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The Siege of Nagorno Karabakh

“People are going to start dying soon.”

Vardan Tadevosyan’s face on my computer screen is filled with worry, as he speaks to me from his office in Nagorno Karabakh. For the past eight months, he and 120,000 other Armenian Christians have been trapped there, under a siege orchestrated by the dictatorship of Azerbaijan.

With the help of Vardan and other friends, my colleagues and I at Christian Solidarity International have been monitoring this siege closely since it began. Today, the situation is grim: the miscarriage rate in Nagorno Karabakh has tripled under the blockade. 90% of pregnant women in the region have anemia. Nearly 2,000 people have foregone necessary surgeries because of a lack of medicines. There is virtually no gasoline left in the region. There is, at most, a few weeks of food left.

During Soviet communist rule, not a single church was left open in Karabakh.

Armenians have lived in Nagorno Karabakh for more than two thousand years. The Kingdom of Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion in the fourth century, and over 90% of Armenians identify as Christians.

Over the past 150 years, the Armenians have suffered greatly for their Christian identity. In the Armenian Genocide, the Ottoman Empire murdered over a million Armenians. Shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union conquered Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno Karabakh. The Soviets separated Karabakh from Armenia and put it inside Azerbaijan. During Soviet communist rule, not a single church was left open in Karabakh. But the Soviets couldn’t kill Christianity completely.

As the Soviet Union began to split up in the late 1980s, Armenian Christians in Karabakh began a movement for independence. Azerbaijan responded by launching a war against the region and bombarding its capital, Stepanakert. But with help from the Republic of Armenia next door, the Armenians of Karabakh fended off Azerbaijan and set up their own republic, the Republic of Artsakh.

In 2020, Azerbaijan attacked again. This time, they defeated the Armenians in 44 days of brutal warfare, using drones, cluster bombs, and jihadists brought from Syria by their ally Turkey. Before the Armenians could be completely overrun, Russia imposed a ceasefire. Karabakh’s Armenians were left with a single road connecting them to Armenia, and from there, to the rest of the world.  

Azerbaijan’s dictator, Ilham Aliyev, refers to Armenians as “dogs,” “rats,” and “humanoid creatures”

On December 12, Azerbaijan blocked that road. Ever since, Karabakh has been spiraling into a humanitarian catastrophe.

The Armenians have little doubt about the fate that awaits them if Azerbaijan succeeds in taking over Karabakh. In the last few years, Azerbaijani forces have repeatedly tortured, raped, murdered and dismembered Armenian soldiers and civilians who fall into their hands. We know this because they made videos of themselves doing it, and uploaded them to the internet for the world to see. 

Azerbaijan has systematically erased every trace of Armenian history in territory under its control. Azerbaijan’s dictator, Ilham Aliyev, refers to Armenians as “dogs,” “rats,” and “humanoid creatures” and has pledged to “drive them out of our lands.” The potential for a second Armenian genocide is very real.

Significantly, Aliyev now claims that not only Karabakh, but all of the Republic of Armenia is Azerbaijani land. In September 2022, he launched a massive two-day war against Armenia itself. If Karabakh falls, Armenia may be next.

In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote that all Christians, no matter where they live, constitute “one body.” 

When I tell fellow Christians about this siege, the reaction I get most often is bewilderment. “How,” they ask me, “have we not heard about this before?”

I don’t understand either. The decline of traditional media has led to poor reporting on many conflicts around the world. For its part, the U.S. government has a warm relationship with Azerbaijan, which is a major energy supplier. Still, the near complete blackout is hard to understand.

But rather than blaming the media and the government, this crisis should provoke introspection among Western Christians. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote that all Christians, no matter where they live, constitute “one body.” 

How is it that we have become so alienated from the Armenian church – one of the oldest and most venerable parts of the Body of Christ – that most of us don’t even know this is happening? Why should we have to depend on the media or on the government to find out about matters of concern to the Body?

As we seek to follow our Savior’s call to do justice in this world, we should be mindful of the tools He left with us to do so. Our relationship with Christians in other parts of the world is one of the most important – especially when it comes to resisting the messaging that comes from the powers of the world.

In the meantime, please say a prayer for the besieged Christians of Nagorno Karabakh, and for the war-weary people of Azerbaijan. And if you’re a U.S. citizen, please call your congressperson and ask them to support H.R. 320. In Canada, you can contact Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly and ask her to take action for Karabakh.

Picture courtesy of Christian Solidarity International.  Nagorno Karabakh, home to 120,000 Armenian Christians, has been under siege since December 12.


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