By Theodoric Meyer

WASHINGTON (Politico) – The lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs has cut ties with the Turkish government following a pressure campaign by Armenian-American activists incensed by Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan in ongoing hostilities with Armenia.

The firm’s decision to scrap its $1 million contract with Turkey is a victory for Armenia in a conflict that’s playing out in Washington as well as the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.

In the weeks since the long-running tensions between the countries flared on Sept. 27, Armenian-American activists have worked to deprive Azerbaijan and Turkey of what Aram Hamparian, the executive director of Armenian National Committee of America, described as some of their most potent weapons: their Washington lobbyists.

“A lot of people have bought a lot of summer homes and fishing boats and put their grandkids through college by lying about Armenia and covering up for Azerbaijan,” he said.

The Armenian National Committee and another group, the Armenian Assembly of America, tried to put pressure on Mercury by holding protests outside its offices in Washington and Los Angeles and urging Mercury’s clients to cut ties with the firm if it kept representing Turkey.

The campaign had an effect. Kathryn Barger, the chairwoman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and Hilda Solis, a supervisor and former Labor secretary in the Obama administration, wrote to Mercury on Wednesday to urge the firm “to immediately sever any business ties with the Republic of Turkey.” (Mercury is a contractor to Los Angeles County, which is home to a large Armenian population.)

California state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and 16 other state lawmakers told Mercury on Thursday they wouldn’t engage with the firm as long as it represented Turkey. And the Los Angeles Community College District informed Mercury that it would “begin to exercise the 30-day termination clause” in its contract if Turkey remained a client.

Mercury declined to comment. The Turkish embassy didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The Armenian pressure campaign comes as Washington has started to turn its focus toward the fighting.

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) introduced a resolution earlier this month condemning Azerbaijan and Turkey’s role in the conflict, which has drawn 67 co-sponsors. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met separately on Friday with the Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov in an effort to end hostilities.
The effort recalls the push to convince Washington lobbying firms representing Saudi Arabia’s government to cut ties with the kingdom in 2018 after Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Washington Post, where Khashoggi had been a contributing opinion writer, threatened to bar two lobbyists from writing columns for the paper unless their firms stopped working for Saudi Arabia. The pressure ultimately led five lobbying firms to sever ties with the kingdom.

Turkey and Azerbaijan aren’t bereft of lobbying power now without Mercury, which Turkey hired in January on a contract scheduled to run through the end of the year, according to a copy filed with the Justice Department. The firm was charged with helping to organize events that would let Turkey “connect with public policy stakeholders” and with advising the Turkish government on media relations.

Turkey also retains the lobbying firms Capitol Counsel and Greenberg Traurig while Azerbaijan’s government retains BGR Group, according to disclosure filings. The countries’ lobbyists include former Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), Charles Boustany (R-La.), Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Albert Wynn (D-Ma.).

The Armenian government, meanwhile, hired former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole last month for help in Washington.

Another former lawmaker, former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) of the Livingston Group, stopped representing Azerbaijan’s government last week, according to a disclosure filing, although it’s unclear whether Livingston was actually lobbying for the country.

Asmar Yusifzada, a spokesman for Azerbaijan’s embassy in Washington, wrote in an email to POLITICO that the country hadn’t had contact with Livingston in more than a decade.

Livingston didn’t respond to a request for comment. Capitol Counsel and Greenberg Traurig declined to comment.

Hamparian said he planned to ramp up pressure on BGR Group now that Mercury has capitulated. But BGR might be a tougher target: The firm said in a statement that it “intends to continue its representation of Azerbaijan.”

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