US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday (September 18) condemned what she described as an “illegal” attack by Azerbaijan on Armenia, sparking the worst fighting since their 2020 war.
Baku and Yerevan have blamed each other for starting Tuesday’s border fighting that has killed more than 200 people.
“We condemn in the strongest terms – on behalf of Congress – these attacks that threaten (the) prospects for the much-needed peace deal,” Pelosi told reporters in Yerevan.
“Armenia has a special meaning for us because of the focus on security after an illegal and deadly attack by Azerbaijan on Armenian territory.”
The attack was an “attack on (the) sovereignty of Armenia,” she added.
Hostilities between arch-enemies in the Caucasus ended overnight thanks to mediation by the United States, said Armenian Parliament Speaker Alen Simonyan.
Previous attempts by Russia to negotiate a ceasefire have failed.
“We are grateful to the United States for agreeing the fragile ceasefire that was brokered through them,” he told reporters alongside Pelosi.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev on Sunday, according to a State Department pick.
Blinken “urged President Aliyev to abide by the ceasefire, withdraw forces and work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations,” spokesman Ned Price said.
Rapprochement between the USA and Armenia
Pelosi’s visit marks a growing closeness between Washington and Yerevan, where frustration is brewing over a lack of support from Armenia’s traditional ally Moscow, distracted by its nearly seven-month war in Ukraine.
Russia — which has a treaty obligation to defend Armenia in the event of a foreign invasion but also has close ties with Baku — made no rush to help Yerevan, despite a formal request for military assistance.
“We asked for military help and our request was not accepted. Obviously we are not happy,” Armenian Security Council Chairman Artyom Grigoryan said on Friday.
Pelosi, who arrived in Yerevan on Saturday for a three-day visit, is the highest-ranking US official to have traveled to Armenia since the small country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
On Sunday morning, a tearful Pelosi laid flowers at Yerevan’s hilltop memorial to the 1.5 million Armenians killed in the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
Armenia has long sought international recognition of the bloodshed as genocide – a claim fiercely denied by Turkey but supported by many other countries.
Pelosi said she was “proud” to travel to Yerevan after US President Joe Biden officially recognized the Armenian Genocide last year.
“It is everyone’s moral duty never to forget: an obligation that has grown in importance with increasing urgency as atrocities are being committed around the world, including by Russia against Ukraine,” Pelosi said Saturday.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have fought two wars — in the 1990s and 2020 — over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region, an Armenian-populated enclave of Azerbaijan.
Pelosi said: “In Congress, we (Baku’s ally) blame Turkey – as well as Azerbaijan – for the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in a bipartisan way.”
Decades of conversations
Along with France and Russia, the United States is leading the Minsk mediation group, which had been conducting decades-long peace talks between Baku and Yerevan under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
The Minsk group is largely in disarray as Moscow faces increasing isolation on the world stage following its invasion of Ukraine in February.
The European Union has taken a leading role in mediating the normalization process between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Analysts said the hostilities have largely dashed Western efforts to bring Baku and Yerevan closer to a peace deal.
The six-week war in 2020 claimed the lives of more than 6,500 soldiers from both sides and ended in a Russian-brokered ceasefire.
Under the deal, Armenia ceded parts of territory it had controlled for decades, and Moscow dispatched about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to oversee the fragile truce.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.