“One of the world’s oldest Christian communities has been destroyed”

In September 2023, Azerbaijan and Turkey achieved a goal they had been pursuing together for over a century – the destruction of the millennia-old Armenian Christian community of Nagorno Karabakh (or Artsakh), writes Joel Veldkamp.
The Davidank monastery

Nagorno Karabakh is home to some of the world’s oldest churches. csi 

For nine months, Azerbaijan laid siege to Nagorno Karabakh, by blocking the only road that linked the territory to the Republic of Armenia.

Under the blockade, hunger soared, thousands of people were denied medical care, and many pregnant women lost their babies. The lack of fuel made it impossible to transport food from village gardens to the city, or to bring sick people to the hospital. Azerbaijani snipers fired on Armenian farmers trying to grow food.

By mid-September, there was no flour for bread left in the entire country.

All-out attack

On September 19, Azerbaijan launched an all-out attack on Nagorno Karabakh. They bombed civilian areas and used illegal cluster bombs. 50,000 people – nearly half the population – were driven out of their homes. In the capital city of Stepanakert, they sought shelter in basements and churches. Many more slept in the open air.

A woman named Sofik, from the village of Sarnaghbyur, said that when the attack began, she tried to gather the children from her village under a group of trees so that they could move as a group to safety. Then Azerbaijani forces bombed the trees. Many children were killed and wounded.

On September 20, the Armenian leaders in Karabakh accepted a ceasefire, under which they would agree to give up their weapons and negotiate on “reintegration” into Azerbaijan.

But Azerbaijani attacks continued for at least another day, and Azerbaijani troops occupied all the main roads in Karabakh, meaning that people in outlying villages were cut off from the rest of the territory. Many wounded people died because they could not be evacuated.

Deportations begin

On September 24, the Russians began deporting the entire Armenian population of Nagorno Karabakh to Armenia. CSI’s project partner, Vardan Tadevosyan, told us that in the capital city of Stepanakert, everyone was looking for five liters of fuel to make the drive to Armenia.

With this war, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world has been destroyed. Many of the world’s oldest churches are now in danger of being desecrated or demolished.

Emergency aid

CSI’s commitment to the Armenian people – the first Christian nation – is ongoing. We have rushed aid to southern Armenia to meet the influx of 120,000 refugees from Nagorno Karabakh. Their road to resettlement will be long and difficult. We are working with partners in Armenia to meet these needs.

We are also in discussions with Vardan Tadevosyan to reestablish the Caroline Cox Rehabilitation Centre inside Armenia. For over 20 years, the Centre provided state-of-the-art care in Karabakh to people with disabilities and wounds from the wars in 1988-1994, 2016, and 2020. God willing, that work will continue.

The threat to the Armenian people is not over. The Armenian Genocide has been proceeding in phases since 1894. The ideologies of Islamic supremacy and pan-Turkic nationalism seem to demand the destruction of this stubbornly free Christian people in their midst. Already, Turkey and Azerbaijan are making threatening moves towards southern Armenia, and Azerbaijani state propaganda has declared most or all of the Republic of Armenia to be “Western Azerbaijan,” to which “we must return.”

The essential work of Christian solidarity continues.

Joel Veldkamp

Thousands of Armenians are fleeing Nagorno Karabakh by car. photo: Gabriel Gavin