One week into the clashes along the entire Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact, as enraged Armenian communities in the diaspora exponentially became vocal in their support of the homeland against Azerbaijani aggression, information started circulating in social media circles about a London Stock Exchange-listed Azerbaijani gold mining company by the name of Anglo Asian Mining PLC (AAM PLC) that purportedly conducts mining operations along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.
The second largest shareholder of AAM PLC was John Henry Sununu, a prominent US politician and former governor of the state of New Hampshire. He also served as the Chief of Staff for George H.W. Bush. The revelation hinted to a possible interest the company may have in the Azerbaijani-initiated war effort towards Nagorno-Karabakh, mainly due to a map posted in the company’s 2020 exploratory report pinning its currently active gold and other mineral mining operations situated close to the Azerbaijani-Armenian borders with three controversially unidentified red marks inside the territory of the disputed area that the report labels as “Occupied Territories.”
What added fuel to the fire, as people became increasingly aware of the information, is that this discovery coincided with the election of Chris Sununu (John H. Sununu’s youngest son) as the governor of New Hampshire. Back in March 2016, former Chief of Staff John H. Sununu met with Ilham Aliyev in Baku—a month before the Four Day War.
According to AAM PLC’s official website, mining operations are expected to yield 75,000 to 80,000 gold equivalent ounces during 2020 – which amounts to approximately 150 million US dollars based on current gold market prices. In addition, Azerbaijan armed forces have invested ample military resources during the recent attacks to penetrate the Zangilan district, where the Vejnali gold mine exists. Previously under the control of the Artsakh Defense Army, the gold mine is expected to contain around 7.8 tonnes of gold worth approximately 470 million US dollars today, according to Anglo Asian Mining’s recent update.
While it does not portray any substantial evidence connecting the mining company to the destabilization of a historically disputed region, the information circulated did however manage to stir up curiosity towards the financial interest of US government officials and its potential influence on US foreign policy. Despite being regarded by many people as evident, in reality this remains an under-studied area by the mere fact that we had to witness a full-fledged war break out before such coincidental discoveries are brought to the public’s attention.
During the entire six weeks of intense battles, the US and western media coverage of the war was deemed poor in comparison to its otherwise relatively high involvement in monitoring and reporting regional occurrences of this magnitude. Part of it has been attributed to the world’s preoccupation with the US presidential elections, while on the other hand, recently leaked lucrative contracts between the Azerbaijani government and US public affairs companies of the highest caliber has led many analysts to point out a rather “paid for” silence and bias in reporting the war.
This emergence of previously overlooked bits of information has motivated a deeper look into the nature and history of the US-Azerbaijani conglomerate seemingly consolidated under the roof of the Washington-based business and trade facilitation organization by the name of United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC).
Founded in 1995 by James Baker III, also a prominent US political figure who among other equally important positions served as White House Chief of Staff for both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the USACC has seen its first foundations in the culturally-oriented Azerbaijani American Friendship Society that was created in one Dr. Shapoor Ansari’s home along with Azerbaijani friends, notably the current Republic of Azerbaijan Ambassador to the United States, Elin Suleymanov. Dr. Ansari is currently a board member of the USACC, while Suleymanov sits on the board of trustees with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and other present and former US and Azerbaijani officials.
Next to Sununu and Baker III, the USACC honorary council of advisors lists former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the late former US National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. Kissinger, the eminent American politician and diplomat, is well known for having a protruding role in the history of US foreign policy, with recorded controversial involvement in the Middle East, Asia, South America and the Far East.
Today, the United States-Azerbaijani Chamber of Commerce is chaired by Iranian businessman Mohammed Reza Vaziri, the CEO and largest shareholder of Anglo Asian Mining PLC and one of its subsidiaries RV Investment Group Services LLC after Vaziri’s initials. The first page of search results on RV Investment Group Services yields links to the Panama papers database for a company with an identical name (defunct in 2001) linked to agent Mossack Fonseca, the infamous offshore financial services company allegedly implied in various high profile international money laundering schemes.
The USACC has another ethnic Iranian on its board, the fabled airline tycoon Farhad Azima. In 2018, Politico published a brimming piece on Farhad Azima’s notoriety, citing his involvement in employing his airline to transport weapons to Pakistan during Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet Jihad, to Egypt following the Camp David accord, and last but not least to the Islamic Republic where Azima was implied in the Iran-Contra scandal during the second Reagan administration. At that time, the founder of the USACC James Baker III held the office of US Secretary of Treasury. The same article indicated outstandingly generous donations from Azima to US republican and democratic candidates.
Another controversial airline comes up in the USACC’s membership list, Silk Way West Airlines owned by Manhattan-based Zaur Akhundov. Silk Way West private airline has been repeatedly reported by various news outlets for allegedly operating hundreds of flights under diplomatic clearance to covertly deliver heavy weaponry and ammunition to armed groups in the Middle East and Africa.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) featured an article revealing that Silk Way West Airlines has secured loan guarantees totaling 420 million dollars from the US Import-Export Bank for the purchase of three commercial Boeing 747-8 freight airplanes, which enabled Silk Way to participate in 400 million dollars’ worth of military contracts with the Department of Defense’s transportation command. Silk Way West Airlines was found regularly flying to and from Baku during the six-week war; knowing the history of the airline’s dealings, we are not left with much other than skepticism regarding the objective of these missions.
The USACC members’ list comprises more than just airline and mining operators. The business lobby group also includes the names of high-profile executives from multiple industries, notably from British Petroleum, agriculture industry giant John Deere, public affairs consulting firm Delahunt Group and many more. A news piece from the Armenian Assembly of America in 2014 documented that Bill Delahunt, founder and chairman of Delahunt group, was hired by Azerbaijan to lobby for the regime’s interest in Washington, DC.
The deeper we look into the nature and history of US-Azerbaijani relations, the better we understand that it stretches beyond normal diplomatic exchange. For decades, the Azerbaijani regime has copiously nourished its relationship with the west at the expense of the rights of the Azerbaijani people to living conditions at least proportionate to the country’s resourcefulness. Instead, it seems Azerbaijan’s resources are being directed towards fortifying the oligarchy’s grip on the people in exchange for serving geopolitical moves to the table of global powers.