The U.S. Might Be the Surprising Determining Factor in the Future of Armenia

Few would be surprised to hear that the United States is involved in supporting a democratic nation that was recently invaded by its authoritarian neighbor. But many Americans are likely unaware that their country is doing so for two such post-Soviet nations: not just Ukraine, but also Armenia, which has been suffering from Azerbaijan’s invasion for almost three weeks now.

The two situations are not unrelated. A key factor behind the ongoing U.S. engagement in Armenia is Russia’s visible absence in a region that the latter considers its backyard. But the U.S. isn’t simply trying to push Russia out from the post-Soviet South Caucasus. Rather, Washington seems to have realized just how serious the threat is—not just for Armenia, but for the world.

In the early minutes of Sept. 13, as families across eastern Armenia slept, Azerbaijan launched the unprovoked shelling of three dozen Armenian towns with heavy artillery and unmanned combat drones. The two countries have been locked in off-and-on hostilities for decades over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh republic, but Azerbaijan’s regime now seems to take advantage of its rival’s military unpreparedness and global, especially Russian, distraction. Azerbaijan attempted to deny having attacked within Armenia’s borders, but the onslaught was so intense that NASA’s fire-management satellites detected massive thermal anomalies. In just two days, Azerbaijan’s forces killed over 200 Armenians, primarily soldiers, according to official government counts. Videos spread by the invaders appeared to show them giggling while mutilating fallen Armenian women, and executing Armenian soldiers who had surrendered.

Further details of the incursion came via Armenia-based journalists and officials alike. On Sept. 14, foreign journalists reported having come under Azerbaijani shelling in the Armenian town of Sotk, which is nowhere near military installations. The following day, at the United Nations Security Council emergency hearing, Armenia disclosed that, despite the prior day’s ceasefire, Azerbaijan is amassing additional troops, including in Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan’s exclave bordering southwest Armenia. This would open a second invasion front. On Sept. 23, Western embassies in Yerevan issued still-active “travel warnings” for southern Armenia and beyond, insinuating that they expected further attacks. Still, many media outlets across the world lack on-the-ground regional journalists, so the news from Armenia largely stayed off the mainstream radar.

It was not until U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Armenia the weekend of Sept. 17, in support of Armenian “security and democracy” against Azerbaijan’s “illegal and deadly attacks,” that it became fully clear that the U.S., in a dramatic transformation, is fully engaged, albeit probably only diplomatically, in preventing existential threats against Armenia.

Armenia's Head of the Parliament Alen Simonyan (R) and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (L) attend a joint press conference in the Parliament in Yerevan, Armenia, on Sept. 18, 2022. Karen Minasyan—AFP via Getty Images