BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
One of the key elements in opposing President Barack Obama’s ambassadorial nominee to Azerbaijan, Matthew Bryza, is the glaring conflict of interest his wife’s position at the Hudson institute poses to the highest US post in Baku.
During last week’s Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearings, Bryza went to great lengths to ensure senators that his wife, Turkish activist Zeyno Baran’s position at the Hudson Institute would not pose a problem. In her professional capacity, Baran advocates for Caspian energy issues and interests.
“…we [Bryza and Baran] have also made a choice, made a decision 10 years ago—we’ve been together a while—to separate our professional and private lives. So while our thinking may sometimes coincide, and while Zeyno’s positions that she’s advocated in the past, do often reflect U.S. interests, that’s a positive, because that’s her natural way of thinking and again that’s one of the reasons why we came together, we see the world in a similar way,” Bryza told the Senate panel in response to an inquiry by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) who was chairing the session.
“That said, Zeyno has undertaken a pledge to refrain from bringing any issue related to the Hudson Institute before the bureau of European and Eurasian affairs at the State Department or before the Embassy of the United States in Baku if I am confirmed. And I, of course, would maintain the highest ethical standards as I have throughout my career and would not take up any issue related to the Hudson Institute without proper authorization of course – if there is some reason for doing that, but I would have to be authorized from Washington,” added Bryza.
In an April 2008 interview with Day.az, Baran proclaimed that one’s “personal life should not be confused with state policy,” calling Armenian concerns of conflict of interest that were expressed back then “groundless.” Yet, in the same interview, which is peppered with pro-Azeri posturing she proclaimed that “even if Armenia recognizes independence of Nagorno Karabakh, none of the countries, including its ally Russia, will support it.” She also claimed that primarily “hundreds of Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs would win,” in the event of a resolution to the Karabakh conflict.
What Bryza failed to explain during the July 22 Senate committee hearings was that between 2002 and 2008, he and his wife have either worked together or have appeared on the same panels (some funded by energy corporations and interests in Azerbaijan and Turkey), among them a 2006 Assembly of Turkish American Associations conference in Washington and another one the same year organized by the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce.*
So, the “decision” that the couple made 10 years ago, as Bryza testified last week, seems to fraught with exceptions, as the aforementioned examples are merely a scratch of the surface of their pro-Turkish/Azeri collusion.
Bryza is not the person who should represent the interests of the United States in Azerbaijan. He was less than forthcoming during his hearing and failed to provide concrete responses to concerns voiced by senators Shaheen, Robert Menendez and Barbara Boxer. His attempts to circumvent justified concerns of conflict of interest demonstrate his inability to be forthright and trustworthy—a clear detriment to US interests abroad.
For all the effort to undo the mistakes of his predecessor, it was unclear why Obama chose a Bush-era vestige as his choice to lead US interests in Baku, but now the Senate has the opportunity to correct that misguided error.
* The list below is a mere representation of their joint work that clearly contradicts their claims separating their private and personal lives:
Baran interviewed Bryza for her paper, titled, “Security Aspects of the South Stream Project” advocating the Nabucco energy pipeline.
Hudson Institute’s Center for Eurasian Policy (directed by Zeyno Baran) joint conference, titled “Azerbaijan-Turkey and the U.S. Relationship” organized with the Baku-based Azerbaijan-Turkey Business Association, and the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. (This conference featured many speakers from Azerbaijan and Turkey, but only two from the U.S. government, one of these being Matthew Bryza. The official “Events Summary and Conclusions” of the conference sharply attacked the Armenian Diaspora for seeking worldwide commemoration of the Armenian Genocide.)
— Baran was the moderator of a panel on “Energy Security”
–Bryza participated in the same panel discussion on “Energy Security”
Vilnius Energy Security Conference 2007: Responsible Energy for Responsible Partners Outcomes and Next Steps.
–Baran discussed energy outcomes and future steps as part of a panel discussion
–Bryza discussed energy outcomes and future steps as part of the same panel
Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) conference in Washington, DC
— Baran discussed Energy Corridors as part of a panel on “Silk Road Transportation – Energy Corridors”
— Bryza discussed the State Department View as part of a panel on “Silk Road Transportation– Energy Corridors”
Bled Strategic Forum conference titled “Energy and Climate Change: Synergy for the Future” in Slovenia.
— Baran participated in a panel discussion on “EU-Caspian Energy Corridor after the Recent Events in Georgia.”
— Bryza participated in the same panel discussion on “EU-Caspian Energy Corridor after the Recent Events in Georgia.”
US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce conference in Washington, DC, titled: “US-Azerbaijan Strategic Alliance Conference – Political and Commercial Priorities”
— Baran discussed “Prospects of the Eurasian Transportation Corridor”
— Bryza discussed “The Dynamics of US-Azerbaijan Relations”
Bryza and Baran attended a November 22 and 23, 2005 conference in Tbilisi Georgia on ” Europe’s New Wave of Liberation: Democracy and Transformation.”
Conference organized by the America-Georgia Business Council on the topic of: “Georgia: Potential for Growth.”
— Baran moderated a panel discussion
— Bryza discussed “Georgia in the context of US policy for the Black Sea”
Black Sea Security Program; Conference held in Washington, DC.
— Baran discussed “Turkey, EU and Regional Security”
— Bryza discussed National Security issues
National Democratic Institute sponsored a conference on a “Study Mission for the Democracy Committee of Turkish Parliament” in Washington, DC.
–Baran discussed US security in the Black Sea
–Bryza discussed National Security issues
Both contributed to the article, “Talking Turkey: A Private Perspective on Public Diplomacy” written by Network 20/20 delegation to Turkey
Black Sea Security Program; Conference held in Washington, DC.
–Baran moderated “The United States View on the Black Sea Region and its Security Challenges”
–Bryza discussed “Regional Policy/Energy and Conflict in the Caucasus/Caspian Energy”