Azerbaijan Lobbyist under fire after revelation of undisclosed meeting with New York officials

By Paul Vartan Sookiasian

A U.S. political consultant, Ezra Friedlander, hired by Azerbaijan failed to disclose a meeting he attended at New York City Hall, accompanied by the deputy foreign minister of Azerbaijan. As reported by the New York Daily News, the city officials at the meeting have since been tied to an ongoing federal investigation into whether Mayor Eric Adams’ 2021 election campaign accepted illegal donations from the Turkish government.

As a lobbyist for a foreign government, Friedlander is obligated to disclose all actions he takes on behalf of his client – Azerbaijan – and failing to willingly do so risks a $10,000 fine and up to five years in prison under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The undisclosed meeting, which was first noted by a CivilNet reporter, may have escaped notice if not for the investigation into those at the meeting, including Rana Abbasova, an ethnic Azerbaijani who served as director of protocol for the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs.

Abbasova’s home was raided by the FBI as part of the federal investigation into Mayor Adams’ election campaign, after which she urged other staffers to delete their text messages, behavior which was described as “improper” and resulted in her being placed on leave. Abbasova first worked for Adams when he served as Brooklyn borough president, during which her responsibilities included maintaining relationships between Adams and Middle East and Central Asian countries, as well as organizing “Turkic Heritage events”.

At the time of the meeting, Friedlander was under contract as a lobbyist for both the governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey, two countries so intertwined they consider themselves to be “one nation, two states.” Adams has repeatedly visited Turkey, including a 2015 trip as Brooklyn borough president which was funded by the Turkish consulate in New York. He also made multiple trips to Azerbaijan, such as one in 2016 which was paid for by the country’s tourism ministry. In 2018, Adams told a crowd at a Brooklyn Azerbaijani restaurant “after I retire from government, I’m going to live in Baku.”

Turkey’s latest contract with Friedlander’s firm, which expired at the end of 2023, paid $210,000 over six months to “pursue passage of legislation that promotes Turkey’s interests, the Turkey-United States relationship, and provides a positive image of Turkey, also “arranging speaking engagements and meetings for the Ambassador… in settings that will improve Turkiye’s image and advance its interests.”

Azerbaijan’s Embassy in DC recently renewed its contract with Friedlander for another year at $41,666 per month, or a total of $500,000. His firm is tasked with “distributing information to Congresspeople on behalf of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in DC.” This is down from 2023’s contract of $166,666 per month, or two million for the year. The firm is to “implement a multi-faceted advocacy effort, media outreach, and provide lobbying services to assist Azerbaijan to develop Azerbaijani-United States relations.”

In his role as a foreign agent, Friedlander actively denied the blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh. He shared a video by his close friend, journalist Jake Turx, of Russian military and ICRC vehicles taken on a propaganda trip to the site as proof that there was no blockade of the Armenian population. Turx was also quoted at the time by the Azerbaijani media quipping how he felt “some disappointment” at not finding a blockade after having traveled so far to see it.

Among his activities on behalf of Azerbaijan, in late September Friedlander actively fought against proposed U.S. humanitarian aid for the over 100,000 people newly displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh.

A presentation Friedlander uses in his lobbying efforts describes the September 2023 assault on Nagorno-Karabakh as a “23-hour anti-terror operation”, and has a section on “etnic [sic] cleansing allegations”, though they are not clearly addressed. A later slide refers to the report of a handful of United Nations observers from countries friendly to Azerbaijan who visited Stepanakert in October 2023 to declare that things there were normal, making no mention that the city had been emptied.

As for the undisclosed New York gathering, Friedlander first told the New York Daily News that he called the meeting to “discuss how New York City could work with Azerbaijan” including with the restoration of direct flights from New York to Baku. Asked why he didn’t make the required disclosure of the meeting, Friedlander replied he’s “not an expert with FARA.” According to the outlet, Friedlander then changed his response to say it was city officials who asked him about direct flights rather than his own initiative.

An attorney for his firm stated the meeting was not disclosed due to an administrative oversight and that they have amended their federal filing to include it.

  • Israel-Turkey-Azerbaijan are intertwined in every way. Turkey’s Erdogan and Azerbaijan’s Aliyev try to hide it from their populace who tend to be Islamist and anti-Jewish, but as we say «Մետ թելով կապուած են» / “They are connected by one wire/string” #միահիւսուած

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