On the morning of the 27th of September, Azerbaijan began an unprovoked military attack on Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory whose population is 90 percent Armenian and supported by Armenia. The attack brought Armenia and Azerbaijan into a state of war, with shelling threatening civilians in cities and towns in Nagorno-Karabakh. Reports state that since the instigation of the conflict around 500 people, including at least 60 civilians, have been killed.
Fighting has caused large-scale damage to civilian infrastructure in Nagorno-Karabakh and in urban areas in Azerbaijan. According to authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh, around 70,000-75,000 civilians (nearly half of the region’s population) have been displaced by the violence, including 90 percent of women and children. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with other humanitarian organizations, have called for a ceasefire to distribute humanitarian aid, which has largely been restricted by ongoing fighting. Despite a cease-fire negotiated last week for humanitarian purposes, fighting continues to intensify.
As it stands, this struggle is highly unbalanced. Azerbaijan receives military support from Turkey, which provides arms, assists in the training of Azeri forces, and has recruited mercenary soldiers from Syria to aid the Azeris. Azerbaijan is also a strategic ally of Israel, receiving the latest drone technology which it has deployed against Armenian forces. Though Armenia receives support from Russia, its status as a smaller country on the world stage renders it more vulnerable against Azerbaijan’s modernized military. The unbalanced nature of the conflict puts Armenia and the ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh at risk of domination by adversaries which, historically, called for their elimination.
The Armenian people have historically faced repeated and continuous genocide and ethnic cleansing and have been targeted for their faith. Our faith partners in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have suffered severe persecution, starvation, and the potential of genocide throughout their history, most recently in the 1990s. Now they face the threat of an expanding regional war against more powerful adversaries who continue to deny the fact of the Armenian genocide, and recently heightened their anti-Armenian rhetoric. Following the PC(USA) tradition of support for our Armenian siblings, we call on the U.S. to contribute to the effort for a diplomatic solution to this dispute.
Please contact your Representatives and urge them to support H.Res.1165 condemning Azerbaijan’s military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, denouncing Turkish interference in the conflict, and calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Also contact your Senators and express the urgency of a peaceful resolution respected by all parties.
Click here to read the Stated Clerk’s statement on the conflict and the responsibility of the United States to contribute to the efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Known as Artsakh to Armenians, Nagorno-Karabakh has a long legacy within the greater context of Armenian history. Armenians trace their connection to the territory to ancient times, with the borders of the ancient province of Artsakh established by the Kingdom of Armenia in 189 B.C. corresponding closely to the modern borders of the territory. The current conflict began in the 1920s, when Joseph Stalin made a unilateral illegal decision to incorporate Nagorno-Karabakh as an autonomous region under the administrative control of Soviet Azerbaijan. Right before this, the Armenian genocide was committed by the Ottoman government in what is now Turkey with an estimated 1.5 million Armenians killed during this period and over a million more refugees displaced to countries around the world. Indigenous Greek and Assyrian Christian communities also fell victim to this genocide.
The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was suppressed after the region fell under Soviet rule and was not revived until 1988 when the weakening Soviet Union left the region. Nagorno-Karabakh declared independence from the USSR in 1991, sparking a full-scale war with Azerbaijan. What preceded the declaration of independence were centrally-planned pogroms against the Armenian communities in Baku, Sumgait, and other cities. With the memory of genocide still fresh in people’s minds, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh declared their independence as means of remedial secession in order to defend their very physical existence in the face of widespread massacres perpetrated by Azerbaijan. The war, which lasted until May of 1994, killed tens of thousands and caused widespread destruction. In 1993, the PC(USA) General Assembly expressed the support of the denomination for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and condemned persecution of Armenians. Though a ceasefire was called, no treaty was signed, and the territorial dispute was left unresolved. This has led to violence flaring up multiple times in the recent decades, including the 4-Day War in 2016, a period of intense fighting that ended in another ceasefire agreement that was violated with the escalation of violence this year.
The PC(USA) highly values its partnership with the Church in Armenia, especially through the Jinishian Memorial Program, which was established in 1967. For decades, the PC(USA) has supported the program’s humanitarian relief efforts, community-based development, and peacebuilding in Armenia, Artsakh, Georgia and the Middle East.