BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
In March 2006, three months after reports surfaced that Azeri Army units systematically destroyed an Armenian cemetery in Djulfa, Nakhichevan, President Obama’s current nominee for the US ambassadorial post in Baku, Matthew Bryza, who at the time was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, chimed in for the first time and shrugged off the incident as something, with which the US cannot be bothered.
At a press conference in Yerevan, when Bryza was asked about the incident and his subsequent actions and stance on the matter he called it “a tragedy,” adding: “It’s not really up to the US to take steps to stop it. I mean, this is happening in a foreign country.” He continued that, “we are hopeful that the guilty will be justly punished…”
Fast forward four years. Bryza is at a confirmation hearing in front of a Senate panel and the thorny issue of the Djulfa desecration, which he wishes would go away, comes back in the form of questions from senators, especially Barbara Boxer, who spearheaded calls for investigating the matter back in 2006.
At first he railroaded the Senate Foreign Relations Committee members by telling them that the quality of a video that details the Azeri army’s destruction of the cemetery was grainy and he could not easily make up his mind. It is important to note that the same video was enough for international bodies to express their outrage at what Bryza called “a tragedy.” Furthermore, an EU fact-finding delegation, dispatched to Azerbaijan to investigate, was turned away by Azeri authorities in January of 2006, a month after the so-called grainy video surfaced.
On August 4, at Sen. Boxer’s urging, the Foreign Relations Committee postponed a vote on Bryza’s nomination. During this time, Boxer submitted more questions for Bryza to clarify his position on the Djulfa matter and other critical issues that have become an obstacle for a smooth confirmation.
Boxer asked Bryza whether the delay in his response to the Djulfa incident was, in fact, the result of grainy footage or was he trying to handle the matter quietly. Boxer also asked Bryza whether his delay was a diplomatic move so as to not have the US government criticize the Azeri leadership at a crucial time in the Karabakh peace process.
Bryza provided the following answer: “I made my public statement condemning the attack on March 7 at a press conference in Yerevan. I did so during my first visit to the region following the initial reports of the desecration of the Armenian cemetery in Djulfa in December. I also used the visit to raise serious concerns about this incident in person with Azerbaijan’s top leaders. These conversations constituted my face-to-face follow-up of the phone call I made to Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister to register U.S. concern immediately upon receiving the December 2005 report of the desecration at Djulfa. It appears that Azerbaijani authorities were responsible for the destruction at Djulfa. The response to the Djulfa desecration was unrelated to the conduct of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process.”
Although Bryza insists he made a statement on the matter in March 2006, the reality is that if he were not asked by a reporter in Yerevan, he would have maintained his silence on the matter. It has taken four years for Bryza to half-heartedly find the Azeri government responsible for the desecration of the Armenian Cemetery in Djulfa, the destruction of which began back in November of 1998.
As a key player in the Caucasus at the time, Bryza chose to further embed himself within Azeri leadership circles rather than speak for US concerns in that region, which were articulated by then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, before his March 2006 statements in Yerevan.
In February 2006, the Associated Press quoted Azeri President Ilham Aliyev regarding Djulfa as saying that it was “an absolute lie; slanderous information, no basis in truth…” He further claimed that “not one cultural-historical monument, not one Armenian cemetery in the autonomous Nakhichevan republic has been destroyed.”
It is clear that, at the time, Bryza was being guided by Aliyev’s posturing and not according to what a key US representative in the region should have done. If confirmed as ambassador, what is to stop Bryza from putting Azeri concerns ahead of those of the US? Nothing! A confirmation vote by the Senate would grant Bryza carte blanche to do as he sees fit and continue to evade the American government and the people, while advancing his self-serving agenda in the Caucasus.
A no vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has returned from its summer recess this week and may vote on the matter as early as next week, will send a clear signal that the American people cannot—and will not—allow rogue envoys to represent US in foreign lands.
Below is a timeline of the international response to the destruction of Djulfa. Click on the image to expand.
₁ Tears of Axes; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZu2zqFE_gI ; http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f‐news/1786404/posts
₂ Russian press, http://www.regnum.ru/english/645240.html , http://www.regnum.ru/english/561436.html , http://www.regnum.ru/english/armenia/600251.html
₃ Copy of Letter; http://www.network54.com/Forum/146256/message/1136325503/Members+Of+Congress+Urge+Azerbaijani+Government+To+Stop+Demolition+Of+Armenian+Cemetery
₄ Ambassador letter; http://archive.hetq.am/eng/politics/0605‐vandalism.html
₅ Washington‐based, international organization; http://www.bosnewslife.com/1814‐1814‐azerbaijan‐destroys‐medieval‐armenian‐christi
₆ International report; http://www.international.icomos.org/risk/2002/azerbaijan2002.htm#
₇ Text of EU Resolution; http://www.network54.com/Forum/146256/message/1138224681/EU+Resolution, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/
₈ Sec. of State Rice; http://www.djulfa.com/?page_id=10 , http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/intlrel/hfa26078.000/hfa26078_0.HTM
₉ President Aliyev; http://www.jihadwatch.org/2006/05/baku‐says‐cemetery‐still‐intact.html
₁₀ Questioned while in Yerevan; http://yerevan.usembassy.gov/news/2006/march/news030706.php
₁₁ Institute for War & Peace Reporting; http://www.iwpr.net/report‐news/azerbaijan‐famous‐medieval‐cemetery‐vanishes, http://www.djulfa.com/?page_id=10
₁₂ Tragedy on the Araxes; http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/djulfa/index.html
₁₃ Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies scholars, http://www.cais‐soas.com/News/2006/April2006/20‐04‐arran.htm
₁₄ United Kingdom, Independent reports on destruction, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/azerbaijan‐flattened‐sacred‐armenian‐site‐480272.html
Sources for the International Timeline