The Jamestown Foundation


Tuesday, September 28, 2010-Volume 7, Issue 174


by Vladimir Socor

Wrenching as it is to American and international audiences, the ad
hominem assault on the US Ambassador-designate to Azerbaijan during the
Senate confirmation process aims far beyond the nominee. Matthew Bryza
and his spouse are the incidental targets in this attempt to undermine
US-Azerbaijan and US-Turkey relations. The militant Armenian National
Committee of America (ANCA) has orchestrated this effort with two allied
Senators during the US mid-term election campaign.

The post of US ambassador in Baku has been vacant since July 2009.
US-based Armenian advocacy groups such as ANCA are interested in
prolonging that hiatus. They seek to affect US policy by leveraging
their capacity for obstruction. Their Congressional allies are in effect
rewarding the radical political element, closely linked with the
irredentist Dashnaktsutiun (Armenian Revolutionary Federation), within
the larger Armenian diaspora.

On September 21, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended to
the full Senate to approve Bryza's nomination. The vote was 17
in favor and two opposed, after a grueling July 22 hearing, with an
extensive follow-up of written questions and answers in the ensuing two
months. The two dissenters, Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer of
California and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, proceeded on September 22
to place a hold on the nomination, thus preventing it from reaching the
Senate floor for a confirmation vote.

The process seems blocked for months to come. Not long ago, Menendez
single-handedly blocked the Senate confirmation of the US
ambassador-designate to Armenia, career diplomat Richard Hoagland, for
two years, until the George W. Bush administration withdrew that
nomination. Menendez wanted the nominee to break with US policy and
recognize an Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey 1915-1918
--although such a gesture could by general reckoning gravely
damage US-Turkey relations.

Whether Senators Boxer and Menendez espouse any coherent strategic
vision regarding the South Caucasus seems doubtful in light of their
record. Their stance is primarily linked with US electoral arithmetic.
Boxer faces a tough challenge to her Senate seat this coming November in
California; whereas Menendez chairs the Democratic Party's
Senatorial Campaign Committee, with a direct stake in the outcome of the
upcoming mid-term elections. For similar reasons, the Obama
administration seems to tolerate the blocking of its own nominee by
these Senators from its own party, presumably until after the elections.

The questions to Bryza thus far have been answered to the apparent
satisfaction of all but these two committee members. The hostile
questions have generally echoed ANCA's prosecutorial press
releases; and were then played up again by the same organization to its
own voting-bloc constituency (ANCA media releases, September 13, 14, 21,

For example, the nominee has been criticized for failing to condemn
Azerbaijani positions or endorse Armenian positions, in his role as
co-chairman of the tripartite mediating group (Russia-US-France) on the
Karabakh conflict. Such criticism, however, ignores a mediator's
obligation to remain impartial as long as the negotiating process
continues; lest his mission (and, thus, the status of the US as
mediator) be disqualified. Bryza has also been aggressively confronted
with criticism of two US Administrations' decisions since 2002
to waive (suspend for one year at a time) Section 907 of the
`Freedom Support Act,' which places significant
constraints on US government-to-government relations with Azerbaijan
(`Ambassadorial Vacancy Disables US Policy in Azerbaijan and
Beyond,' EDM, September 28).

His detractors have wrongly accused the nominee of maintaining relations
one-sidedly with Azeri and Turkish officials. The decade-long record
shows, however, that Bryza has carefully cultivated equidistant
relations with Baku and Ankara as well as Yerevan, being equally welcome
in the three capitals, and also in Tbilisi. Few US officials in any
region of the world, and none in this region, enjoy comparable access at
the highest levels of all the governments involved, and the insights
based on such access. As the confirmation process moved into high gear,
a US-based Greek Cypriot advocacy group joined ANCA in opposing
Bryza's nomination. The Cyprus Action Network of America (media
release, September 13) accuses Bryza of supporting the then-UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan's 2007 proposals to resolve the Cyprus
conflict and overcome the island's division. In this case as
well, the nominee had represented the US government's policy.

Bryza's spouse, the scholar Zeyno Baran, has been accused during
the confirmation process over her Turkish origin and supposed
`official connections' in that country; whereas in
reality, Baran's published work has criticized what she regards
as flaws in the post-2002 Turkish government's policies. It is
unprecedented in US politics to attack a public official with reference
to the spouse's origin, membership in editorial boards of
journals, past work on energy policy (a topic on which Baran's
work is consistent with US and EU declared energy policies), and even
over their wedding.

One influential US editorial page has listed Boxer sarcastically as a
Senator from Armenia (`Barbara Boxer, D -
Armenia,' The Wall Street Journal, September 20) for blocking
the Bryza nomination. However, the government of Armenia has not joined
this battle at all. Yerevan has worked reasonably well with Bryza in his
previous capacities as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and
co-chair of the mediating group in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.

In the US Armenian diaspora, the mainstream American Assembly of America
(AAA) has also stopped short of opposing Bryza's nomination.
While promoting Armenian interests against Azerbaijan during the
confirmation process as always, the AAA did not attack the nomination,
and refrained from welcoming the hold on it. Instead, the AAA found
significant points of agreement in the US position on the Karabakh
conflict, as represented by Bryza under top-level State Department
instructions, both before and during the confirmation process (AAA media
release, September 22).

By seeking to block and derail this nomination, ANCA and its supporters
are actually attempting to change US policy on the South Caucasus, in
line with ANCA's uncompromising nationalist politics. They have
targeted Bryza precisely for representing US policy loyally and
impartially, during more than ten years of work on the South Caucasus.

--- Vladimir Socor

From: A. Papazian