Much of the international media attention these days is on Russia and, in particular, Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
But another diabolical situation has been heating up between two former Soviet nations. In fact, a disturbing new chapter unfolded last month amid the ongoing tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
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Joel Veldkamp, head of international communications at persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity International (CSI), told CBN’s Faithwire about the Sept. 13 event, its implications, and the complex history between the two nations.
The Troubling Attack
Veldkamp previously told CBN he was concerned about an Azerbaijani invasion of Nagorno-Karabakh, a small, landlocked and disputed region between the two nations.
What unfolded last month, though, was far more pervasive and troubling.
“What was really shocking about this attack was that Azerbaijan was attacking the sovereign internationally recognized nation of Armenia itself,” he said. “For 48 hours straight, bombs fell on the country without stopping. … Seven thousand people fled for their lives, hundreds of soldiers were killed, and we just didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Horrific videos spread on social media surrounding the attacks, with one clip allegedly showing Azerbaijani soldiers “desecrating the dead body of an Armenian woman soldier,” Veldkamp said.
Considering the strength of Azerbaijan in comparison to the more meager condition of Armenian resources, Veldkamp and others feared Armenia could have been entirely conquered by Azerbaijan.
“It was a really terrifying moment,” he said. “After 48 hours, a ceasefire was imposed apparently with the mediation of the United States, but the situation remains extremely tense.”
Watch Veldkamp explain:
The Associated Press reported both sides of the dispute were blaming one another for the chaos:
The fighting erupted minutes after midnight with Azerbaijani forces unleashing an artillery barrage and drone attacks in many sections of Armenian territory, according to Armenia’s Defense Ministry. It said shelling grew less intense during the day but Azerbaijani troops were trying to advance into Armenian territory.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said it was responding to a “large-scale provocation” by Armenia late Monday and early Tuesday. It said Armenian troops planted mines and fired on Azerbaijani military positions.
But Veldkamp said the events — and the deeper history — are unambiguous.
Why Did Azerbaijan and Armenia Clash?
Veldkamp said the roots of the dispute are “long and complicated,” explaining that “Azerbaijani national identity has been formed in opposition to Armenia.”
In a way, he said, both nations are making claims on the same land. Additionally, Armenia is a democracy, while Azerbaijan is “one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world,” he argued.
“Dictators tend to look for enemies [to] rally the people around,” Veldkamp said. “So, under the current government, Azerbaijan has really made hatred of Armenians into a unifying national ideology.”
He said there are museums in Azerbaijan that show Armenians with large noses and strange features, as well as “state propaganda” making it appear as though Armenians are harming Azerbaijanis.
Veldkamp said the impact of this campaign creates violence when Azerbaijanis encounter people from Armenia, as purportedly evidenced by the aforementioned video of the female soldier.
Beyond these elements, Russia’s fledgling efforts in Ukraine are one of the other reasons he and others believe Azerbaijan is now intensifying assaults on Armenia.
“Traditionally, Russia has been the only power that can really restrain Azerbaijan and Turkey in the region,” Veldkamp said. “But now, Russia’s tied down.”
Those distractions might be sparking Azerbaijan’s efforts in the territory, especially as the two grapple over Nagorno-Karabakh.
A Nation Born Out of Genocide
The implications of this event are important to explore — but so is the history. After all, Armenia is very much a nation born out of genocide.
The Armenian Genocide unfolded during World War I and led to Turkey killing 1.5 million Armenians. Turkey, which has historically denied this genocide occurred, has been accused of helping Azerbaijan in the current conflict, adding extra layers to the chaos.
“Before World War I, the country that we know of as Turkey today was controlled by the last Islamic empire. It was called the Ottoman Empire,” Veldkamp explained. “About a fifth of the population was Christian and most of them were Armenians, but when World War I started, the rulers of the Ottoman Empire decided that these Christians were a security threat and they decided to liquidate them.”
Starting in 1915, more than a million Armenians were slaughtered, with many more forced from their homes or deported.
“The vast majority of what Armenians would consider to be their homeland was lost to them forever and all they were able to hold on to was this tiny little sliver of land that we know of today as the republic of Armenia,” Veldkamp said. “[It] has Turkey on one side of it and on the other side of it [is] Azerbaijan.”
But that wasn’t the end of Armenia’s plight. After the genocide, the Soviet Union conquered Armenia and forced the nation into its borders. This, too, led to pain, suffering, and persecution.
“For 70 years, Christians were severely persecuted, churches were closed, priests were sent to the gulag, and the country suffered just a great deal under Russian rule,” Veldkamp said.
In 1991, Armenia once again became free, though current struggles persist.
Why Does It Matter?
Veldkamp said the Armenian chaos is an interesting dynamic in which the interests of the United States and Christians collide and overlap.
“As believers, we should look at Armenia and say, ‘This is the oldest Christian country in the world.’ This is a country that’s held on to Christianity through genocide, through Soviet Communism, through the gulags, and they’re hanging on to life,” he said. “They have some of the oldest Christian traditions in the world, and they need our help.”
From a geopolitical perspective, Veldkamp said, the U.S. is always looking to diminish Russia’s influence in the region. Considering America already gives military aid to Azerbaijan, the U.S. is essentially already involved in the crisis. This is why America has been concerned, trying to bring the two sides together.
“These are really crucial weeks and months ahead,” Veldkamp said.
As Faithwire reported in early September, tensions were already flaring before the Sept. 13 attack over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The area — mainly inhabited by Armenian Christians — has been at the center of clashes between the two former Soviet countries.
“It’s kind of on this land bridge between Iran, Turkey, and Russia,” Veldkamp said in a previous interview. “[It’s] a very complicated part of the world.”
The Soviets first established the region in the 1920s, according to The Washington Post.
Decades later, in 1988, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, who are 95% ethnically Armenian, reportedly decided to become part of Armenia, considering they shared a common language and religion.
“In 1988, the Nagorno-Karabakh legislature passed a resolution to join Armenia despite the region’s legal location within Azerbaijan’s borders,” the Council on Foreign Relations wrote. “As the Soviet Union was dissolving in 1991, the autonomous region officially declared independence.”
This attempt at leaving the Soviet nation of Azerbaijan for Armenia, then another Soviet country, sparked decades of conflict and anger. According to Veldkamp, Azerbaijan has been “trying to wipe these people out essentially,” with deadly clashes leading to monumental losses.
Read more about the complex history surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh here.
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