Did a high-level Azeri official pay for Matthew Bryza’s 2007 wedding to Turkish author Zayna Baran? A swift crackdown on two journalists who reported at the time that the wedding ceremony for President Obama’s current nominee for the US ambassadorship to Baku was funded by Azerbaijan’s Economic Development minister suggests some misconduct.
In 2007, the editor of opposition newspaper Azatliq, Genimet Zahid and correspondent Adil Khalil were sued over an article entitled “Azerbaijanis Paid for Matthew Bryza’s Wedding.” The article alleges that Azeri Economic Development minister Haydar Babayev paid for a significant portion of Bryza’s wedding, which took place in Istanbul the same year. At the time, Bryza was the US co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, the body tasked with mediating a peace deal for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The libel suit against Zahid and Khalil also included a charge of dealing a blow to Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, claiming that Armenians reading the article would conclude that the OSCE Co-chairman was bought off by Azerbaijan. The suit demanded that the newspaper retract the story. Not surprisingly, the court ruled against the newspaper.
During the appellate process, both of which were ruled in favor of the minister, Khalil was severely beaten and stabbed. Reportedly he fled to France. Meanwhile, Zahid was sentenced to four years in jail on a separate charge of “hooliganism.”
Zahid’s lawyers last fall appealed to the International Court of Human Rights, arguing that charges against their client was a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression. The appeal to the court also charges that the journalists were not granted a fair trial.
The swift action by Minister Babayev signals that the Azadliq article had merit. The editor’s unwillingness to retract, coupled with the swift court rulings and the subsequent attacks on the journalists, suggest that there was more to Bryza’s Istanbul nuptials than a mere wedding ceremony.
Upon his nomination, Azeri leadership circles praised their close ties with Bryza and underlined her marriage to a Turkish woman as a plus. Bryza’s one-sided approach to Karabakh peace was a constant problem during his tenure as the US OSCE mediator and a bone of contention for the Armenian-Americans, who are legitimately concerned about Bryza’s loyalties and the possible irreparable damage he might do as the US ambassador in Baku.
Allegations of Babayev’s role in Bryza’s wedding also raises questions of whether Bryza breached diplomatic conduct codes while serving as a US envoy in the region.
When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds hearings on his nomination this and other issues that pose a serious conflict of interest should be carefully discussed and questions about his deep involvement with Azeri leaders should be brought to forefront.
US taxpayers should not be funding a diplomatic mission, whose number one person might be on the host country’s payroll.