The Armenian National Committee of America has called upon President Obama’s National Security Staff to first investigate and publicly assure the integrity of the White House’s “We the People” petition system against foreign manipulation, before answering Baku-initiated petitions attacking Armenia and Artsakh.
In a letter to Special Assistant to the President Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian asked the National Security Staff to “to perform due diligence in investigating the prospect of foreign fraud in relation to a public, Baku-based effort to manipulate the White House’s ‘We the People’ petitions, a vital avenue for civic discourse with our President.” Hamparian stressed that, “In the interest of safeguarding the integrity of American civic dialogue and the public standing of this important initiative, this matter should be publicly resolved by the White House in a serious and satisfactory manner prior to any petition response.” Copies of this letter have been shared with Congressional offices.
The ANCA made specific reference to a February 1, 2013, Russian language interview with Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry Spokesman Elman Abdullayev stating “Any Azerbaijani can connect this petition because, regardless of nationality, social origin, people have the right to raise his voice in order to finally triumphed justice. . .This step is a positive tendency of the Azerbaijan Republic and the Azerbaijani people.”
Last week the ANCA formally asked the White House for information about the types of safeguards that the Administration had put in place to protect its popular “We the People” on-line petition system against foreign attempts at fraudulent manipulation of American civil society discourse. The White House has yet to issue a response. In a letter to White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, the ANCA referenced the Armenian American community’s concern regarding “a number of petitions addressing Armenian topics, including one that echoes, nearly word for word, the message of Azerbaijani dictator Ilham Aliyev’s well-funded, unfounded and hateful campaign to misrepresent Azerbaijan’s well-documented history of aggression against Armenia and the independent Republic of Nagorno Karabakh.” Hamparian went on to ask for greater clarity regarding rules related to international participation, and an explanation about any safeguards that have been put in place against “against fraud and to protect this important arena for dialogue with our government from being abused by foreign entities.”
Several petitions echoing Azerbaijani government attacks on Karabakh rapidly collected tens of thousands of on-line signatures in recent days. The text of one in particular, titled “pay close attention on The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. 20% of Azerbaijan territory was occupied by Armenian military,” has a direct link to the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, a project headed by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s multi-billionaire wife, Mehriban Aliyeva. Unlike other “We the People” petitions, where the city and state of a majority of signers is typically posted, the anti-Armenian petitions, by and large, do not have any geographic identification.
News of Azerbaijani government manipulation of online metrics and social media statistics to boost the image of authoritarian dictator Ilham Aliyev came out earlier this month in Azadlyg newpaper, with reports of pressure on government employees to “like” President Aliyev’s Facebook page in the run-up to his 2013 election.