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Symbolic Armenian Church Shelled in Clashes with Azerbaijan

Ghazanchetsots (Holy Saviour) Cathedral in the city of Shusha

… The Armenian Foreign Ministry denounced the shelling as a “monstrous crime and a challenge to the civilized humankind,” warning Azerbaijan that targeting religious sites amounts to a war crime.

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry denied attacking the cathedral, saying its army “doesn’t target historical, cultural and, especially, religious buildings and monuments.”

A priest at the cathedral, who identified himself only as Father Andreas, expressed anguish over the attack.

“I feel the pain that the walls of our beautiful cathedral are destroyed,” he said. “I feel the pain that today the world does not react to what’s happening here and that our boys are dying defending our Motherland.”

Built in 1888, the cathedral suffered significant damage during ethnic violence in 1920. It was restored after fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in the 1990s and is the Armenian Apostolic Church’s diocesan headquarters in Nagorno-Karabakh, which it calls the Republic of Artsakh.

Standing 115 feet tall, it is understood to be one of the largest Armenian churches in the world.

“They are bombarding our spiritual values,” Artsakh Archbishop Pargev Martirosyan told ArmenPress, equating the incident with ISIS terrorism, “when we are restoring and preserving mosques.”

Located in Shusha, the cathedral is located far from the “line of contact” [about 25 miles] separating the two militaries.

It is also the site of Armenian-rebuilt mosques, with a special place in Azerbaijani history.

“Religion is an important element, but not the only element,” said Mark Movsesian, co-director of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University Law School, during a Philos Project webinar briefing today. “But [this shelling] is hard to interpret except as…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on October 9, 2020. I contributed additional reporting to the AP. Please click here to read the full text.

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Armenians Fight to Hold Ancient Homeland Within Azerbaijan

Fierce fighting has broken out in the Caucasus mountains between the Caspian and Black seas, pitting Christian Armenians versus Muslim Azeris.

But is it right to employ their religious labels?

“Early Sunday morning [Sept. 27], I received a phone call from our representative in the capital city,” said Harout Nercessian, the Armenia representative for the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA).

“He said they are bombing Stepanakert. It is a war.”

One week later, the fighting continues. At stake is control over the Armenian-majority enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, home to 170,000 people in a Delaware-sized mountainous region within Azerbaijan.

More than 200 people have reportedly died, though Azerbaijan has not released its number of casualties.

Administered by ethnic Armenians ever since a ceasefire was declared in 1994, locals call the region the Republic of Artsakh. Military skirmishes have not been unusual. There have been more than 300 incidents since 2015, according to the International Crisis Group.

This escalation is the most serious since 2016, with Azerbaijani forces attacking multiple positions along the 120-mile “line of contact.”

But the shelling of civilian cities represents a worrisome development.

As does the role of Turkey—and the Syrian militants it allegedly recruited—which has pledged full support for Azerbaijan.

Russia, France, and the United States—partners in the “Minsk Group” which has overseen negotiations between the two nations since 1992—have called for an immediate ceasefire. But Turkey has encouraged Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev’s refusal, conditioning a ceasefire on…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 6, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

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Asia Lapido Media Published Articles

An ‘Arab Spring’ Moment in India

P.V. Rajagopal

This blog does not venture outside the Arab world very often, but today I will share a story I helped edit for Lapido Media. Sunny Peter is the author and reports on an ‘Arab Spring / Occupy Wall Street’ moment from India.

Of course, India is the originator of much non-violent theory and practice, and has much to teach the above mentioned imitators.

The story that follows is especially informative. Some of the Arab Spring has turned violent. The Occupy movement seemed like a party. Both relied simply on filling up a space and waiting.

By contrast, this India achievement is much more proactive. It starts as a march, requiring substantial effort on the part of protestors. Then, as a march, it takes time. Not only does this maximize media attention, it leaves room for negotiation.

Please enjoy the story that follows, and click here for the original article on Lapido.

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Recalling the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, 50,000 mostly lower-caste Indians marched over 120 kilometers to secure a comprehensive government agreement on land reform. A ten point document in lieu of a promised National Land Reform Act was signed by India’s Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh and movement leader P.V. Rajagopal in the presence of cheering protestors.

