During the last thirty years while Azerbaijan and Turkiye systematically planned their invasion of Artsakh and genocidal campaign against the Armenians, they also unleashed an information war just as dangerous as the drones, missiles, and mercenaries on the battlefield.
As part of the Azerbaijan Laundromat, a complex money-laundering operation and slush fund that handled $2.9 billion over a two-year period through four shell companies registered in the UK, Aliyev’s agents used the secrete slush fund to pay off European politicians, journalists, academics, and other stakeholders.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan ramped up its public relations campaign with Caviar Diplomacy, employing not one but six of K Street’s heavy-hitting firms, including the Livingston Group, Stellar Jay Communications, BGR, The Podesta Group, and DLA Piper. In just one year, the country spent $1.3 million on lobbying. While some of these firms have since distanced themselves from Azerbaijan, the damage has been done.
In an article in ‘Medium,’ journalist Casey Michel wrote that in the past two years there have seen a flurry of analyses on Azerbaijan’s moves to whitewash its dictatorial image for American audiences. Slathered in hydrocarbon profits, the autocratic government of Ilham Aliyev has unleashed spin-doctors, duped reporters, and led one of the most brazen pushes to abuse American lobbying loopholes of any foreign government.
Elkhan Suleymanov, an Azerbaijani parliamentarian who Italian prosecutors say is responsible for implementing an aggressive plan to improve the country’s image, is the nation’s de facto publicist-general.
The primary phenomenon that has seen certain, cursory coverage, deals with lobbyists on Azerbaijan’s dole penning op-eds on Baku’s greatness — on its stability, on its secularism, on its propensity to provide energy security to a West scouring for non-Russian fuel sources. To be sure, there is, on its face, nothing of necessity wrong with lobbyists pushing op-eds. This remains their prerogative, so long as they can find an acquiescent editor.
However, those lobbying on Azerbaijan’s behalf — and those with ties to Baku’s state energy firm, SOCAR — have built up an impressive track record not simply for pushing their essays on Azerbaijan’s appeal. Rather, they’ve done so without any requisite reveal of their ties to Azerbaijan. Instead of disclosing their financial interests in enhancing Azerbaijan’s reputation, they’ve misled editors and readers alike, posing as disinterested observers instead of those paid to whitewash a country whose civil rights record places it at the bottom of the list of nations.
With unlimited resources, Azerbaijan’s agents set out to distort facts about Artsakh and Armenia, revise history, and launder their authoritarian regime’s reputation. Azerbaijan’s cyber war on Armenians continues with a campaign of hate, dehumanization, and violence on Armenians. And the effects are very obvious everywhere you look.
TAAL FIGHTS THE INFORMATION WAR FOR ARMENIANS
Following the 2020 invasion of Artsakh, journalist, radio host, and documentary filmmaker, Vic Gerami, founded the Truth And Accountability League (TAAL). TAAL is a 501©3 non-profit advocacy organization that monitors and confronts bias, disinformation, propaganda, and defamation of the Armenian people and culture at the level of media, including social media, academics, intelligentsia, and public policy. Gerami modeled and structured the organization after the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the LGBTQ+ Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), and The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
TALL had big wins from the beginning. A week after Artsakh invasion on September 27, 2020, Gerami and his colleague Nicole Muj produced the celebrity public service announcement (PSA), ‘I Stand with Artsakh & Armenia,’ with Kim Kardashian, Serj Tankian, Congressman Adam Schiff, Ed Begley Jr., Sally Kirkland, Lawrence Zarian, Andrea Martin, and several other stars.
Next, Gerami petitioned the City of West Hollywood and Mayor Pro Tempore Sepi Shyne to sponsor a resolution for WeHo to recognize the Independent Republic of Artsakh. The resolution passed unanimously on Tuesday, January 19, 2021. Next, he petitioned the City of Burbank to create a resolution to formally recognize the independent Republic of Artsakh. The resolution passed unanimously on March 2, 2021.
Gerami sent his multi-award-winning documentary film, ‘Motherland,’ to all the members of the US Senate and the House of Representatives, members of the British House of Lords and House of Commons, members of the European Union and the Council of Europe. The documentary is an ‘Official Selection’ in (76) film festivals, has won (38) awards, was shortlisted for Film Independent’s ‘Spirit Awards,’ and Oscar-qualified and available in The Academy’s ‘Screening Room.’
‘Motherland’ is an investigative documentary feature film that he wrote, produced, and directed, and was also made under the auspices of TAAL. It’s about Azerbaijan’s, Turkey’s unprovoked genocidal attack on Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in 2020, the massacre of 5,000+ people, and the two nations’ ongoing campaign of hate violence, and disinformation against the indigenous Armenians.
