Democracy of Turkey crucial asset: Ex-US envoy

Democracy of Turkey crucial asset: Ex-US envoy

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Democracy of Turkey crucial asset: Ex-US envoy

Matt Bryza (R) says he anticipates going back to the US after a certain time to get involved in diplomatic/political life. “I will continue what I’ve been doing so far in private life that involves partly academia as well as advising people, government and private sector on major investment projects,” says Bryza. “You can’t imagine how happy I am to be in Istanbul. It is the perfect time to enjoy family life,” he adds. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

The cornerstone of what makes Turkey so important to the United States strategically is that it remains a secular democracy with a Muslim majority population, said a former US diplomat. 

The Turkish-US strategic partnership would become unsustainable if there were no sustained progress on democracy, said Matt Bryza, a career diplomat who was the U.S. ambassador to Baku until recently. 

Following the failure of the Senate to endorse his nomination due to pressure from the Armenian lobby, he left Baku last month to settle in Istanbul. “Washington should focus on a breakthrough in the Nagorno-Karabakh [NK] conflict, which will be followed by Turkey-Armenia reconciliation as a consequence,” he said in his first interview since leaving the U.S. foreign service. 

Q: Does the failure of the Senate to endorse your nomination to Baku tell us that the Armenian issue will always hijack the United States’ ties with Ankara and Baku?

A: Most definitely not. Look what President [Barack] Obama did last year; he used his constitutional powers to go around that blockage. He understood the strategic interest of Azerbaijan and pressed ahead. This time, his decision may be based on factors that go beyond factors related to Baku. Obviously we are in an electoral year.

Q: What are we to expect this year in Washington on April 24 [the day Armenians commemorate the “genocide”]?

A: I was deeply involved with this issue every single year as I was in [President George W.] Bush’s staff. We can expect every year that there will be a lot of tension surrounding this issue, especially as 2015 comes close and especially in an election year. The [Armenian] 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. The comfortable prediction would be to say that the current trend will continue.

Q: What is Turkey to expect as 2015 approaches?

A: [Centennial] anniversaries are a milestone. But Turkey has the ability to influence that debate in a significant way. It can have a genuine open discussion with credible participants from all elements of Turkish society to examine the historical records. The radicals that blocked me hate that, they don’t want to have an open debate; an open dialogue is their enemy. 

Also, I think it’s a huge mistake to explicitly say there is no connection at all between Turkish-Armenian normalization and a settlement to the NK problem. I always believed that the two issues will help each other; as there is progress on the Turkish-Armenian front, that will help create progress on NK and progress on NK will help normalize relations between Turkey and Armenia. But if we artificially say that there is no such relationship, we end up dooming the prospect for a settlement in NK because we make it impossible for Armenian leaders to compromise because they are given a huge benefit [opening the border with Turkey] without making any compromise. So we need to manage the two processes together at the same time. We saw that if Azerbaijan feels Turkey is not supporting it with regard to Armenia, Azerbaijani politicians have a way to make normalization with Armenia impossible. 

Q: Do you believe there has been an evolution in Turkey’s approach to the Armenian “genocide?” 

A: There has been a progression. [There is more acceptance of] an open discussion of what happened. I think the Hrant Dink murder was a huge awakening for millions of Turks. It’s not just the government, it’s society that has moved forward to consider that terrible killings were committed by Ottoman troops. But what has not changed at all for legitimate reasons is the firm Turkish 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 [otherwise].

Q: How Turkey should tackle the Armenian lobby’s efforts?

A: Truth is on everyone side, especially on Turkey’s side. The debate about this 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 that [were committed against] many groups. Let’s talk about it all. Let’s be fair and not forget the suffering of others.

Q: What has failed in Turkish-Armenian reconciliation? Is it because the NK dimension was neglected in the protocols?

A: The Turkish leadership realized that by opening the border with Armenia totally outside the context of NK, Turkey was moving in a new direction because Turkey closed the border in the context of the NK conflict. Azerbaijanis will never forget that. Azerbaijanis have significant political influence in Turkey. 
In Azerbaijan there is no country that is as loved as Turkey. It is overwhelmingly the most popular country in Azerbaijan. It was always painful for me to see [the U.S.’] approval rating in the 20s and 30s while Turkey was well into the 90s. So if anybody takes a step that Azerbaijan is extremely uncomfortable with, that step will never succeed in Turkish politics. It’s impossible.

Q: What’s the way to move forward based on past experience? It seems like it’s a case of putting the cart before the horse.

A: That’s the point. Keep the horse in front of the cart. Sequencing matters but the sequencing was out of order. The most important issue for both Yerevan and Baku is NK, not reconciliation. For Armenia it is much more important to eliminate the risk of war and have a fair and sustainable settlement in NK than have direct trading relations with Turkey. What I advocated is to focus on getting that breakthrough on NK. If you do that, Turkish-Armenian reconciliation comes as a consequence.

Q: What will your advice be to Washington on the Armenia-Azerbaijan-Turkey triangle?

