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Pelosi, in Armenia, condemns Azerbaijan’s ‘illegal’ attacks as cease-fire holds

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks with Armenian National Assembly President Alen Simonyan on Saturday. (AP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in a visit to Armenia this weekend, accused Azerbaijan of “illegal and deadly” attacks that led to clashes along the border, saying “we strongly condemn those attacks.”

Pelosi traveled with a congressional delegation to Armenia, where a fragile cease-fire has temporarily halted border fighting with neighboring Azerbaijan that killed more than 200 soldiers in recent days. In Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, the delegation on Sunday met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, whom Pelosi described as “a valued partner in advancing security, prosperity and democracy in the Caucasus region.”

Pelosi said the trip had been planned before deadly clashes erupted Sept. 12 along the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia near the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in a flare-up of a decades-long conflict, as Azerbaijan may have been trying to take advantage of Russia’s preoccupation with its invasion of Ukraine. Armenia is a close ally of Russia, while Azerbaijan is aligned with Turkey.

Military officials in Azerbaijan acknowledged the strikes but accused Armenia of a “wide-scale provocation,” planting mines near border facilities and shelling Azerbaijani positions earlier on Monday. Armenia called these allegations “an absolute lie” and blamed Baku for the renewed hostilities.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Sunday, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“Secretary Blinken welcomed a halt to recent hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Price said in a statement. “He urged President Aliyev to adhere to the ceasefire, disengage military forces, and work to resolve all outstanding issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan through peaceful negotiations.”

At a joint news conference Sunday with Armenian National Assembly President Alen Simonyan, Pelosi said it was clear the attacks were initiated by Azerbaijan and must stop, and that the United States should use its influence and leverage to show support for Armenia.

“The immediate response from the United States was to stop the violence and to have a cease-fire,” Pelosi said. “Our delegation had been very outspoken, saying that this was initiated by Azeris and that there has to be recognition of that and how that will stop.”

Pelosi said President Biden was a strong supporter of Armenia, and vowed the two countries would “work together on what the next steps may be” to address the flare up of violence.

“The democracy in Armenia is a value to the world, a joy to the world,” Pelosi said. “We have to enlarge the issue though … What does security in Armenia mean to regional and global security? What does democracy in Armenia mean to end the fight between democracy and autocracy which is going on in the world now? In both cases, it means a great deal.”

Pelosi’s office said she is the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Armenia since the country’s independence in 1991 from the former Soviet Union.

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Other members of the U.S. delegation include Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Jackie Speier (D.-Calif.), who is of Armenian descent, and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), who is of Armenian Assyrian descent.

The period leading up to the visit has been marked by days of heavy fighting that represent the largest outbreak of hostilities since a full-scale war in 2020, in which Azerbaijan recaptured territories that Armenia had occupied for decades. The six-week war ended with military victory for Azerbaijan and a fragile Moscow-backed truce, in which Armenia surrendered large swaths of territory.

The Southern Caucasus region has long been a source of diplomatic sensitivities for the United States. But after lobbying by members of Congress and Armenian Americans, Biden last year formally recognized a massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century as a genocide, a term that the United States had long avoided for fear of harming its relationship with Turkey. Historians estimate that 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a campaign of forced marches and mass killings during World War I.

Pelosi invoked those deaths in the context of the continuing war in Ukraine. “It is the moral duty of all to never forget: an obligation that has taken on heightened urgency as atrocities are perpetrated around the globe, including by Russia against Ukraine,” Pelosi said in a statement ahead of her trip.

Mary Ilyushina contributed to this report.