Sassounian: Obama’s Appointment of Ambassadors to Baku and Ankara Must Be Challenged

Armenian Americans must strongly challenge President Obama’s unilateral appointments of Matthew Bryza as ambassador to Azerbaijan and Frank Ricciardone as ambassador to Turkey. The president circumvented the U.S. Senate by taking advantage of the holidays to make these “recess appointments” on Dec. 29.

While Obama has the legal authority to make such temporary appointments when the Senate is not in session, his unwise decision could have several serious consequences:

  • Undermining the legitimacy and credibility of the new U.S. ambassadors in the eyes of their host countries due to their appointment through an archaic loophole in the law rather than proper Senate confirmation.
  • Antagonizing two prominent Senators of his own party–Barbara Boxer of California and Robert Menendez of New Jersey–who had placed a “hold” on Bryza’s nomination. Having already lost the Republican-controlled House, Obama now desperately needs every single vote in a Senate with a razor thin Democratic majority.
  • Alienating the entire Senate by depriving the Senators of their mandate to confirm ambassadorial nominees.
  • Burning all bridges between himself and Armenian Americans who were some of his staunchest supporters in the last presidential election, having already broken his pledge on the Armenian Genocide, Artsakh’s self-determination, and financial assistance to Armenia.

Fortunately, Obama’s recess appointments are of a temporary nature and not considered full-term ambassadorships. They are only valid for one year rather than the usual three years. In order for Bryza and Ricciardone to serve as ambassadors beyond 2011, Obama has to resubmit their names to the Senate and have them properly considered.

The Senate and the Armenian American community have ample time to take all necessary steps to ensure that the president’s slap in the face does not go unnoticed and unchallenged. Both ambassadors should be sent back home by the end of this year.

Here are the steps that could be taken to derail Bryza’s Senate confirmation in the coming months:

  • Closely scrutinize Bryza’s public statements, press conferences, and interviews in Baku to ensure that he is properly representing the interests of the United States in Azerbaijan rather than Azerbaijan’s interests in Washington.
  • Publicize the documents submitted to the European Court of Human Rights by an Azeri journalist who claims that Azerbaijan’s former minister of economic development had paid the expenses for Bryza’s lavish 2007 wedding in Istanbul. During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, Bryza testified under oath that his family had paid for his wedding. Should the European Court find that the government of Azerbaijan had indeed financed Bryza’s wedding, he would be indicted for lying under oath, not reporting to the IRS the gifts as income, and violating U.S. government’s gift acceptance and disclosure policy.
  • Investigate all his oral and written statements made to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year in order to verify their truthfulness.
  • Search for evidence of conflict of interest related to the employment of his Turkish-born wife, Zeyno Baran, as director of the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank that has received funding from ExxonMobil and other energy companies doing business in the Caspian region. The Armenian National Committee of America has accused Bryza of violating federal ethics rules because of his wife’s connections to Turkish and Azerbaijani business interests.
  • Contact Senators Boxer and Menendez who had placed a “hold” on Bryza’s nomination last year, urging them to block his confirmation once again, when Obama resubmits his name to the Senate. By doing so, the two Senators would be reaffirming their initial conviction that Bryza is not qualified to serve as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan.

The Armenian community did not originally object to Ricciardone’s nomination. However, since Obama has opposed several major Armenian initiatives and broken his promises on all of them, Armenian Americans may consider expanding their opposition to the Obama Administration on many fronts. They should support those Senators who may be inclined to place a “hold” against Ricciardione’s confirmation later this year. In view of Republican Senator Sam Brownback’s “hold” on Ricciardone’s nomination last year and the objection of leading conservative spokesmen to his recess appointment, Armenian American organizations now have a unique opportunity to work closely with Republicans in opposing his confirmation later this year.

Should the community flex its political muscle and show that it is ready and able to defend its interests, it is likely that U.S. government officials would then be more attentive to Armenian issues.


Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Great article.
    Is there any doubt that barring any official proper Armenian Genocide statement by Obama in the next 2 years of his term, that hardly any Armenian in America will vote for him next time? That is a fact.
    Just curious:
    1. Where was all the hate and rage when we had the votes during the Bush years and that idiot W. actually went to congressional people homes to kill the resolution when we he also promised the Armenian community proper recognition during his campaign?
    2. Lets be careful to not put our effort and political clout on things that do not effect us, like the ambassador post to Turkey. save the effort for purely Armenian benefits and not put effort “to make a point” and possibly create enemies?
    Just my thought!

