By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives 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.
Nancy Pelosi spoke on September 18, a day after arriving in the country. She is the highest-ranking U.S. 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 Simonian, the speaker of Armenia’s parliament, told the news conference.
“The unsubstantiated and unfair accusations leveled by Pelosi against Azerbaijan are unacceptable,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “This is a serious blow to the efforts to normalize relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
“Such unilateral steps and baseless statements serve not to strengthen the fragile peace in the region, but to increase tensions,” the ministry said.
Later, the U.S. State Department said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and urged him “to adhere to the cease-fire, disengage military forces, and work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations.”
The Azerbaijani press service said that “the sides stressed the importance of strengthening the cease-fire, ensuring lasting peace and stability, and normalizing Armenian-Azerbaijani relations, including continuing talks on a peace treaty and opening transport corridors.” It said the U.S. side initiated the call.
Earlier, ahead of meetings with President Nikol Pashinian, Pelosi laid flowers at a Yerevan hilltop monument honoring the nearly 1.5 million Armenians who died during World War I in a campaign of orchestrated violence by Ottoman Turks.
U.S. President Joe Biden also formally declared the killings to be genocide in April 2021.
“From the United States to Ukraine, Taiwan, Armenia, the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy, and we must choose democracy again,” Pelosi said in a post to Twitter on the eve of her arrival.
The remarks were a reference to other high-profile trips she has made in recent months. In May, she traveled to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy amid his country’s ongoing war with Russia.
And last month, she traveled to Taiwan, a trip that was angrily denounced by China, which sees the island nation as a renegade province and has vowed to reunite it with mainland China.
Pelosi is from California, which is home to one of the largest ethnic Armenian communities in the United States. She was accompanied on her trip by Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo, both California representatives who have Armenian heritage and who face reelection in November, and Representative Frank Pallone (Democrat-New Jersey).
The delegation’s trip comes days after the worst violence in two years between Armenia and Azerbaijan, fighting that left more than 200 dead on both sides.
Since before the Soviet breakup, the two sides have fought over a mountain region called Nagorno-Karabakh. Ethnic Armenian forces gained control of it in 1994. In 2020, however, Azerbaijan, which has spent years building up its armed forces, pushed Armenian forces out of much of the region and surrounding districts.
In the latest spasm of violence, the two countries traded artillery and mortars across their shared border, and Azerbaijani forces targeted sites within the borders of Armenia itself.
Russia, which maintains ties with both countries, brokered a cease-fire not long after the fighting erupted, but clashes continued.