USA driving a wedge between Yerevan and Baku

By Anton Krivenuk

Probably most charismatic American diplomat Matthew Bryza, who is known well in the Caucasus, arrived in Azerbaijani capital. He landed at the airport of Baku as the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan. This event was preceded by a long-lasting behind-the-scenes fight between Barack Obama's administration and the U.S. Congress, which is strongly influenced by Armenian lobby. Armenians believe Bryza to be a partisan pro-Azerbaijani diplomat, while Azerbaijani are celebrating a small victory.

Officials of the American Embassy in Baku have been doing without any boss since summer 2009. Matthew Bryza was to come here as the U.S.' new ambassador; however, his trip was prevented by unexpected difficulties. Within the last half a year he realized the power and influence of Armenian lobby. Armenians spoke out against his candidature to the post of American ambassador to Azerbaijan and kept discussing the matter stubbornly with the White House. One cannot say that they lost. An uncompromising struggle "for" and "against" Bryza started between President Barack Obama's administration and the House of Representatives of the USA. The appointment was mainly disapproved by two congressmen, Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendes, who blocked Bryza's appointment under various pretexts as active representatives of Armenian lobby in the U.S. legislative body.

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration was evidently promoting Bryza as an ambassador to Azerbaijan, outfoxed the House of Representatives. On December 30 last year when the Congress was on winter vacation, Obama issued an unexpected order to appoint Matthew Bryza ambassador.

According to the U.S Congress, an appointment of the candidates nominated by the president must be approved by the House of Representatives but when the Congress is on vacation the president may execute assignments single-handedly. The order of the head of state opens an opportunity for the elect to immediately assume office without waiting for the Congress' approval but in case the congressmen do not approve of the candidature by the end of the next session of the House of Representatives (November-December 2011), the mentioned order becomes invalid.

It means that theoretically, within this year, the House of Representatives may send Bryza home. But that's hardly possible: there are much more significant discrepancies between the congressmen and the White House that will become actual this year.

So, why don't Armenians like Bryza so much? It must be said first that the American diplomat is not very much welcomed in the Caucasus in general. Many claims were made against him not only in Yerevan but also in Tbilisi, Baku and the capitals of Abkhazia, SO and Karabakh. Washington believes him to be a good diplomat if he is not welcome there.

In 2006-2009, Bryza held the post of American co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk group on settling Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Since then, Yerevan took a dislike for him; neither is Baku eager to see him. Bryza is charismatic, impulsive and is perfect at making careless statements that have to be justified later. For instance, during one of his visits to Sukhum, at the meeting with the Abkhaz government he stated that he welcomed separatism so long as he is "a descendant of the separatists" who founded the USA despite England's will.

That's the kind of statement that makes him an unwelcome guest in the Armenian capital. He repeatedly made strange statements on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict and moreover, he does not recognize the fact of the genocide over Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. This practically makes Bryza a persona non grata for the Armenians.

There is another point, though: Bryza's wife is a Turk by origin. This detail completes Matthew Bryza's image as an outright "pro-Azerbaijanian" in the eyes of Armenian people.

Anyway, the diplomat was not met hospitably at the airport named after Geydar Aliyev in Baku. Azerbaijan treats skeptically not only the genocide over Armenians but also the work of OSCE Minsk group that has been dealing with the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict for many years. U.S. co-chair the group, the country being represented by Matthew Bryza. In the opinion of Azerbaijani politicians and experts, the group's activity has been inefficient, for which fact the American ambassador is partially responsible.

Armenian lobby has lost "Bryza's case". However, the enthusiasm it displayed for one year and a half when resisting his appointment as ambassador to Baku gives every reason to admit that this is one of the strongest lobbies in America.

No one in Baku would think of celebrating Bryza's arrival as a diplomatic victory. No one noticed his pro-Azerbaijani attitude or his intention to settle an old conflict with a benefit for the country. Still, the stubborn and vehement protest of the Armenian lobby in the USA was not in vain. Azerbaijan doubts that the new ambassador should make a breakthrough in the conflict settlement; while on the other hand, it is rejoicing the assignment, for what's bad for an Armenian is good for an Azerbaijani.