BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Matthew Bryza’s collusion with the Baku government took center stage this week with an announcement by the newly-minted envoy, which seemed to reek of official Azeri propaganda aimed at hindering the already-fragile Karabakh peace process.
Before OSCE mediators could assess the situation, Bryza took the podium to say he was “saddened” after Azeri officials alleged that Karabakh snipers killed a nine-year-old boy at the line of contact.
The use of such misinformation by Azerbaijan has been the backbone of its efforts to ramp up its military rhetoric and play “victim” in front of the international community.
Bryza lent his voice to this war-mongering policy by saying that “the incident, once again shows that a peaceful resolution of the Karabakh conflict has no alternative,” signaling that he has taken the Azeri authorities at their word.
“Together with colleagues from Washington and friends, we are looking for ways to reduce the hatred between the conflicting sides. We believe that the elimination of hatred can be a basis for resolving the conflict peacefully,” said Bryza in capping off his remarks on the Azeri allegations.
It is exactly this type of selective condemnation that serves as a foundation for ongoing concerns of Bryza’s bias toward his Azerbaijani hosts.
On Friday, a Karabakh soldier was killed hours after an International Committee of the Red Cross-monitored prisoner exchange mission ended and a day before the new OSCE Chairman in Office was to hold talks on the conflict with Armenian and Azeri leaders. Will Bryza call out Azerbaijan for its continued ceasefire violations?
Just this week, Aliyev and his cohorts threatened to shoot down civilian planes travelling to Karabakh. Last week, Turkey pledged military support to Azerbaijan in the wake of another Karabakh war. And Matt Bryza’s response? Silence.
If he were truly working to end “hatred,” he would condemn all threats of violence and attacks equally as they occur, as opposed to cherry-picking an unverified incident report that fits his host country’s public relations agenda. Or, he should let the real diplomats tasked with mediating the Karabakh conflict to initiate, execute and administer the proper steps in addressing official Baku’s vile accusations.
This glaring retreat from diplomatic norms highlights the incompetence of this particular US envoy and further calls into question the Obama Administration’s ability to formulate and conduct effective foreign policy.
Several weeks ago, in announcing his priorities as ambassador, Bryza placed his involvement in the resolution of the Karabakh conflict at the beginning of that list, immediately followed by his pledge to encourage international investment in Azerbaijan.
The protracted Karabakh conflict resolution process has seen numerous players throughout its almost two-decade old history. But one thing that has remained constant has been that ambassadors of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairing countries have not been directly involved in the peace process, nor have they ever gone to bat for this or that party to the conflict.
With his actions, he is going out of his way to pledge allegiance not to the country he is serving but to the government that is playing host to him.
But this in not the first time that Bryza has turned a blind eye to the realities of the region and the country in which he is serving.
While attending the opening of a new synagogue in Baku, Bryza said “Azerbaijan is well-known for its ethnic and religious tolerance.”
Of course, this was the bone of contention during his Senate confirmation hearings, where senators Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez, among others, questioned his delayed and insufficient response to the Azeri desecration and destruction of historical Armenian monuments in Nakhichevan.
He also forgot the systematic pogroms initiated by the Azeri government against Armenians, which began in Sumgait and continued on to Kirovabad, Baku and Shahoumian, as a result of which more than 300,000 Armenians were driven out of Azerbaijan.
And what of the Azeris using centuries old Armenian churches as barns, and in the case of the St. Ghazanchetsots Church in Shoushi, which was being used as a military depot and a firing point from where Azeris opened fire on Armenian civilians in Stepanakert at the height of the Karabakh war. Are these the actions of a government “well-known for its ethnic and religious tolerance,” as Bryza would have us believe?
Bryza’s hasty comments on an incident that is still being investigated is more than a departure from the norm, it is a blatant violation of diplomatic protocols. His statements claiming Azerbaijan is tolerant of its ethnic and religious minorities shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Azerbaijan’s treatment of its Armenian minority—perhaps one reason why he was ineffective in his previous role as OSCE mediator of the conflict.
Since President Obama, who callously appointed Bryza while Congress was in recess, has opted to re-nominate him for the post, senators on both sides of the aisle must question his ability to best represent US interests abroad and diligently probe his entrenched ties with the Aliyev administration.