The Consul General also credited the passage of AJR to the “inordinate amount of effort by the Armenian lobby in California, where around one million Armenians reside.” The one million number is yet another exaggeration by the Azeri diplomat who went on to falsely claim that the Armenian “ethnic lobby” resorted to “threats, blackmail and other means” against California Senators.
The Azeri Consul General then bragged about his efforts against AJR 32, claiming that he and his Consulate undertook a number of “serious measures,” including “letters of protest to all Senators [and] holding numerous meetings with them….” Despite his frantic activities, not a single Senator voted against the Artsakh bill! Incredibly, the Consul claims he scored a major victory because the final vote was 24-0 in favor of Artsakh, and not 40-0, as some Senators were either absent or abstained!
Conveniently, the Consul General forgets to mention his biggest supporters in opposing the Artsakh bill: the powerful lobbying firms that Azerbaijan has hired in Washington and Los Angeles, at great expense. One of these firms, JCI Worldwide, led by Seth Jacobson, sent to all 40 California Senators a letter signed by Rabbi Dov Newman, Chabad of Beverlywood; Rabbi Mendy Cohen, Chabad of Sacramento; and Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, Pico Shul. The three Rabbis told the Senators that they “strongly oppose AJR 32…. Azerbaijan is an important ally to Israel and Jewish people. Jews live free and protected in Azerbaijan for thousands of years…. As Rabbis and leaders of Jewish communities across California, we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Azerbaijan and demand that you vote No on AJR 32.” These Rabbis clearly embarrassed themselves by sending such a ridiculous letter, since they failed to convince a single Senator to vote against the Artsakh resolution. Furthermore, their circulated letter was a big waste of Azerbaijan’s petrodollars, as JCI’s expensive lobbying proved to be worthless.
One wonders if Pres. Aliyev is aware that Azerbaijan’s Consulate in Los Angeles and Embassy in Washington are wasting millions of dollars on useless lobbying firms. Do the citizens of Azerbaijan, who mostly live in abject poverty, know that their leaders are wasting their country’s resources on political activities overseas just to counter a “piece of paper”? Indeed, if the California Senate resolution was a meaningless “piece of paper,” as the Azeri foreign ministry official claims, why did Azerbaijan spend so much time, effort and money trying to block its passage?