Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has opened another battlefront thousands of miles away from Baku, in the pages of local and national newspapers and news sites in the US. Much like the Syrian mercenaries Baku recruited and deployed with the help of Turkish defense contractors to target Armenians, Azerbaijan’s US-based lobbyists are at the forefront of an “information warfare” that costs millions of dollars annually.
One important aspect of the work of these lobbyists is to place, disseminate and promote anti-Armenian narratives. Their tactics have evolved into a relentless smear campaign through US media outlets, painting Armenia as a close ally of Iran that undermines Western policies and Armenians as intolerant and anti-Semitic. At the same time, Azerbaijan is depicted as a beacon of tolerance, an ally of Israel and a champion of religious rights.
Baku’s lobbyists continually push this narrative by placing articles in various media outlets, reaching out to editors with numerous “factsheets” and disseminating Baku-approved stories to contacts in positions of power. Many such propaganda pieces that are essentially commissioned by the Azerbaijani government appear in US media outlets without proper disclaimers, and therein loom the danger and deception.
Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings by Azerbaijan’s lobbyists show how they approach almost every major outlet from Bloomberg to CNN, the Washington Post, the Jerusalem Post, the New York Times, NBC, Al-Jazeera, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, Haaretz, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal; the list is almost interminably long.
Over the past few weeks, numerous articles have discussed Azerbaijan’s war on Armenia; many have had a bias, some suspiciously so. It may be impossible to tell which are penned by Aliyev’s supporters and which are commissioned or disseminated by Baku’s agents here; but a few are (and will be) known because of FARA filings.
From comments left under strikingly pro-Azerbaijani articles, it is clear that many readers have been frustrated and disheartened. Arguably, readers have a right to know whether the content they are consuming is either commissioned or part of a foreign government’s “information warfare.” Without proper disclaimers under articles received from embassies by way of lobbyists, editors risk tarnishing the credibility of the news outlets they represent and deliver a blow to the idea of journalistic integrity. A simple one-liner would suffice, such as, “This article was sent to us by [insert name of PR firm] on behalf of the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the United States of America.” Editors uncomfortable with such disclaimers might reconsider running blatant propaganda pieces that essentially import the state-sponsored narrative of a country with one of the worst media freedom records.
To give readers a clearer idea of how Azerbaijan’s lobbyists place and disseminate narratives that support Baku’s propaganda campaign, I will take a close look at the activities of certain lobbyists employed by Aliyev’s government, by examining hundreds of pages of FARA filings available in the US Department of Justice (DOJ) online archives.
Read more: Armenian Weekly