Rajagopal is the founder and president of Ekta Parishad, a non-violent social movement working for land and forest rights. Several hundred other Indian and international community-based groups, civil rights organizations, NGOs, and aid organizations also supported the march.

It was a struggle ‘for dignity, security, and identity’, according to Rajagopal in an Ekta Parishad press release.

The connection to Gandhi was deliberate. The march began on October 2, Gandhi’s birthday, which is also the International Day of Non-Violence.

Imitating Gandhi’s 1930 Salt March to the Sea, Rajagopal assembled landless, lower caste Dalits and tribal Indians from throughout the country in the city of Gawlior, 350 kilometers south of New Delhi. By October 28 over 100,000 protestors were expected to present their demands in the capital city.

Dalits are traditionally regarded as untouchables within a largely Hindu social structure in India. Although a majority of them are Hindus, in several provinces they have converted to Buddhism or other religions.

Recently, several smaller civil anti-corruption movements have disrupted New Delhi and other cities. Not wanting to see another mass descent on the capital, the Indian government began negotiations even before the march commenced.

The agreement was signed along route in Agra, over 200 kilometers away. As the crowd celebrated and dispersed, the government bought itself a six month window for implementation.

Jan Satygraha: Non-Violent Protestors

‘The deprived people are often silent spectators to their own misery,’ stated Rajagopal in a movement blog. ‘They often need someone to help them voice their concerns and fight for their rights.’

In rural India land is both a means of economic sustenance and a denominator for citizenship. A lack of property deeds is a cause of poverty, often preventing citizens from obtaining insurance for crops, loans from banks, and access to other government services.

Though few would dispute the need for a better system, even government statistics do not present uniform data for analysis. The 2009 Report by the Committee on State Agrarian Relations and the Unfinished Task in Land Reforms is a prime example.

The report quotes surveys from different government studies, including the 1997 Draft Plan Paper. It establishes 77 percent of Dalits and 90 percent of the indigenous tribes are either de jure or de facto landless.

Despite its internal contradictions, however, the report reveals the appalling social gap inherent in rural India’s entrenched feudal hierarchy.  Large landowners invariably belong to the upper castes, while cultivators belong to the middle castes. As for lower caste agricultural workers, they found representation in the march.

Without land title, Dalits and others are subject to exploitation. Once uprooted from their homestead, many move to the slum pockets of urban centers as unskilled laborers.

Some take to violence and join armed rebel movements. In 2006 Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh called such insurgencies the ‘single biggest internal security challenge ever faced’.

These challenges and statistics belie the fact that India’s socialist-leaning policies are enshrined in the constitution, which guarantees indigenous people the right to own the land they live on. Yet according to a 2001 report from the Indian Rural Development Ministry, only 1.3 percent of arable land has been redistributed.

Past pressures on the government have not succeeded in enacting reform. Rajagopal’s October 2 march follows up on earlier non-violent protests organized by Ekta Parishad.

Dalit March

A 2007 march consisting of 25,000 people also marched 350 kilometers to highlight the plight of landless Dalits. They disbanded following a government promise to study the issue. Two different committees submitted reports to the National Land Reform Council in 2009, but it never met to examine the recommendations.

This time, government signatory Ramesh assured his personal support for the demands, though he cautioned not everything could be implemented. Still, the promise of a national land reform policy within six months is a significant improvement. An Ekta Parishad press release states this could assure land title for up to 2.5 million people.

An extra 75,000 protestors makes a difference. It also reflects the philosophy of Rajagopal.

‘A country like India where problems are so many will demand larger mobilization to bring about basic change,’ he states on Ekta Parishad’s website.

‘We are trying to address change at the social and economic level. We are also interested in strengthening a process of participatory democracy and responsible governance.’

Responsible government is best assured through transparent institutions, but Rajagopal is prepared to continue the mobilization as necessary.

‘If nothing happens in six months we will assemble here in Agra and march to Delhi,’ he stated to the Indian press.

Considering the abysmal record of land reform over 65 years of independence, it remains to be seen how much the government can accomplish in six months.

If not, Agra is just a hiatus in a long struggle.

All photos courtesy of Ekta Parishad

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