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Armenian diaspora, politicians protest Bryza's diplomatic nomination as Baku envoy

Publisher EurasiaNet
Publication Date 1 June 2010
Cite as EurasiaNet, Armenian diaspora, politicians protest Bryza's diplomatic nomination as Baku envoy, 1 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c15f7db23.html [accessed 2 October 2014]
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June 1, 2010 – 1:27pm, by Marianna Grigoryan

US President Barack Obama's nomination of onetime Nagorno-Karabakh conflict mediator Matthew Bryza to be Washington's envoy to Azerbaijan is sparking opposition from Armenian diaspora organizations and from within Armenia itself.

Obama's May 25 nomination statement described Bryza and one other ambassadorial nominee as "talented and dedicated individuals." During a 22-year diplomatic career, Bryza has served in Moscow and Warsaw, and has held advisory positions within the National Security Council and White House. During those stints he worked closely on energy policy planning for the Caspian Sea region. In his last post, as deputy assistant secretary of state of European and Eurasian affairs, Bryza served as the US chairperson of the Minsk Group, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's vehicle for overseeing talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Some US-based Armenian diaspora organizations have expressed doubt that Bryza can function as an unbiased and balanced envoy to Azerbaijan. They are likely to lobby against the appointment during confirmation hearings in the US Senate. Armenia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet commented on the nomination.

Diaspora objections target both the professional and the personal. The friendly connections that Bryza built with Azerbaijani and Turkish officials while working on energy projects sparks much of the concern – the attendance of such officials at his 2007 wedding in Istanbul is cited as a case in point. In addition, some diaspora members take issue with Bryza's marriage to an ethnic Turk, foreign policy analyst Zeyno Baran, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Eurasian Policy, based in Washington.

"The members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should closely scrutinize Bryza's nomination to ensure that, if confirmed, he represents US interests in Baku, and not the other way around, since both he and his wife, Zeyno Baran, have had extensive ties with both Turkey and Azerbaijan," commented Harut Sassounian, publisher and editor of The California Courier newspaper and head of the United Armenian Fund, in a May 25 commentary that was reprinted in many Armenian newspapers.

At a 2007 press conference in Yerevan, Bryza was asked whether he consulted with his wife on the Karabakh negotiations. He insisted that he keeps private matters separate from policy concerns. "My family life and work go separately. I put my heart and soul into my professional activities, and so do I in my private life," he said.

Some Armenian politicians say they are unsettled by Bryza's ties to members of the Azerbaijani and Turkish governments. Such connections could work against Armenia's interests, they argue.

"The number one objective for the OSCE Minsk group co-chairs is their impartiality, and Matthew Bryza has several times demonstrated bias against Armenians. So our concerns are not groundless," Naira Zohrabian, a senior member of the governing coalition's Prosperous Armenia Party, asserted in reference to statements allegedly made by Bryza about an Armenian withdrawal from territory surrounding Karabakh. "[W]e hope that the USA will be consistent in the southern Caucasus, and will abstain from double standards when considering his nomination as an ambassador."

Manvel Sargsian, a senior political expert with Yerevan's Armenian Center for National and International Studies, expressed concern about what he termed "his unscrupulous and tough statements" as a co-chair of the Minsk Group. "I don't think some official can cause serious realignments [in US policy], but a candidate for this position must be really unbiased and impartial," Sargsian said. "In this regard, the concerns are justified, and this is particularly vivid in the Diaspora."

One of the most influential US Armenian Diaspora organizations, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), has already launched an online campaign urging Armenian-Americans to email their senators and ask that they closely scrutinize Bryza's "track record and testimony" on points ranging from the recognition of Ottoman Turkey's 1915 massacre of ethnic Armenians as genocide to Azerbaijan's blockade of Armenia and the alleged destruction of Armenian religious monuments.

"[W]e continue to have an array of concerns about Mr. Bryza's conduct of US diplomacy – as an NSC [National Security Council] official, a deputy assistant secretary of state, and as the US negotiator in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process – and, as such, look forward to a vigorous process of advice and consent by the Senate," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian in a May 25 statement.

Not all Armenian politicians are ready to criticize Bryza's nomination. Stepan Safarian, head of the opposition Heritage Party's parliamentary faction, calls Bryza's work as a Minsk Group co-chair "rather active and dynamic." Safarian added that Bryza's knowledge of "the peculiarities of Armenia and Azerbaijan" could prove "a big asset" to him as ambassador to Baku.

Suren Surenyants, a member of the opposition Republic Party's political board, echoed that appraisal. "We all have a complex about inventing non-existent problems," Surenyants said. "There is nothing extraordinary in appointing Bryza as an ambassador. He must not be a friend or an enemy to anyone; he will continue working for the US government just the way he used to work before."

Editor's note: Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan.

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