  2. While I fully agree with Mr. Sassounian’s article and feel his disappointment and outrage.  I also believe it is time to take a step back and put things in perspective.  First of all Bryza’s damage to Armenia has already been done during his time on OSCE.  As the ambassador to Azerbaijan, he will be a conduit between his masters and Washington and lobby for Azerbaijan.  Any other ambassador more or less will do the same.  Bryza will end up being effective, but not because he is so great but because the cards are stacked against the Armenians in Washington.  Obama, Bush Pelosi and others are using the Armenian money and votes to play in their fields and their own gains, not necessarily for support of Armenians.  So far, nothing notable has come out of all the money and votes that have been given to the Capital hill and presidential candidates.  ANC has been the most effective, but even with its effectiveness, the gains have been dismal at best.  The Armenian Assembly is a disgrace and not even worth mentioning.  Given this backdrop trying, the same tactics as before with the same goals is equivalent of trying to break a cement wall with your head.  It will be useless.  Meanwhile the Turkish government is more than happy to invest in this struggle and keep the Armenian Diaspora busy with these peripheral issues and away from the real issues.
    I submit to Mr. Sassounian and ANC that it is time to reevaluate the goals and the tactics that we have held so near and dear to our hearts for the last few decades.  The idea is to win the war not just enjoy the battle and continue with no end or resolution in sight.  The real goals that are not talked about and normally are veiled behind “Genocide’ recognition” etc. are “Reparations”, “Return of some of Armenian historical lands” and “stronger Armenia”.  I believe the Armenians should be forthright to announce these goals to the world and work towards these goals.  The Armenian Genocide is the moral and legal foundation for these goals and should not even be open for discussion.  ANC should reinvent itself to support these goals.  Most of the ANC supporters are extremely de-motivated with finally realizing that they are wasting their time and money on these goals.  Bryza, Genocide Recognition’ etc. have become superficial goals and at the end do not benefit Armenia and do not contribute to the real goals in a substantial manner.  In addition, ANC should decide to work with the Armenian government.  I understand the history behind the situation, however, it is time for the government and our parties to show support for the nation as opposed to who is in power.  Everything is cyclical and every organization will have a turn in running Armenia.  It may take few years but then again this is not a short-term game.
    The first order of attack for ANC should be to ally themselves with the Armenian government and show a unified front to the world.  They can disagree internally but the distinction should be made between fighting in the kitchen within the family and fighting in the street with the others.  As far as the congress is concerned all the funds that have been allocated to Armenia and have not been released to Armenia should be released.  Stronger Armenia means stronger case in front of the world.  The second order of attack should be working with the AR government and encouraging them to take the Armenian cause in front of an international body and get a ruling.  Third is to fight a commercial and business war with Turkey and make sure we are making business life difficult for them and have something to bargain with.  Today Armenia is considered a poor country not even worth having them around the table.  This needs to change.  We should also encourage investments in Armenia and sending talent and know how to Armenia to make sure Armenia has the benefit of the brain trust available to Armenia that exists around the world.
    The fact is we need a “Game Changer” the old model is dead.

  3. Frederik, I couldn’t agree with you more.
    The ANC was successful in getting leading European countries to acknowledge the Genocide, but it seems like there was no bigger plan in the works, and even if there was a primary plan it must not have had a plan B to fall on.
    When the EU made Turkey’s recognition of the Genocide one of the prerequisites in qualifying to join the Union, we had a unique opportunity to seize the moment, and have Armenia officially go after Turkey. To do that we should have had a Diaspora Armenia council ready to seize the moment and act upon that historical turn of event, with an elaborate case prepared within the parameters of International law ready to be submitted to the Hague. Instead, the ANC was working on this solo and our motherland, the only entity that can go to the International Justice courts, did not have justice for the Genocide high on its Agenda, and frankly collaboration on this issue has been nonexistant between Armenia and the Diaspora. On the contrary, the Armenian government was ready to recognize the Turkish borders as legal and binding with the set of Protocols. The momentum created by the consecutive European Resolutions died off at the face of indifference from Armenia, and the rapprochement it was working on with Turkey. How can we expect other countries to respect our cause when our motherland not only does not fight for the justice due to its people, but is undermining our cause by kissing up to the very country that has and still deals our nation with one blow after the next. Where is the outrage that Armenia should have shown regarding Turkey’s illegal blockade?
    The ANC’s clout is limited to local governments. We need to accept the fact that a collaboration between the Diaspora and Armenia is essential with issues involving International Law. At the end of the day all of this effort will not reach fruition if Armenia is not on the same page.
    The other area where we are failing is in the war of “information”. Where are our documentary and film producers? Where is the barrage of books, information through internet and media outlets about the truth with Karabagh. We should have splattered outrage about Turkish and Azeri propaganda calling Karapagh an aggressor and occupier, using all mediums of communication.
    The Turkish blockade and sanctions were meant to keep Armenia preoccupied with basic needs of existance. It was a reaction to our victory in Karabagh, and an indication of its anxiety regarding our land demands.
    This was and still is the moment in our his history where all our talents and resources should merge around our homeland and our nation. The coordination of our resources at all levels, economic and political has to be a priority. We need to make dealing with Armenia “attractive”. But at the same time if we don’t hold our ground when it comes to our demands from Turkey, we will lose all respect and credibility in the world. The Protocols and their aftermath attest to that.

  4. HYe, all things considered, our leaderships in Haiastan are incapable of recognizing and employing the advantages and strengths acquired in our Diaspora… It appears Haiastan’s leaders think of themselves as well prepared and ‘knowing’ yet all they are capable of is ‘dropping the ball’ – missing opportunities that should emanate from our leaders of Haiastan.  Current leaders are the wrong persons at this most important times of fledgling Armenia’s existence.  These leaders, if they care AT ALL for our homeland…must resign!   Well prepared, patrtiots and highly intelligent men and women shall take leadership… Haiastan is worthy of great leaderships, too, Haiastan needs great leaderships TODAY. These misfits cannot continue in office whilst they are still in the ‘learning mode’… as they are causing harm to our Armenian nation-now!  These inept leaders and their cohorts – self-absorbed – cause losses in our most urgent of times for  our fledgling Haiastan – today!  Manooshag

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