Upon her arrival, Speaker Pelosi and her delegation were met by US Ambassador to Armenia Lynne Tracy

Pelosi Visit Shakes Up Region, Thrills Armenia’s Leadership

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a high-powered delegation to Yerevan on September 17, stunning friends and foes alike, giving a lift to the besieged Armenian nation suffering from attacks by Azerbaijan September 12 and 13, which resulted in at least 135 deaths.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi wipes a tear away at Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial

Pelosi, who was accompanied by Armenian-American members of the House of Representatives Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier, both Democrats of California, and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), blamed Azerbaijan for the latest outbreak of fighting with Armenia, as she made a high-profile trip to Yerevan in a public show of support.

Pelosi is the highest-ranking US official to travel to Armenia since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Asked at a Yerevan news conference about the latest spasm of fighting, which erupted last week, Pelosi said her trip had particular significance following the “illegal and deadly attacks by Azerbaijan” on Armenia.

“We strongly condemn those attacks,” Pelosi said, adding that the border fighting was triggered by Azerbaijani attacks on Armenia.

“As for what Armenia expects [from the United States], we expect active support for [our] democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in all possible directions,” Alen Simonyan, the speaker of Armenia’s parliament, said at the news conference.

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On her last day in Armenia, on September 19, her office released the following statement:

“Our Congressional delegation traveled to Armenia, an important front in the battle between democracy and autocracy. Throughout our engagements in Yerevan, the capital, we conveyed a strong message of support for Armenia’s democracy and security, particularly following Azerbaijan’s offensive against Armenia. Our visit was planned before the September 12th initiation of hostilities.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Parliament Speaker Alen Simonyan lay flowers at Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial

“Members of the House Armenian Caucus Chairs Frank Pallone, Anna Eshoo, and Jackie Speier, and I began our visit by laying a wreath at the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial. There, we prayed for the 1.5 million Armenian men, women, and children murdered in the genocide. Congress is committed to ensuring that the truth of the genocide is never erased – which is why, in 2019, we passed legislation to formally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, which President Biden echoed with his official recognition last year. It was a privilege to be awarded the Ambassador Henry Morgenthau medal from the Genocide Museum-Institute, which I accepted on behalf of the Congress for our work to recognize and raise awareness on the Armenian Genocide.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the US Congressional delegation at a reception at the Cafesjian Center

“Our delegation was honored to meet with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and other high-level government leaders, including Speaker of the National Assembly Alen Simonyan and Defense Minister Suren Papikyan. These engagements provided for an exchange of ideas on policies and actions to advance stability, peace, and prosperity in Armenia and the region.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Jackie Speier flank Defense Minister Suren Papikyan

“Important to our visit, our delegation then held a roundtable with civil society leaders, who expressed the concerns and needs of their people during this difficult time and shed their light on Armenia’s battle for its democracy and security.  It was my honor to address those leaders in a speech at the Cafesjian Center for the Arts, a crown jewel of Armenian culture, where I delivered a clear message of America’s commitment to Armenia.  Later, we met with opposition leaders serving in the National Assembly.  While there are disagreements about domestic policy, there was clear agreement among these leaders that Azerbaijan must immediately stop its aggression.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by, from left, Representatives Anna Eshoo, Frank Pallone and Jackie Speier and Armenia’s Ambassador to the US Lilit Makunts, and immediately to the right, Armenia’s Parliament Speaker Alen Simonyan at Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial

“Further informed and inspired by the reception that we received, our delegation returns to Washington proud and ready to advance the Congress’s longstanding commitment to a democratic Armenia and a secure, peaceful Caucasus region.”

Meeting Pashinyan

On September 18, the delegation visited Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan presents a bouquet to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

In his welcoming remarks, he stressed, “Mrs. Speaker, dear colleagues, let me warmly welcome you in our country, in our government. This is really an unprecedented visit by the United States to Armenia, and we appreciate that. I would like to express our gratitude to you, Mrs. Speaker, for your personal efforts and contribution to the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the United States, as well as for the efforts of your delegation.

“This is really highly appreciated, and even taking into account this fact only, all Armenians consider you as Armenia’s reliable friend. But I want to continue my words of gratitude because I also want to express gratitude for the US support to the Armenian democracy, as this is also very important for us.

“We see the readiness of the US government to support the democratic agenda in our country. I want to express our dedication to the agenda of democratic reforms, despite the fact that, as you see, it’s not an easy path,” he said.

