Asia, New in Lobbying, Regional conflicts

Azerbaijan defies Armenian boycott campaign with new PR hire

Azerbaijan has found a new public relations company to make its case in the US media despite calls by the influential Armenian-American diaspora to boycott the country.

Washington-based Portland PR is working for a Baku-based company called simply Investment Corporation LLC for $30,000 per month to provide “communications services regarding foreign policy matters and Azerbaijan relations with the United States.” The newly disclosed contract was effective Oct. 19 and is slated to last three months. It comes as Armenia and Azerbaijan are locked in a bloody fight over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

This is the Investment Corporation’s second hire. The company, which the Portland filing lists as wholly owned by someone called Seyidov Tural Oglu, hired Washington PR firm the S-3 Group earlier in October for $25,000-per-month for three months to “create and place earned and digital media to further diplomacy.”

News of S-3’s hiring, which Foreign Lobby Report first reported on Oct. 15, prompted an avalanche of emails to the firm from Armenian-American activists. The emails all carried the same message from a California-based diaspora activist calling the Investment Corporation a “thinly veiled front for the Government of Azerbaijan through a proxy shell corporation” and demanding that S-3 drop the company.

Neither S-3 nor Portland PR responded to requests for comment. The Investment Corporation could not be reached for comment.

Portland PR’s parent company, London-based Portland Communications, was founded by Tim Allan, an adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and is now headed by Mark Flanagan, another former Blair adviser. The firm is part of the Omnicom public relations group.

Washington-based Portland PR Vice President Meghan Powers is currently the sole registered agent on the account. She is slated to provide “support for US & international media engagement, media monitoring, digital recommendations, spokesperson training and preparation of documents/materials as requested,” according to a filing with the Department of Justice. The firm also represents the government of Qatar and previously worked for Kazakhstan.

Portland’s hiring comes as multiple Armenian-American groups have launched campaigns to pressure lobbyists to shun Azerbaijan and its allies. The Armenian-American diaspora is estimated at between 500,000 and 1.5 million and is politically powerful, particularly in California and on Capitol Hill.

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In addition to individual activists’ emails to S-3, the Armenian Assembly of America last 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 out to the firms as well as their other clients to urge them to take their business elsewhere. Representing the government of Azerbaijan are BGR Public Affairs, public relations firm Stellar Jay and BGR subcontractor Baker Donelson.

Meanwhile the Western Region branch of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) has leveraged Armenian-Americans’ political clout in California to target Turkey, a key ally of Azerbaijan. Last week the campaign scored a major win when Mercury Public Affairs dropped its $1 million contract with the Turkish Embassy in Washington after coming under pressure from some of its clients as well as the Los Angeles City Council.

Azerbaijan has also been hemorraghing influence firms.

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.”