Armenian Christians have been calling for help. As their ethnic kin in the Caucasus enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh approach two full months under a near-complete blockade imposed by alleged eco-activists from Azerbaijan, the voices have amplified.
“Everyone knows this is the Aliyev regime,” stated Biayna Sukhudyan, a pediatric neurologist trapped inside the Delaware-sized mountainous region, which Armenians call Artsakh. “There is no time to wait and allow the next genocide, because this is genocide.”
The doctor referred to Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev, and several investigations have linked the protesters to his government. When the blockade began on December 12, official statements attributed the long-haul demonstration to illegal gold and copper mining on their still-occupied but internationally recognized sovereign territory.
In 2020, Azerbaijan launched a 44-day war to retake a region under three decades of de facto control by ethnic Armenians. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Artsakh declared itself an independent state, and with Armenian military assistance was able to hold Nagorno-Karabakh and additional Azeri territories—pending peace negotiations.
A vastly improved Azerbaijani force, aided by drone technology from Turkey, recaptured three-quarters of the land through bloody combat. Russia mediated a ceasefire, and its peacekeepers guard the Lachin corridor—the one road connecting over 100,000 beleaguered Artsakh residents with Armenia and delivering the 400 tons of daily food and medicine that supply their needs.
Since the end of the war, Sukhudyan has traveled every two months to Nagorno-Karabakh, which lacked specialist doctors. This time, amid acute shortages in the market, she was compelled to stay.
Others, including children, are prevented from returning.
“I came to Yerevan for eye surgery,” stated 13-year-old Maral Apelian, who lives in Artsakh, last month. “All I want is to go back to my family at home.
“Let my people go,” she shouted, recalling Moses. “Let my people go!”
The cry was taken up immediately by Armenian hierarchs.
“Artsakh Armenians [are] in front of a humanitarian disaster,” stated Catholicos Karekin II, supreme patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic church, on day three of the blockade. “Such provocative actions are aimed at ethnic cleansing.”
One day later, his ecclesial colleague in Lebanon invoked the crucial label.
“We are witnessing deliberate and concrete steps toward the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Armenian population of Artsakh,” stated Catholicos Aram I, whose Holy See of Cilicia represents survivors in the Levant who fled the original Armenian Genocide in Turkey. “The need for immediate humanitarian action is critical.”
Karekin also stated he was reaching out to ecumenical colleagues.
Pope Francis led a prayer for Nagorno-Karabakh on December 18. A consortium of advocacy organizations issued a genocide warning the next day, arguing that all 14 of the United Nations risk factors were present.
Mainline leaders responded next. Without repeating the severe term of warning, a joint statement by the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches demonstrated their active sympathy.
“This follows a clear pattern of behavior by Azerbaijan that contradicts any claims of goodwill,” they wrote on December 20. “In these circumstances, Armenian fears of renewed genocide against them cannot be discounted.”
A day later, the National Council of Churches framed it in religious terms.
“In a season where we celebrate the birth of Jesus in a cold stable,” it stated,” it is particularly horrific that civilians are being cut off in the middle of winter.”
One month later, many are increasingly sounding the alarm. On January 13…
This article was originally published by Christianity Today, on February 3, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.