It has been a volatile period of highs and lows in Armenia in the last week. What began as another horrific example of Azerbaijani barbarism with a unilateral attack on several eastern fronts ended with an American delegation led by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visiting this past weekend. The group included long-time advocates on Armenian issues Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier (of Armenian descent) and Armenian Caucus co-chair Frank Pallone. The official visit by Pelosi was the highest-ranking American government representative in the history of Armenia’s independence. In order to fully appreciate the significance of this itinerary, it is necessary for us to set aside our partisan American political views and our natural tendency toward cynicism. As Americans, we are living in an almost unprecedented political divide that has pre-judgment at an all-time high. Our opinions tend to line up with parties rather than the issues themselves. As a result, there are Armenian Americans who agree with the Speaker, and there are those who don’t. The vast majority of these opinions are based on internal domestic matters and are frankly irrelevant to the Speaker’s outreach to Armenia. As Armenians, we should be happy that a high-ranking American official took very definitive public positions in support of Armenia. We should focus on those values for Armenia. With years of disappointment by world powers, a cultural cynicism has emerged in our communities. We have almost purged the phrases “benefit of the doubt” or “good faith” from our thinking. Our expectations have been inflated with frustration so that in the absence of immediate quantum improvements, we lack faith. We must accept things at face value and judge actions on results. When the activity does not produce the desired results, we should double down with resolve rather than letting our cynicism create distance. I have heard community members say, “What can Pelosi do for Armenia?” or “She is just increasing her profile before the midterms.” Whether we refer to it as naivety or negativity, we should consider a more politically astute approach. Speaker Pelosi is the third most powerful politician in America after the President and Vice President. She has significant Constitutionally-based authority. Regardless of whether you support her or not, she is a very experienced and astute politician with important leverage.
Let’s keep one thing in mind. Speaker Pelosi did not have to go to Armenia. Armenia is important to us, but in the context of world issues, it is less significant. In our greedy world of self interest, Armenia has little to offer. Recently, Pelosi has increased her public profile on US foreign policy. Her courageous trip to Taiwan was an important message to China without creating excessive international drama. Her visit to Armenia continues work on the so-called “Biden doctrine,” which is focused on preserving democracies and human rights. It is naïve for us to think that Pelosi’s visit is without personal benefit. With the midterm elections approaching and the speaker’s continuity dependent on her party retaining a majority, focusing on foreign policy is a less divisive way to display leadership. That is okay. It’s called politics, and our interests should be in the benefit of Armenia. If the speaker gains additional advantages domestically from her foreign policy work, this is the power of incumbency in our system. It is why the parties work so diligently for control of the House or Senate. It enables control of the agenda and the narrative. Speaker Pelosi had a substantive and very public itinerary over her two-day visit. She was fully briefed on the Azeri crimes, met with civil society, addressed the country and received a firsthand view of the state of Armenian democracy in stark contrast to the rogue barbaric regime on the eastern border. The visit was unprecedented, but what follows is more important. Will this lead to a deeper involvement of the United States in the security of Armenia either directly or through the dormant OSCE Minsk process?
The geopolitical currents in the region are very dynamic. When the Armenians were attacked, they immediately applied to the Russian-led CSTO for military support based on the mutual defense pact. Instead of sending troops or equipment, the CSTO chose to send a fact-finding mission to collect information. The Secretary General of the CSTO Stanislav Zas is expected to arrive shortly with a delegation to gather information and report back to the organization. Aside from grossly disappointing Armenia, it has contributed to a widening void with Russia’s preoccupation in Ukraine. Russia is the power behind any move by the CSTO. Putin either does not feel he can extend himself militarily with the war of attrition in the Ukraine, or he believes the instability serves his interests. Either way, it makes a mockery of the Mutual Defense Pact and will only further estrange Armenia from Russia. If your very survival is at risk and they fail to honor the defense agreement with a fact-finding tour, doubts enter the thinking of the victim nation. The Russian intransigence has created a void which may be an opportunity for Armenia. The United States senses this opening, and clearly Pelosi’s visit is connected to this opportunity. The Russians and Europeans seem to be competing for the leadership of negotiating the Azeri/Armenia “peace” treaty with both Russian and European sponsored meetings. France was the leader behind scheduling two UN Security Council meetings on the Azeri aggression. It was just reported that Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in New York. The public results were modest. We should view these meetings as a chess move with the United States declaring its presence to both Russia and Azerbaijan. It is also a message to Turkey which is the control behind any move by Azerbaijan. The absence of Russian/Western relations due to the Ukrainian war has also complicated the situation with absence of the OSCE Minsk Group deliberations, but has also created new avenues for France and the United States. We should be cautiously encouraged by the assertion of the United States this past week. Armenia has responded positively to these parallel requests with enthusiasm, but it will be their responsibility to protect Armenia’s self interest and take advantage of these opportunities. This is no small task with an unpredictable wounded Russia.
The Russian attempt to unilaterally control the Armenia/Artsakh/Azeri process after the 2020 war by shutting out the other parties (France and US) has created an interesting new reality. The Pelosi visit should be viewed in the context of these overarching geo-political dynamics. It is in the interest of Armenia and Artsakh for Diasporan Armenians to understand these background maneuvers and put aside domestic partisan views. The flurry of activities in the aftermath of the current Azeri aggression is in stark contrast to the 2020 war when Armenia was isolated and completely dependent on Russia. Russia brokered a ceasefire during that time but also dictated the November agreement and allowed the war to continue until Shushi was captured. Defeat is one thing; humiliation is another.
Sanctioning the criminal aggressor would be the next step in Armenia’s expectation.
In the world of politics and global power competition, the smaller nations are always the vehicle for the manipulations. The war in Ukraine is a proxy war in that regard. For Armenia, as one door closes, another one opens. The next steps are the most critical. Will the United States presence in Armenia and the meeting in New York lead to cutting off aid to Azerbaijan under Section 907? This is the next logical step. The eyes of Armenians around the world, particularly in the United States, are focused on that decision. Sanctioning the criminal aggressor would be the next step in Armenia’s expectation. We would hope, in a best case scenario, that the active role of the western nations would motivate a more cooperative Russia. It is unlikely that the Azeri attacks could happen without some level of at least neutrality from Russia. Altering that position is essential to the security of Armenia. Iran has made it intimately clear to both Azerbaijan and Turkey that they will not tolerate any border or sovereignty violations within Armenia as it relates to Iran. These are all opportunities for Armenia. The world was ambivalent when Artsakh was brutally attacked because they could rationalize it given the unrecognized status of Artsakh. A poor excuse from a human rights and self-determination perspective, but nevertheless, was instrumental in their thinking. Russia refused to invoke the mutual defense pact because it covers Armenia and not Artsakh. There is a perception that Azerbaijan may have overextended itself diplomatically with the brazen attacks on the sovereignty of Armenia. The overt statements of support by France, the US and others are almost unprecedented. The diplomatic momentum that has been attained through Armenia’s misfortune must evolve into deterrent actions against Azerbaijan. This must be the immediate objective to protect Armenia’s security and improve our diplomatic position. Once again, we pray for the souls of our lost heroes and that they were not sacrificed in vain.