Pashinyan thanked the US government for not equivocating on blame when it came to the latest attacks. He also expressed his hope that the UN Security Council would be of help.

In her turn, Pelosi said: “Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister for the warm words of welcome and for appreciating the significant work done my colleagues, who are members of this delegation. The support to democracy in Armenia, the resolution on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, countering Turkey over the Nagorno Karabakh issue, and in all other terms, we are the friend of Armenia. We are here by respecting your government.

“Elections were held last year which were assessed as free and fair, and your wonderful victory in the conditions of war and other circumstances. And the thing is that when we travel to any country, it has a purpose of showing respect, listening and learning, but I can say frankly that this delegation which came from the United States to Armenia has brought with it the love and the respect of the American people to your government and the love to the people of Armenia. Thank you for this hospitality.”

The sides, then, discussed a broad range of issues relating to the Armenian-American partnership and the further development of cooperation in different directions.

Pashinyan said that the government of Armenia will continue the consistent steps to strengthen democracy and develop democratic institutions.

Pashinyan and Pelosi also discussed the recent aggression of Azerbaijan against Armenia’s sovereign territory and issues relating to the withdrawal of the Azerbaijani units from Armenia’s territory.

Warm Greeting

Crowds lined the streets of Yerevan hours before Pelosi’s fleet of seven slick black cars pulled into the center of the Armenian capital on Sunday.

Waving American flags, thousands of people turned out to catch a glimpse of the speaker of the House of Representatives as she paid a historic visit to the Caucasian nation, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to do so since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Those US flags carried a significant political message about the country’s political allegiances. For years, Armenia chose to be a key strategic ally of the Kremlin, but many are now increasingly questioning whether Moscow can act as guarantor of the nation’s security against the superior firepower of neighboring Azerbaijan, which launched a massive artillery bombardment on Tuesday. Since then 135 Armenians and 77 Azeris have died in a conflict that looks at risk of breaking through a fragile ceasefire.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin mired in a war that is rapidly turning against him in Ukraine, Yerevan is finding that its appeals for help from a Moscow-led security grouping, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, are falling on deaf ears. That’s a pivotal strategic problem as the enemy in Azerbaijan is lavishly supported by Turkey, a regional military heavyweight that Yerevan associates with the genocide of the Armenian people during World War I.

The thousands who took to the streets of Yerevan, close to where the U.S. delegation was holding meetings, demanded their country withdraw from that Russian-led military partnership. Billboards featuring Putin were torn down, crowds chanted Pelosi’s name, and demonstrators held up signs reading “CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] go screw yourself.”

“All my life we have been a Russian colony,” said Anna, a protestor who brought her seven-year-old daughter to the rally. “It’s time for us to try something else.”

Another demonstrator angrily confronted a Russian journalist after spotting his nationality printed on a press card. “Why are you here? Why don’t you go back to Russia and report on what is going on there?” she demanded. “You are occupiers!”

Pelosi has established a reputation for jetting into hotspots in recent years — and has visited both Kyiv and Taipei this year.

The stakes between Armenia and Azerbaijan could hardly be higher. The clashes are the most serious escalation since the two countries fought a brief but bloody war in 2020 over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, inside Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized borders but held by Armenian separatists.

Ahead of the trip, Pelosi also likened Armenia’s situation to that in Ukraine and Taiwan, portraying the conflict as part of a global struggle against tyranny and oppression.

Armenia has consistently been ranked as one of the freest nations in the region, with higher levels of human rights and press freedoms than many other parts of the former Soviet Union. Azerbaijan, meanwhile, has been governed by a father and son presidential dynasty for almost three decades, and has frequently come under fire from international organizations for cracking down on civil liberties and jailing dissenting journalists.

In terms of regional security alliances, the geopolitical situation is complex. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia has been a close ally of Moscow in the CSTO, which includes largely authoritarian former Communist states such as Belarus and Kazakhstan. Yerevan also maintains strong economic and political ties with Iran, another country locked into hostile relations with the West.

When offered the prospect of closer trade ties with the EU — a move that Ukraine seized, massively ramping up tensions with Putin — Yerevan instead decided to spurn Brussels in 2013 to put itself squarely in the Russian economic orbit.

On the Defensive

Choosing the Russians has hardly paid dividends, and Armenia is now on the back foot when it comes to who holds hard power in the region.