Gerami interviewed and featured seven (7) leading members of Congress, including Congressman Adam Schiff (D–CA), Sen. Bob Mendez (D–NJ), Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-CA), Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Baroness Caroline Cox, Life Peer Member of the British House of Lords.
TAAL has taken confronted many Azerbaijani offensive actions such as working with the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), and Transport for London (TFL) to have Azerbaijan’s propaganda posters removed from London subway stations in March 2021.
To address Azerbaijan’s comprehensive assaults on everything Armenian, the group has collaborated with the Pan-Armenian National Emergency Committee to organize demonstrations in front of the Azerbaijani Consulate General in Los Angeles and secure media coverage and the American Armenian National Security Institute on their projects.
Making sure to involve mainstream organizations, TAAL’s has partnered with Lindsay Carlson, president of the Heart of LA Democratic Club, and Jon Katz, president of the Santa Monica Democratic Club, to issue statements supporting Artsakh and the Armenian community. They recently worked with the West Hollywood Mayor Sepi Shyne to release a statement about the anti-Armenian flyers posted in the City of Beverly Hills and neighboring areas. Mayor Shyne also passed a resolution reaffirming the City’s support for the people of Artsakh and the imposition of sanctions and consequences against Azerbaijan on January 23, 2023.
On January 25, the City of Irvine, with the invitation of Vice Mayor Tammy Kim, CA, screened Gerami’s film, ‘Motherland,’ followed by a panel discussion. As a result of the screening, the City Council passed a resolution unanimously to build an Armenian Genocide Memorial in Irvine’s Grand Park.
Anti-Armenian hate crimes, defamation, and Armenophobia are at an all-time high, including in the greater Los Angeles area. But despite working around the clock, and the overwhelming demand to confront Azerbaijan’s aggression, TAAL has had success stories. Just last month, anti-Armenian flyers calling for genocide were posted all over Beverly Hills. Due to Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse’s lackluster and dismissive response, TALL got involved and with strong advocacy, the Mayor agreed to meet with the Mayor of Glendale, Ardy Kassakhian.
TAAL and other organizations were able to get New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to revise information on artist Ivan Aivazovsky (Hovhannes Aivazian) to Reflect his Armenian Identity.
But there are countless ongoing challenges and initiates that the organization is busy addressing. They include New York’s Caviar Diplomacy beneficiary Mayor Eric Adams’ directive that no signs about Armenia or Artsakh can be brought to this year’s Armenian Genocide demonstration in Times Square. TAAL also monitors and re-edit Wikipedia listings that have been previously edited by Azerbaijan with disinformation and propaganda. They confront media organizations such as the BBC, CNN, and The New York Times for having ‘strategic partnerships’ with the Azerbaijani government whose objective is to whitewash and control the narrative with the media giants. Azerbaijani Consulate Generals approach local government and fund ‘Azerbaijan Day,’ when they commemorate the so-called Khojaly Genocide in the hands of the Armenians. They also employ full-time American, British, and European journalists to write propaganda articles and do paid placements in various publications. The most prevalent being Azerbaijan’s army of trolls on social media that promote disinformation, hate, and Armenophobia through fake accounts boosting the popularity of anti-Armenian hashtags.
In the last three years, Gerami has also been busy granting interview to various media outlets and publications regarding Armenia and Artsakh, including the Los Angeles Magazine, KUCI 88.9 FM ‘Ask A Leader,’ News of the World, Daily Kos, The Immigrant Magazine’s TV program, Bionic Buzz, The Armenian Mirror-Spectator, BEONDTV, Brave New Hollywood, and was featured in Keghart’s ‘Heroes and Villains 2022’ List.
Although a national news and politics program, Gerami has dedicated a great deal of his radio show, THE BLUNT POST with VIC (TBPV), on KPFK 90.7 FM (Pacifica Network) to topics related to the Armenians. His guests have included members of the Congress including the Congressional Armenian Caucus, other high-profile elected officials, and heads of organizations.
Gerami has interviewed many members of Congress and other high-profile elected officials and put them on record about Artsakh and Armenia. Some of them are Senator Bob Menendez, Congressman Adam Schiff (7.19.21) Congressman Adam Schiff (10.19.20), Congressman Adam Schiff (3.30.20), Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Congresswoman Katie Porter, Congressman Tony Cardenas, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Congresswoman Judy Chu, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Congressman Mark Takano, Congressman Jim Costa, Congressman Gil Cisneros, Congresswoman Norma Torres, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, Congressman Raul Ruiz + Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, Congressman Alan Lowenthal, as well as Marianne Williamson.
To find out more about TAAL and to donate so they can continue to fight the information war for Armenians, please visit TruthAndAccountabilityLeague.org