The pending return of Washington’s Bush-era Caucasus man, Matthew Bryza, has touched off so much buzz in the region that one might as well turn his last name into a verb.
Following the 2008 Georgian-Russian war, critics both inside and outside the Caucasus charged that Tbilisi, emboldened by an easy bonhomie with the White House Caucasus envoy, ended up challenging Moscow. Now, Armenia is concerned that Baku may be "Bryza'd" as well.
With his appointment as US ambassador to Azerbaijan up for a vote in the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee on July 22, Azerbaijan and Armenia have headed to Capitol Hill to lobby for and against, respectively, Bryza’s Caucasus homecoming.
The Armenians worry that Bryza, who co-chaired the US-France-Russia mediatory group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, puts territorial integrity above a nation’s right to self-determination; two conflicting directions that shape the Karabakh peace talks.
Describing Bryza as biased against Armenia and overly positive about Baku, an influential Armenian Diaspora group in the US called for a careful review of the diplomat's credentials. Armenian lobby groups, in particulary, believe that the man got a little too chummy with Turkish and Azerbaijani officials while pushing for US-backed energy projects in the region. For this camp, the fact that Bryza’s wife is an ethnic Turk also does not help matters.
Members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) face a delicate task late next month when they meet in Yerevan for one of their regular pow-wows -- how to explain why the CSTO declined to send forces to member-state Kyrgyzstan in June to quell ethnic bloodshed.
The refusal sparked accusations that the organization, intended as an FSU version of NATO, is useless.
Speaking at a July 21 press-conference in Yerevan, the CSTO's Russian secretary-general, Nikolai Bordyuzha, had a ready response to that one: “We have all deemed it inexpedient to invade another state as it would only aggravate tensions,” Bordyuzha explained.
Such considerations, however, did not stop Russia from invading non-CSTO member Georgia in 2008.
But not only Georgia will be keeping a cautious eye on the CSTO shindig to its south.
Little more than a week after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took a stroll in Russia’s alleged sphere of influence, reports are emerging that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev may also be packing for the Caucasus. Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian news media today reported that Medvedev will visit Baku and Yerevan later this summer.
Azerbaijan's 1News.az claims that Medvedev plans to sign a border treaty with Baku during his September visit; Russia's ITAR-TASS reports that Medvedev will head to Yerevan in August for a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The summit is reportedly expected in "the second half of August," according to News.am.
The Kremlin has not confirmed the news yet, but such visits could provide a fresh episode in the ongoing soap opera about Washington and Moscow's struggle for influence in the region.
Armenia and Azerbaijan are both trying to maintain a delicate balance between the two big brothers. By contrast, one place in the South Caucasus where Medvedev cannot set his feet, but any US official is always welcome is Georgia.
Armenia and Azerbaijan on June 21 clashed for the second time in roughly three days on the Nagorno-Karabakh frontline, RFE/RL reports. The skirmish, which allegedly killed one Azerbaijani soldier, comes after a June 18-19 gunfire exchange that killed four Armenian soldiers and one Azerbaijani soldier -- the worst violation of the Nagorno-Karabakh cease-fire since 2008.
Mediators pleaded with both sides to tone down the aggressive rhetoric that has accompanied the violence, which started the day after the conclusion of a St. Petersburg summit between Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have accused one another of all the mortal sins since they launched into battle over the separatist region of Nagorno Karabakh, but the list of assumed misdeeds at times seems endless.
Now Baku says Armenia is a compulsive arsonist, who apparently runs through Azerbaijani wheat fields, throwing lit matches left and right.
The blaze has destroyed wheat crops in the occupied region of Tartar and, with temperatures rising, the fire threatens to destroy some 1,300 hectares of farm land.
The Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict may have stemmed from deep-seeded differences, but the chronic bickering between the two countries has long become reminiscent of iconic writer Nikolai Gogol’s The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich. The two Ivans are good neighbors, but one unfortunate incident sparks a never-ending, excruciating squabble that no arduous mediation by their well-meaning community can resolve. The two country gentlemen reach the point of no return after one has the indiscretion to call the other a silly “goose.”
By comparison, such a mild insult, if delivered by one side or the other in the 22-year Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict, would most likely rank as an improvement in dialogue.
A recent letter from President Obama, sent via a high-profile courier, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and a promise that Hilary Clinton will drop by one of these days, seem to have made the difference.
Washington, for its part, appears to blame geography for Azerbaijan's anger. Azerbaijanis, declared Gates during his visit to Baku, live in a "rough neighborhood."
US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates came to Baku this weekend to whisper sweet nothings into Azerbaijan's ear after a brief spell in which the Azerbaijani government had threatened to rethink relations with its American suitor.
Coming from a country that is a key route for overflights to Afghanistan, the miffed message appears to have been understood.
Azerbaijani-US ties may not be in full bloom right now, but nevertheless Baku has decided that the work of the governor of California deserves a little appreciation. The Consulate General of Azerbaijan in Los Angeles has presented Arnold Schwarzenegger with a handmade Azerbaijani carpet that features the onetime Terminator's portrait, Trend news agency reported on May 4.
The gift dovetails with Azerbaijan’s efforts to take its rivalry with Armenia to the Golden State, home to one of the world's largest Armenian Diasporas and the perceived headquarters of the Armenian lobby in the US.