After a string of defeats during the 2020 war, Armenia had to cede swathes of territory in Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. A Kremlin-brokered peace deal saw thousands of Russian peacekeepers deployed to the breakaway region to prevent further offensives and protect the remaining 100,000 ethnic Armenians living there.

Citing its obligation to protect its members against invasion, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has called on the CSTO to provide “military aid for restoring the territorial integrity of the country.” In 2020, the alliance refused to send support to Armenia, arguing that the fighting was only playing out on Azerbaijani territory. With the conflict now raging on both sides of the border, Pashinyan argues there is a clear-cut case for intervention.

The response from Moscow, though, has been muted. Russia has only agreed to send a factfinding mission, while Kazakhstan effectively ruled out deploying troops. What’s more, the Russian peacekeeping mission has failed to prevent Azerbaijani troops pushing forward in Nagorno-Karabakh in recent months, making many Armenians skeptical about the decision to depend on the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has forged a close partnership with NATO member Turkey, receiving large shipments of advanced weapons from Ankara that have given it a considerable edge over its neighbor, which pulled out of the CSTO itself in 1999.

Only compounding Armenia’s concerns, the EU is also courting Azerbaijan as it is looking to tap into Baku’s vast oil and gas reserves to help replace Russian fossil fuels. In July, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signed a deal with strongman President Ilham Aliyev under which Azerbaijan should provide the bloc with an annual 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas by 2027, describing the country as a “crucial energy partner for us.”

Pelosi’s condemnation of the Azerbaijani attack, naturally, received a less than warm welcome in Baku, which insists Azerbaijan is only responding to coming under fire from Armenian territory. “Groundless and unfair accusations against Azerbaijan are unacceptable,” Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Leyla Abdullayeva tweeted following the speech. “Such statements serve not to strengthen fragile peace in the region, but rather to escalate tension.”

While Armenia is becoming more hostile to the Kremlin, Baku seems to be drawing closer to it. Just two days before Russia’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine in February, Aliyev met with Vladimir Putin, signing off on a comprehensive agreement that they said “brings our relations to the level of an alliance.”

As the US House Speaker tours Yerevan, her Russian counterpart, parliamentary speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, is preparing to take a trip to Azerbaijan this month as part of a new diplomatic offensive.

Even more concerning for Armenians still holding out hope for Russian support in the conflict, pictures published from a summit of Eurasian leaders in Uzbekistan on Friday showed Putin relaxing and laughing in talks with Aliyev, along with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Military Aid to Azerbaijan

The United States will likely stop providing military aid to Azerbaijan in response to last week’s fighting on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Armenian opposition lawmakers said on Monday, September 19, after meeting with US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The US Congress had banned all kinds of direct assistance to Baku through Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act passed in 1992. But a decade later it allowed US administrations to waive the ban to help Azerbaijan’s military and security agencies cope with terrorist threats.

As did his predecessors, President Joe Biden waived Section 907 in April 2021 over the strong objections of the Armenian community in the US

Armenian-American leaders renewed their calls for the Biden administration to freeze military aid to Baku after the outbreak of the large-scale border clashes between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces late on September 12.

Lawmakers representing Armenia’s two main opposition groups echoed those appeals when they met with Pelosi late on Sunday at the end of her visit to Yerevan. They sounded upbeat on that score after the meeting.

“I got an overall sense that there is a [US] resolve to stop military aid to Azerbaijan in the next fiscal year,” said Anna Grigoryan of the Hayastan alliance. “We basically got that message.”

Pelosi did not comment on the possibility of such a measure when she spoke at a news conference earlier on Sunday. But she did accuse Azerbaijan of launching “illegal and deadly attacks on the Armenian territory.” She indicated that the House of Representatives will also condemn Baku soon in a resolution already drafted by some of its pro-Armenian members.

“The US must halt all assistance to Azerbaijan – immediately and permanently,” one of those lawmakers, Adam Schiff, tweeted on September 13.

The House of Representatives already voted in July 2021 to block any aid that can be provided under Washington’s Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training programs. But it did not bar the US Department of Defense from continuing to transfer military equipment to Azerbaijan.

The administration of former President Donald Trump significantly increased the security aid to Baku, reportedly providing over $100 million worth of equipment and other assistance to Azerbaijan’s State Border Guard Service in 2018-2019 alone.

(Azatutyun, Armenpress and Politico contributed to this report.)

For the full texts of her statements and speeches concerning her Armenia trip, see here, here, here, here, here and here.

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