By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
YEREVAN (Worthy News) – Besides Pope Francis, the United States is among those raising the alarm about clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan that killed as many as 200 people. On Sunday, the U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi lashed out at Azerbaijan while visiting Armenia’s capital Yerevan in remarks expected to fuel tensions.
She did not immediately address the clashes in two other regional nations, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where scores of people recently died in another border conflict.
Pelosi, the third in line to become America’s president, said she came to Armenia to express support for the mainly Christian nation of some three- million people. Her comments came after Pope Francis prayed for the victims earlier in the morning, appealing for dialogue and peace. He also asked everyone to continue praying for Ukraine and “all parts of the world bloodied by war.”
Leading a Congressional delegation, Pelosi condemned what she said were “illegal” border attacks by Muslim majority Azerbaijan on Armenia and pledged American support for its sovereignty.
“Our meeting again had particular importance to us because of the focus on security following the deadly and illegal attacks by Azerbaijan on the Armenian territory,” she said. “We strongly condemn those attacks, [meaning] our delegation on behalf of Congress. [The attacks] threaten prospects through a much-needed peace agreement,” Pelosi added.
Such a definitive apportioning of blame for the recent clashes that killed as many as 200 people goes beyond what the U.S. State Department has so far said in public.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concerns over the fighting and called for calm but did not assign blame. Russia, which earlier condemned Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, considers the Caucasus as its sphere of influence and bristles at what it claims is U.S. meddling in the region.
BEACON OF DEMOCRACY
However, Pelosi cast her trip to Armenia, a sliver of land the size of the U.S. state of Maryland sandwiched between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Iran, as an attempt to strengthen support for what she views as a beacon of “democracy.”
Crowds, many waving U.S. flags, welcomed here arriving motorcade shouting “USA! USA!”
Armenia has said that this week’s fighting began after several towns along the border had been shelled by neighboring Azerbaijan and that it had responded to the provocation.
Azerbaijan denied the allegations, saying its infrastructure came under attack without provocation.
Russia is a major military ally of both nations. It also has an army base in northern Armenia and peacekeepers along the contact line in the Nagorno-Karabakh region over which Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a war in 2020.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia had enough resources to mediate the conflict, despite focusing on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and losing battles there.
The latest fighting ended after a Russian-brokered ceasefire. But with Moscow now using valuable military resources in Ukraine, there is mounting concern that Russia will be unable to maintain a sense of stability in the volatile Caucasus much longer.
Two other regional nations, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, said Sunday the death toll from their border conflict had risen to 71 people. Their comments came as a fragile ceasefire held between the two Central Asian neighbors for a second day, and their mutual ally Russia urged a de-escalation.
The former Soviet republics clashed over a border dispute on September 14-16, accusing each other of using tanks, mortars, rocket artillery, and assault drones to attack outposts and nearby settlements.
Yet, concerns remain that such violence will also repeat between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with Pelosi expressing especially concern about Armenians, who she stressed already experienced genocide in the last century.
A visibly tearful Pelosi visited Tsitsernakaberd, the official memorial to the Armenian genocide victims in Yerevan, where she laid a bouquet of red flowers and appeared to say a prayer in front of the site’s Eternal Flame, before making the Catholic cross sign.
Last year U.S. President Joe Biden, backed by Congress, recognized the killings of Armenians occurring at the end of World War I as genocide. The atrocities happened during the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, modern Turkey’s predecessor.
Worried that the Christian Armenian population would align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials ordered mass deportations in what is viewed by experts as “the first genocide of the 20th century.”
Historians say about 1.5 million Armenians were killed, some in massacres by soldiers and the police, others in forced exodus to the Syrian desert that left them starving. Turkey denies that Armenians were victims of genocide.