Tensions mounted this week in Nagorno-Karabakh, a small, landlocked region between Armenia and Azerbaijan home to 120,000 ethnic and Christian Armenians.
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Azerbaijan said its forces undertook “antiterror measures” inside the region, though there’s much debate around the land dispute some fear could lead to genocide.
Russian peacekeepers reportedly negotiated a ceasefire a day after Azerbaijan launched the military operation, killing dozens and leaving persecution watchdogs and critics alarmed. Before the ceasefire, Christian Solidarity International (CSI), a human rights group, issued a statement decrying the military attack by the “dictatorship of Azerbaijan.”
“If Azerbaijan’s allies and commercial partners — the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, European Union, Israel, and Switzerland — do not act immediately to restrain it, there will be mass killings and other atrocities against the region’s civilian population,” Dr. John Eibner, president of CSI, said in a statement before the ceasefire was reached. “Genocide is imminent.”
Even after the ceasefire, thousands of ethnic Armenians have reportedly fearfully flooded the airport, with skepticism abounding about where the situation will go next. Joel Veldkamp, head of international communications for CSI, issued a statement to CBN Digital Wednesday morning expressing concern.
“For reasons of their own, the U.S., European Union, the United Kingdom, and Russia have decided to give tacit blessing to one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships to destroy one of the world’s oldest Christian communities,” he said. “It is still in their power to help Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh evacuate to safety. Otherwise, the events to come may go down in history alongside Srebrenica.”
Days before this week’s violence, Veldkamp took a trip to Armenia and visited the Lachin Corridor, the only roadway connecting Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijani protestors began blocking the road last December, effectively halting food, medicine, and essential transport. Veldkamp told CBN Digital the situation on the ground is dire.
“Three nights ago, I was at the entrance to the Lachin Corridor … and I could see for myself the Azerbaijani military checkpoint that’s not letting any traffic through,” he said. “There was nothing coming in for the people.”
A Desperate Situation
Veldkamp said humanitarian aid has been halted and unable to reach people desperately in need inside Nagorno-Karabakh for months.
“When we call our friends in Nagorno-Karabakh … they tell us they have no food,” Veldkamp said. “There’s been no flour, no bread in the entire region, as far as we know, and people are hungry. People are going hungry.”
Some reports indicated the Red Cross was about to bring some resources into the region earlier this week, though chaos and violence soon followed; it’s also unclear whether transport in or out has been restored, as uncertainty prevails.
Watch Veldkamp explain the genocide fears gripping Armenians:
Veldkamp said his conversations and experiences in the region in recent days were deeply troubling.
“It’s been very dark,” he said, noting how medical emergencies and the inability to get care for those trapped in Nagorno-Karabakh have left people in dangerous — and even life-threatening — situations.
“People are dying,” Veldkamp said. “We’ve had multiple cases of women who lost their babies at the point of delivery because there was no fuel for ambulances to take them to the hospital, and that’s the point that we’re at right now.”
He added, “There’s over 2,000 people who need surgeries who can’t get them. The Red Cross is able to bring a certain number of people out of Karabakh for treatment.”
Even among those who can potentially exit for remedy, Veldkamp said the threat of kidnapping holds them back. Watch Veldkamp explain more here.
Baroness Caroline Cox, a longtime member of the U.K.’s House of Lords, previously told CBN Digital about the region’s history and why she passionately advocates for those living there.
“Armenia was the first nation of the world to become Christian … back in 301 A.D.,” Cox said. “And the little land of Nagorno-Karabakh is part of Ancient Armenia, and Armenians have lived there for 1,700 years, and you get some of the oldest churches and stone crosses in the world in that little holy land.”
That history is threatened, according to Cox, who has been to the region some 90 times. She said the current conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has bred a “situation of tragedy and of conflict.”
After some of the latest skirmishes in 2020, Azerbaijan is now controlling a “significant proportion of the land” and, according to Cox, has reportedly destroyed “at least three churches.”
“We can’t prove that because we can’t go there to see,” the Crossbench Life peer, who has served in Parliament since 1983, added, expressing worry over the historical stone crosses and Christian monuments.
Watch Cox express her fears over the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh:
As CBN’s Faithwire has extensively reported, the most recent chaos in the region has roots going back to Dec. 12, 2022, when individuals identifying as Azerbaijani protestors reportedly blocked the Lachin Corridor.
“There’s a huge shortage of food and medicines inside … [and a] lot of suffering,” Cox said, mirroring Veldkamp while also noting Azerbaijan has “cut off electricity supply a lot of the time.”
The lack of heat and resources created problems with warmth and even farming, making it more difficult to grow food and resources. Cox expressed dismay over the months-long blockade, claiming it’s being done “with complete impunity” and without enough counterpressure from the international community.
“That blockade of the road can … be the beginning of another genocide of people just being starved to death,” Cox said. “No one has challenged or opened up that blockade to the road and, as said, is causing enormous suffering.”
Cox, who recently traveled to Armenia with Veldkamp, agreed the international community should call Azerbaijan “to account for the suffering it has already caused” through the blockade.
She also said food and resources should be made available to Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Cox concluded the interview by explaining how she believes Christians should be praying for the Armenians trapped in the region.
“When we visit our Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering so horrifically, we always ask them, ‘What’s your priority?'” she said. “And if I was one of them, I’d say, ‘Food for water’ … but their priority request is always for prayer, and that [is humbling].”
Cox continued, “Prayer needs to be informed prayer. So it is important that our wonderful friends in the United States do study a little bit what is actually happening in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh so the prayer can be informed prayer.”
At the Heart of the Crisis
Veldkamp said the roots of the dispute are “long and complicated,” explaining that “Azerbaijani national identity has been formed in opposition to Armenia.”
Fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh exacerbates that tumultuous relationship.
In a way, he said, both nations are making claims on the same land. He added that Armenia is a democracy, while Azerbaijan is “one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world.”
“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. 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, particularly in the ongoing power dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh.
A Nation Born Out of Genocide
It’s perhaps also important to go back further to understand the past 100 years of disorder in the area. One must begin with a tragic fact: 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 disarray.
“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.
Read more about the history behind the situation and Nagorno-Karabakh here.
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