Egemen Bagish: Turkey's Minister of Genocide Denial

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By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier
Feb. 16, 2012

It appears that my prediction about Matt Bryza leaving the State Department and working as a lobbyist is coming true. After his brief stint as Ambassador to Azerbaijan came to a premature end, Bryza disclosed to the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper last week that he will be “advising people, government, and private sector on major investment projects.”

It remains to be seen whether Bryza’s planned activities fall within the legal definition of "lobbying" and "advocacy" on behalf of third parties, such as Turkish and Azeri entities, given the restrictions imposed by U.S. law on former government officials. Depending on the specific type of activity, there is either a one or two-year ban. However, in the case of "very senior officials" such as Bryza, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, there is a lifetime ban. He would certainly be prohibited from having contact with former State Department colleagues on behalf of other parties, regarding official matters with which he was involved as a government employee.

In his interview with Hurriyet, Bryza validates in his own words the accusation that he was biased and unprofessional, while acting as the American Co-Chair of OSCE’s Minsk Group of mediators on the Karabagh (Artsakh) conflict. At the time, he was repeatedly criticized for being anti-Armenian, pro-Azerbaijani and pro-Turkish. Senators Barbara Boxer and Robert Menendez, who placed a hold on his nomination as Ambassador to Azerbaijan, and the Armenian National Committee of America, which objected to Pres. Obama’s ill-advised decision to send Bryza to Baku without Senate confirmation, are now fully vindicated.

In the past, Bryza’s apologists used the convenient excuse that as a government official, he had no choice but to support the President’s position on the Armenian Genocide and related issues. Yet, now that he is a free man, why does he continue to parrot those same Turkish-inspired, anti-Armenian slogans? Could it be that Bryza, in and out of government, has been trying to ingratiate himself to his future paymasters? Otherwise, why would he give Hurriyet the standard Turkish line that politicians and parliaments should not get involved in acknowledging the Armenian Genocide? To score points with Turkish and Azeri officials, Bryza angrily lashes out at the ANCA: "The organization that blocked me will keep bringing up this issue forever. But it’s not up to governments but to people to make their own determination on how to characterize it…. Turkey has the ability to influence that debate in a significant way…. The radicals that blocked me hate that. They don’t want to have an open debate; an open dialogue is their enemy."

While applauding the more open attitude among some Turks toward a discussion of the Armenian Genocide, Bryza finds as "legitimate" the Turkish official view that "this should not be recognized politically as genocide. It’s not the business of any politician in any country to characterize these events as genocide or not as genocide. It has to be up to societies -- not to others -- to have a decision taken based on a political calendar. To me, that’s dishonest."

Bryza then takes his pro-Turkish bias a little too far by revealing his denialist views: "Truth is on everyone’s side, especially on Turkey’s side. The debate about this [Armenian Genocide] issue is really one-sided right now. Anybody who voices a different view is attacked as a genocide-denier, which immediately means you are against human rights. If you believe there was a genocide committed, you can equally argue looking from a narrow definition of the word that genocide was committed to many others, against Turks or Muslims in eastern Anatolia. Let’s have a dialogue of the multiple atrocities [against] many groups. Let’s talk about it all. Let’s be fair and not forget the suffering of others."

Finally, Bryza seems to have fulfilled his life-long dream of living in Istanbul. During his 2005 visit to Ankara, after a U.S. Embassy official introduced him to local journalists as "an old friend of Turkey," Bryza unabashedly declared: "I am thrilled to be back in Turkey. Turkey in many ways feels for me like a second home…. I can’t spend enough time in your beautiful country. I hope to be back soon and often." In a column I wrote at the time, I expressed the hope that "Bryza would soon realize his wish and retire in Turkey permanently." Now, his wish has come true! Hurriyet reported last week that after leaving Baku last month he had settled in Istanbul. "You can’t imagine how happy I am to be in Istanbul…. Look at me, I am married to a Turkish woman," Bryza exclaimed!