Last summer, Nancy Pelosi took a needlessly provocative trip to Taipei that threatened to upset the tense status quo across the Taiwan Strait. But the House speaker should be commended for visiting Armenia over the weekend to telegraph the American people’s solidarity with the world’s first Christian nation—and one of history’s true victim nations—as it comes under unjust assault by Azerbaijan.
Pelosi’s small congressional delegation arrived in Yerevan following last week’s Azeri incursion deep into Armenian territory, which killed more than 100, including many civilians, and caused thousands to flee their homes. Standing side-by-side with her Armenian counterpart, Alen Simonyan, Pelosi denounced the “illegal and deadly attacks by Azerbaijan on Armenian territory” and made clear that it was Baku that had aggressed once more against its neighbor.
Her message was in striking contrast to the Biden administration’s mealy-mouthed expressions of concern and both-sides-ism. Most American media, meanwhile, couldn’t be bothered to take much interest at all, since Ukraine is apparently the only international conflict that matters. Worst, Washington hawks and neoconservatives have been working double-time to amplify Azeri talking points about Armenia being a Russian and Iranian puppet.
The conflict traces back to the breakup of the USSR, which resulted in an overwhelmingly Christian enclave called Nagorno-Karabakh being caught on the wrong side of the post-Soviet border between the two countries. Armenian forces eventually took control of the enclave and its surrounding regions, and the conflict remained largely “frozen” until 2020, when a newly emboldened Baku under president-for-life Ilham Aliyev resolved to seize Karabakh.
This time around, the Azeris had the benefit of American and European support—the fruit of a lavishly funded lobbying effort launched years earlier. As Barbara Boland first reported for The American Conservative, Baku in 2019 alone spent $1.3 million to retain “not one, but six of K Street’s heavy-hitting firms, including the Livingston Group, Stellar Jay Communications, BGR, the Podesta Group, and DLA Piper.” Desperate for non-Russian natural gas, Europe warmed up to Baku, as well.
The framing took hold in the West: kleptocratic Aliyev is the good guy, while democratic Armenia is home to the pro-Russia, pro-Iran bad guys.
Azerbaijan, moreover, drew strength from a much more assertive Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which supplied it with materiel and Islamist recruits. Likewise Israel, seeing in Aliyev a useful cat’s paw against Tehran, helped out with drones that wreaked havoc on Armenian forces. After militarily humiliating the Armenians in Karabakh, the Azeris expelled Christians, leading to heartrending scenes of members of the world’s oldest Christian political community bidding farewell to their churches before being forced out. More recently, the Azeris collectively punished the Christians remaining in Karabakh by cutting off their gas.
The expulsions point to the deeper roots of this conflict: the fact that Armenia stands as a hindrance to Turkish dreams of territorial expansion and ethnically contiguous territory, the sort of animus that a century ago gave rise to the first modern genocide—indeed, to the very event that inspired the coinage “genocide.”
This is serious. American Christians, especially, should pay attention. Washington’s adoption of the Aliyev regime as a client once more puts the United States on the wrong side of the struggle to preserve Christianity in its historic heartlands. Earlier American missteps, not least the Iraq War, have already nearly erased some of the world’s oldest indigenous Christian populations. Now the same prospect menaces Armenia, the first nation to embrace Christianity, even before the Constantinian conversion led to the legalization of the faith in the Roman Empire.
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Azerbaijan’s apologists make hay of the fact that Armenia hosts a Russian base. Yet as Mark Movsesian noted in a Compact column Monday, Moscow is also very close to the Aliyev regime and has thus far declined to forcefully back Yerevan, despite earlier assurances. As for Armenia’s friendship with Iran, the ties transcend the current Islamic Republic, dating back to late antiquity (the ruling dynasty that Christianized Armenia was an offshoot of the Iranian Arsacids). In the event, the Islamic Republic cheered the Azeri conquest of Karabakh.
Besides: whom would we expect the Armenians to embrace, in a neighborhood otherwise mainly featuring Turks, the authors of an attempted genocide of their nation? What will it take for the United States to prioritize the safety and preservation of indigenous Christian communities in their historic homelands?
Unlike with Taiwan, there is no risk of a direct military confrontation involving the United States. All it would take to improve the situation in Armenia is for Washington to rein in one of its newfound satrapies and act with a little more fairness in the region. House Speaker Pelosi pointed the way.