BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
The Wall Street Journal’s September 20 attack piece on Senator Barbara Boxer and the Armenian National Committee of America, which it characterized as a group with “tribal Caucasian obsessions,” is the last ditch effort by oil industry executives and the pro-Azerbaijan lobby to save the deeply flawed nomination of U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan designate Matt Bryza, just 24-hours prior to Senate Foreign Relations Committee consideration of his candidacy.
And Bryza clearly needs all the help he can get. Rumors of his impending nomination came up as early as May, 2009, but, curiously, it took the Obama Administration a full year to submit Bryza’s name for Senate approval. By July 22, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled Bryza on his failed record in the Caucasus, his uncomfortably close ties with Azerbaijan’s dictatorial regime, and conflict of interest concerns regarding the work of his wife, Zeyno Baran, it became obvious why it took so long.
There is no question that foreign service officers having close working relationships with the leaders of the foreign countries can be an asset in promoting US interests abroad. However the effective diplomat must know where to draw the line. Bryza’s ties to Azerbaijan foreign minister Elmar Mamedyarov – who served as one of three witnesses at Bryza’s 2007 wedding – and the dearth of Azerbaijani Government officials who attended the wedding and, allegedly may have even paid for a portion of it – fundamentally weakens his ability to send a strong pro-democracy, anti-war message to Azerbaijan’s leadership.
Baran’s participation on the editorial staff of an Azerbaijani government sponsored journal titled “Azerbaijan Focus” – where she serves along side Mamedyarov and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, raises further questions as to where her allegiances lie.
Bryza’s public inaction in the face of the destruction of a 1300 year old Armenian cemetery in Djulfa, which featured thousands of ornate “cross-stones” as grave markers, showed callous indifference to the cultural and religious desecration committed by Azerbaijani soldiers, condemned by the European Parliament and other international institutions.
The Wall Street Journal, which since being purchased by Rupert Murdoch has become the mouthpiece of right-wing conservatives, chooses to ignore these facts as listed in a nine-page public memo prepared by the ANCA. They also choose to ignore Bryza’s flimsy responses to a series of oral and written questions submitted by Senators Boxer, Menendez, Feingold, Shaheen and Committee Chairman John Kerry.
Instead they resort to a brazen show of partisan politics – hoping to tie Senator Boxer’s concerns about a flawed nominee whose name should never have been placed on the docket in the first place – to election year politicking. The Wall Street Journal’s unnamed editorial team ignores the Senator’s 20-year record of promoting a balanced U.S. policy in the Caucasus that aims to end illegal blockades by Turkey and Azerbaijan. They conveniently forget Boxer’s efforts to make human rights and democracy a priority in a country where brutal dictators, like Ilham Aliyev, continue to threaten war to maintain Stalin-imposed borders.
They close their eyes to the deaths of some eight Armenian and Azerbaijani soldiers on the Nagorno-Karabakh border in the last three months alone – a result of a failed OSCE negotiating tactic, left over from Bryza’s time as Minsk Group co-Chair, which emboldens Azerbaijani military action through muted condemnation of these actions.
It is time for a new representative for Caucasus diplomacy–one without Bryza’s bias and baggage. Senator Boxer understands that reality and should be commended for her diligence on this matter.
Furthermore, President Obama should realize that his choice for an ambassador to Baku has more support from the far-right conservative community than members of his own party, who are trying to hold on to their majority in Congress.