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Mercury drops Turkey after coming under fire from Armenian diaspora

Mercury Public Affairs ended its $1 million lobbying contract with the Turkish Embassy in Washington on Friday after coming under fire from the powerful Armenian-American diaspora.

The termination was announced by the Western Region branch of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which has leveraged Armenian-Americans’ political clout in California to target Turkey. The country is a key ally of Azerbaijan, which is fighting Armenia for control of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave inside Azerbaijan.

The group obtained and shared a copy of Mercury’s termination filing before it was made public over the weekend by the US Justice Department.

“As a result of our community’s persistent activism and the steadfast support of our friends in elected office, I was just informed by Fabian Nunez, who is a partner at Mercury’s Los Angeles office, that Mercury Public Affairs would be terminating its registration as a foreign agent of Turkey,” board member Nora Hovsepian said in a statement. “We welcome Mercury’s decision to stand on the right side of history in ending its association with the Government of Turkey and its genocidal policies, and we hope that this decision will serve as an example for every entity which works for or with the authoritarian regimes of Turkey and Azerbaijan.”

Mercury has lobbied for the Turkish Embassy since 2018 and re-upped its contract through the end of 2020 in February. Neither the firm nor the embassy immediately responded to requests for comment.

The termination follows increasing pressure on Mercury.

The entire Los Angeles City Council joined Armenian-American Councilman Paul Krekorian on Tuesday in pressing the firm to end its relationship with Turkey. And on Thursday, the Los Angeles Community College District gave Mercury 30 days to rescind “any and all business ties with the Republic of Turkey” if it doesn’t want to lose its business.

Mercury still has a $1 million contract to represent the Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK) through the end of the year, however.

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Mercury isn’t the only firm coming under fire.

The Armenian Assembly of America this week announced a campaign to pressure lobbying and public relations firms to “reject blood money” from Azerbaijan. The group’s co-chairs, Anthony Barsamian and Van Krikorian, said they would be reaching to the firms as well as their other clients to urge them to take their business elsewhere. The Armenian-American diaspora is estimated at between 500,000 and 1.5 million and is politically powerful on Capitol Hill.

“Instead of flacking for the Aliyev regime whose leader [President Ilham Aliyev] has promised to wipe out the Christian Armenians ‘like dogs,’ these firms need to stop taking blood money from Azerbaijan and Turkey if they have any conscience or sense of American patriotism,” they said.

Representing the government of Azerbaijan are BGR Public Affairs, public relations firm Stellar Jay and BGR subcontractor Baker Donelson.

Former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) terminated his Livingston Group‘s registration as a foreign agent of Azerbaijan last week, just three months after telling the US Justice Department that he was in the process of negotiating a contract with Baku, Foreign Lobby Report first reported Oct. 15. 

And DLA Piper terminated its connection with Azerbaijan Railways CJSC effective Oct. 16. The firm registered as a foreign agent for the national state-owned rail transport operator in October 2019 with the goal of providing “legal advice and assistance relating to US sanctions on Iran that affect
the transport of oil, gas, and other petrochemical products that originate in third countries and that transit through Iran.”

Neither Livingston nor DLA Piper responded to queries about what had prompted their terminations.

Individual members of the Armenian-American diaspora are also taking action.

Last weekend they bombarded the S-3 Group with more than a thousand emails with an identical message pressuring the Washington public affairs firm to stop representing a new client from Azerbaijan. Other S-3 clients including accounting organization KPMG, French luxury brand LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and General Motors were copied on the emails.

S-3 recently picked up a Baku-based company called Investment Corporation, LLC for $25,000 per month to “create and place earned and digital media to further diplomacy.” The diaspora letter, which you can read in its entirety here, describes S-3’s client as a “thinly veiled front for the Government of Azerbaijan through a proxy shell corporation.”

One of the organizers of the email campaign tells Foreign Lobby Report that BGR for its part has received close to 50,000 emails urging it to drop the government of Azerbaijan.

Update: This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 26 with a link to Mercury’s official termination on the Justice Department’s FARA website.