A: As I said to the secretary of state, focus on getting a breakthrough on NK, it’s achievable, the breakthrough would not be on the final peace agreement but on the framework agreement for the peace agreement. Once you work hard to get the framework agreement, make clear you will do everything possible to make sure the framework becomes a final peace agreement. And then with that process moving forward, go back to Turkey-Armenia negotiations.

Democracy of Turkey crucial asset: Ex-US envoy


Q: As 2015 approaches, won’t it be difficult to convince Armenia?

A: I think Armenia will come to understand that if our president and state secretary are personally involved, and if they make clear that the drafting of the agreement will be truly trilateral – and not only be driven by one side, the Russian side, but by the equal participation of the two other countries, the U.S. and France – I think there will be a chance for a breakthrough. What is on the table is fair and reasonable.

There has been huge progress. The sides are extremely close to a breakthrough. There are a couple of core, key details that can only be agreed upon if the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan make a very difficult and risky political decision. They would not do that until they feel they receive political support from the U.S. and France.

Q: Will the U.S. step in?

A: Based on my conversation with Clinton, I believe the willingness is there. But it is a busy time in foreign policy. I can’t predict whether our top-level leaders will sustain this interest but I know it’s there now. I just had conversations in Washington two weeks ago.

Q: Where do you think Turkey has come in fulfilling its aspirations on energy policies?

A: Turkey has succeeded in becoming a hub. It has gas coming from Iraq, Azerbaijan and Russia [and will] eventually [get it] from northern Iraq. Previously, Turkey’s aspiration was to be a link for its strategic brothers in Azerbaijan and Central Asia with Europe. It can be both. A hub is a link. The question is for Turkey to decide how much it wants to play a strategic role as a link or how much it wants to be at the centerpiece. My hope is that Turkey will think first and foremost about the importance to Europe … to have a diversified flow of gas from Central Asia and think of its partners that look to Turkey as their strategic link to Europe … If Turkey is seen as overplaying its hand trying to extract too much revenue out of its geographic position, then it risks losing its status with Europe and Azerbaijan and other countries. But if it finds the right balance, it will elevate its strategic position. Make your primary objective be that of connecting Caspian gas to Europe even as you use the rest of your position to [attain] the economic benefits of being a hub. Be a statesman rather than a salesman.

Q: How do you see the evolution of Turkish-U.S. ties?

A: It was shocking to me to see in the 2000s the low approval ratings. It was the lowest on the globe except for Palestine. It was mind-boggling because we have such deep ties. Look at me, I am married to a Turkish woman. [But now] something has changed. It has to do with Turkey’s own sense of where it stands in the world. It wants to be recognized as a global player and it is [beginning] to be recognized as such, and I hope that is what is going to improve Turkey’s relations with the U.S. Relations are much better now as Turkey becomes more confident, it will be more confident in its ties with the U.S. Turkey for years was punching under its weight. It was not punching hard enough for its weight class. It should punch harder now.

Q: How do you see the level of relations now?

A: They’re very good, especially because of Syria. Regardless of the political party in government, Turkey can serve as an inspiration to all those people in all those lands where Ottoman reforms took hold whether in Damascus or Cairo. [It can become] a modernizing state providing the same political and economic freedoms that Turks have achieved to those who seek them in Arab countries. Turkey’s experience is unique but can inspire and Turkey has fully realized that potential and is using this card extremely skillfully in the Middle East.

Turkey and the U.S. have a partnership that is equal and focused on shared strategic interests.
We don’t have identical interests but have many common ones. The cornerstone of what makes Turkey so important to the U.S. strategically is that it remains a secular democracy with a Muslim majority population and a legacy of 170 years of modernizing reforms that helped to modernize key parts of the Middle East.

Q: The U.S. is criticized for underestimating the democratic deficit in Turkey.

A: If you are in foreign policy-making, your job is to promote stability in the Middle East. Turkey in this case has proven to be a great partner. That sort of partnership is unsustainable if there is no sustained progress on democracy. Turkey’s strategic importance is because it is a secular democracy with a majority Muslim population. Were that no longer the case, then the strategic importance would go away. It will still be relevant and important to the U.S. in working on a set of issues, but Turkey itself is such a vital spot on the map … Like everywhere else, democracy in Turkey is a work in progress. In Washington great attention is paid to the plight of arrested journalists.

Who is Matt Bryza?

Democracy of Turkey crucial asset: Ex-US envoy


In the early stages of his career in the United States Foreign Service, Matt Bryza participated in U.S. diplomatic missions in Poland and Russia. He began focusing on the Caucasus, Central Asia and the energy issue in Eurasia in the second half of the 1990s. Throughout the 2000s he developed U.S. policies on Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, South Caucasus and Central Asia in the National Security Council as well as in the State Department as deputy assistant secretary of state.

In 2010 President Barack Obama nominated Bryza as ambassador to Baku. As a result of the campaign of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), two democratic senators put a hold on his nomination, preventing a Senate vote. Obama sent Bryza to Baku as a recess appointment but did not push for him when he re-nominated him as the two senators continued their blockage.

Arguments against him have included his opposition to U.S. recognition of genocide claims, failure to speak out forcefully against “Azerbaijani aggression” and supposed conflicts involving his Turkish-born American citizen wife. He recently left the Foreign Service.