THE Armenian Christians of the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh face yet another threat to their existence. Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous and landlocked region in the South Caucasus. Its population is nearly 100 per cent Christian ethnic Armenian, members of the oldest Christian nation on earth (301 AD). They are surrounded by Azerbaijan which is 99.2 percent Muslim, with only one road connecting them to Armenia.
Armenians were the victims of genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turkey between 1915/16, with further massacres and ethnic cleansing of the Armenian survivors carried out by the Turkish nationalist movement after World War I. Today the Christian Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh face another possible genocide, at the hands of Azerbaijan and modern-day Turkey.
The present conflict began in 1988 during the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Karabakh Armenians demanded the transfer of Karabakh from Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia. This escalated into a full-scale war in the early 1990s which died down into a low-intensity conflict and erupted again in a four-day war in April 2016. This was followed by another full-scale war in 2020. Since the Russian-brokered agreement in November 2020 there have been ongoing border tensions.
Last Monday Azerbaijani agitators, citing environmental reasons and backed by the Azerbaijani army, blocked the Lachin Corridor, a mountainous road which is the only access Nagorno-Karabakh has to Armenia, provoking a humanitarian crisis. Nagorno-Karabakh’s gas supply has been cut off and fuel is strictly rationed.
Meanwhile Azerbaijan claims that the road is being blocked by Russian peacekeeping forces. Since 2020 Russian forces have stood between the opposing sides. Turkey has pledged to support Azerbaijan, while Russia is committed by treaty to defend Armenia in the face of military escalation. Wishing to maintain a role as mediator the Putin government has previously failed to support the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and has been severely criticised by the EU for allowing Azerbaijani aggression, and its failure to ensure security in Nagorno-Karabakh. With severe self-inflicted problems of their own, it is questionable how effective Russian forces will be.
The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the spiritual and administrative headquarters of the worldwide Armenian Church, and the centre of the faith of the Armenian nation, issued a statement: ‘These kind of provocative acts are directed to conducting ethnic cleansing which once again show Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian policy. This situation makes the reality indisputable that the safe life of Artsakh-Armenians within Azerbaijan is impossible.’
Turkey backs Azerbaijan unconditionally and has repeatedly refused to normalise and establish diplomatic relations with Armenia in solidarity with Azerbaijan over Karabakh. In order to establish diplomatic ties with Armenia Turkey is demanding preconditions before talks begin. The main precondition is that Armenia is not to mention the 1915/16 genocide where Armenians were forced on to death marches to ethnically cleanse Turkey of Armenian Christians.
At least 664,000 and possibly as many as 1.2million died during the genocide, either in massacres and individual killings, or from systematic ill-treatment, exposure and starvation on the death marches. Around 100,000 to 200,000 Armenian women and children were forcibly converted to Islam. Turkey still refuses to acknowlege the genocide. Turkey demands that Armenia takes steps to stop Diaspora-Armenians in their efforts to achieve the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Armenia must also force the Armenians of the region to accept Azerbaijan’s hegemony.
The Armenian administration’s 2021-2026 government programme says that just like before, Armenia is still ready to normalise relations with Turkey without preconditions. Turkey’s President Erdogan said that Turkey is willing to work in the direction of gradually normalising ties with Armenia based on ‘respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty’. At the same time, he said, ‘recent history should not be a source of hostility’.
With this new assault, the genocide process has moved for the first time since 1920 into the territory of the Republic of Armenia itself. If the confrontation continues to escalate, it could lead to the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh’s Armenians in their homelands.
The international community has influence in this situation. Azerbaijan receives more than $100million in military aid from the United States every year. Turkey is a member of Nato whose members are actively seeking to replace Russian energy imports with imports from Azerbaijan. Russia sells vast quantities of military hardware to Azerbaijan.
The United States, Nato, and the Russian Federation must suspend all security co-operation with Azerbaijan and to take all necessary restraining measures until this aggression ends. The rest of us can pray. The fate of part of the oldest Christian nation is endangered.