ANCA: Ambassador Bryza’s Effort ‘Far too Little, Five Years too Late’
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Embassy in Baku has reported that a recent attempt by U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Matt Bryza to visit the ruins of the 1,300 year old Armenian Cemetery in Djulfa, Nakhichevan, was blocked by the same Azerbaijani government that orchestrated its desecration some five years ago of this Armenian cultural and religious site.
“Ambassador Bryza’s done far too little, five years too late,” said Aram Hamparian, the executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), in response to the U.S. Embassy’s report on his failed bid to honor his commitment to the U.S. Senate that he would visit the remains of the 7th-century Armenian religious cemetery, which included thousands of intricate stone-cross gravestones known as khatchkars.
“As deputy assistant secretary in 2006, Matt Bryza, despite direct appeals for his intervention, waited three long months to make his first public statement regarding Azerbaijan’s video-taped act of cultural desecration, and even then only in response to a reporter’s inquiry at a Yerevan press conference. As a nominee for the post of ambassador to Azerbaijan, he chose not to raise this hateful act of intolerance in his prepared testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and only after repeated questioning by Senators, pledged to visit this sacred site. As ambassador, he waited another three months to attempt to keep this commitment, only to allow himself to be turned away by the very perpetrators who so brazenly demolished these historic stone-cross gravestones.”
News of the Azerbaijani government’s refusal to allow Bryza access to the historic Armenian cemetery in Djulfa was revealed in a press release by the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan, which neither explained why the American ambassador was denied entry, nor what the U.S. response would be to this most recent example of the Azerbaijani government’s stonewalling. Despite the real-time video of the cemetery’s destruction, detailed satellite imaging confirming the results of its demolition, and widespread international condemnation of this assault on world heritage, the release only states that the Armenian khatchkars were “reportedly destroyed.”
In the release, Bryza is quoted as stating, in generic terms, that “the desecration of cultural sites—especially a cemetery—is a tragedy, which we deplore, regardless of where it happens.” He added, “The United States continues to call on all parties to respect such sites and collaborate on their preservation,” but fell short of specifically condemning the Azerbaijani authorities for either their systematic desecration or their refusal of access to this cultural site.
Bryza’s reluctance to speak out forcefully on the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery in 2005 was the topic of repeated questions by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) during his 2010 confirmation hearing. During this confirmation process, he did not commit to investigating the demolition, although he was asked to do so by Boxer. Instead, he stated only that he would “visit Djulfa” and publicly and privately stress the importance of “safeguard[ing] Armenian religious and cultural sites in Azerbaijan.” In response to Menendez’s follow-up question, Bryza pointed to his visits to Armenian cultural sites in Nagorno-Karabagh, which have not been at risk, as proof that he takes protecting cultural sites seriously.
In December 2010, President Obama sidestepped Senate concerns and dual “holds” by Senators Boxer and Menendez and sent Bryza to Azerbaijan through a recess appointment, which requires Senate approval for him to continue in his position past December 2011. The Senate has yet to schedule a vote on his nomination.
To learn more about the destruction of the 1,300-year-old historic Armenian cemetery in Djulfa, watch the independent film “The New Tears of Araxes” at http://www.djulfa.com/film/.
To view a timeline of the U.S. and international response to the destruction of Djulfa, visit http://www.anca.org/assets/graphics/2011/djulfa_timeline.pdf.
To learn more about the ANCA’s opposition to the nomination of Matthew Bryza as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, visit http://www.anca.org/assets/pdf/misc/BryzaNomination.pdf.