Do US Ambassadors Serve at the Pleasure of Pres. Bush or Turkey?

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elcobocorboc By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
July 20, 2006

After months of avoiding to state the true reason for firing John Evans, the U.S. Ambassador to Armenia, Matthew Bryza, the U.S. co-chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, inadvertently disclosed two weeks ago that Amb. Evans was indeed dismissed for recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

Asked by Anna Hakobyan, a reporter for the Yerevan-based Armenian language newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak, "When will Amb. Evans's successor, Richard Hoagland, come to Armenia and what was the real reason for the recall of Amb. Evans?" Mr. Bryza was quoted as saying: "Amb. Hoagland will come to Armenia immediately after his confirmation, I think in one or two weeks. "It is not honest to say that Amb. Evans has been recalled. Some people have also said that he is being dismissed from the Foreign Service. That is not true. Each Ambassador in general serves the President. This means that he must follow the policy of the President. And Pres. Bush's policy regarding these horrible events - the mass killings of Armenians - is very clear, as he refers to them in his annual statements. Of course, if someone disagrees with the policy of the President, he can make his own decision, but he must not express it in public. We all serve the President and our job is to support his policy. Of course, our job is also to give him advice, but when it comes to our public statements, we must support the President's policy." Ms. Hakobyan vouched that she had accurately translated Mr. Bryza's words into Armenian, which were then translated back into English by this writer.

Mr. Bryza is the first U.S. official to disclose the true reason for the dismissal of Amb. Evans. He gets high marks for that, even though he and his colleagues at the State Department have been giving all sorts of false and evasive answers for months. Mr. Bryza gets very low marks, however, for the rest of his statement. He had no way of knowing when Amb. Hoagland would be arriving in Yerevan. In fact, not one, but two weeks have passed since he made that false prediction, and Amb. Hoagland is still in Washington, waiting to see if and when the Senate would confirm his nomination. Mr. Bryza is also not telling the truth when he says that Amb. Evans was not dismissed from the Foreign Service. Mr. Evans was in fact fired!

Anyway, it is not within the purview of Mr. Bryza's job, as U.S. negotiator on Artsakh (Karabagh), to make wild and inaccurate predictions on the confirmation of U.S. Ambassadors. Such decisions are made by the U.S. Senate, not by a junior State Dept. official. Another indication of Mr. Bryza's improper and amateurish behavior was that within days of his recent appointment as U.S. co-chair of the Minsk Group, he unilaterally disclosed some of the details of the confidential Artsakh negotiations. He thus violated the agreement that was made between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group (Russia, France and U.S.) not to make public their delicate negotiations until a preliminary agreement has been reached between the conflicting parties. Rather than forcing Armenia and Azerbaijan into a compromise solution, he has in fact compromised the negotiations, perhaps irrevocably.

Such a serious violation of protocol is probably the result of Mr. Bryza's inexperience in diplomatic work. It is obvious that he is not qualified to conduct such complicated negotiations. Given his unprofessional behavior, Pres. Bush may want to reconsider the appointment of Mr. Bryza to such a critical position. Otherwise, it would be difficult to avoid making the obvious conclusion that the Bush Administration does not take seriously the Artsakh conflict. This week, the President of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, snubbed Mr. Bryza by refusing to meet with him during the latter's visit to Cyprus. If Mr. Bryza continues to undermine the Artsakh negotiations, the Presidents of both Armenia and Azerbaijan may also refuse to meet with him, leaving Pres. Bush no choice but to replace him with a more experienced senior diplomat.

Complicating matters further, Mr. Bryza's long-time partner is a woman by the name of Zeyno Baran. Normally, it would be inappropriate to drag a diplomat's personal life into a political commentary. In this case, however, there are special circumstances that justify such a reference. Ms. Baran herself has introduced her personal relationship with Mr. Bryza into the public domain on several occasions, by openly referring to her ties with him. In her speeches and reports, she often thanks Mr. Bryza for giving her "tremendous intellectual and personal support." They often lecture together at various venues both in the U.S. and overseas.

Ms. Baran, a native of Turkey, is opposed to various Armenian issues, including the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. On March 8, 2005, as the Director of International Security and Energy Programs for the Nixon Center, she told the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee that she is opposed to the congressional resolution on the Armenian Genocide. "Given the prevalent Turkish view that the U.S. is running a campaign against Turkey, it would be very damaging if the Armenian Genocide resolution passed Congress this year," Baran testified. "This year is the 90th anniversary of the tragic 1915 massacre and certainly Armenian Diaspora groups would like to get recognition. However, such a resolution would play right into the hands of the growing set of anti-Americans and ultra-nationalists in Turkey," she said.

Last week, in an interview with the Mediamax news agency, Ms. Baran, now the Director of the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute, defended Mr. Bryza's partial release of the documents on the Artsakh negotiations. She also said that she still believes what she told the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee last year that "the strength of Armenian Diaspora limits U.S. ability to encourage democratic change in Armenia."

It is no wonder that during a trip to Turkey last year, Mr. Bryza unabashedly declared: "I am thrilled to be back in Turkey. Turkey in many ways feels for me like a second home. I cant' spend enough time in your beautiful country. I hope to be back soon and often." One would hope that Mr. Bryza would soon realize his wish and retire in Turkey permanently!

In the meantime, a growing number of Senators are continuing to question the recall of Amb. Evans. So far nine members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- half of the committee (5 Republicans and 4 Democrats) -- have submitted written questions to Amb. Hoagland seeking clarification on the State Dept.'s policy on the Armenian Genocide. Even though he has been promptly responding to the Senators' s letters trying to expedite his confirmation, Amb. Hoagland's answers remain evasive and unsatisfactory.

In a new and major setback for Amb. Hoagland's confirmation, the Los Angeles Times published a strongly-worded editorial on July 16, urging the Senate to "block the nomination altogether until the ambassador-to-be dares to utter the g-word. And the Bush administration should have the courage of its lack of conviction and explain forthrightly -- not just to Armenian Americans but to all Americans who believe in calling evil by its proper name -- why U.S. policy is being dictated by Ankara nationalists." This editorial, titled "Armenian Genocide: Speak No Evil?" and subtitled (on the internet version), "The White House's cowardly and secretive refusal to call Turkey's genocide of Armenians by its proper name," is the second one published by the L.A. Times since March 22, 2006, taking to task the Bush administration's refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.

So far, the Senate has blocked the nomination of Amb. Hoagland, despite Mr. Bryza's inaccurate, inappropriate and arrogant prediction! The political tug of war continues between those who seek full and proper disclosure on the premature recall of Amb. Evans and those who play vulgar word games with genocide!