Christian peace mission forced to leave blockaded Nagorno-Karabakh
A delegation from the World Council of Churches was pressed to abandon its planned visit to Nagorno-Karabakh, when the army of Azerbaijan struck a surprise attack on Tuesday.
Church leaders from the World Council were heading to Lachin Corridor, which is a crucial route for getting food and medical aid into Armenia.
Armenian officials reported that at least 32 people were killed, including seven civilians, and another 200 wounded. According to an opposing account of a separatist Armenian human rights official, at least 200 people were killed and more than 400 wounded.
Thousands of terrified Armenians, many with young children, gathered at the airport on Wednesday.
The territory has been at the hub of a protracted clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan with two violent wars since the break up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
After weeks of bloody disputes, the President of Azerbaijan declared that they had launched an “anti-terrorist operation” in Nagorno-Karabakh. Ilham Aliyev praised the heroism of Azerbaijan’s army right after Karabakh forces agreed to surrender. Soldiers demanded that Karabakh’s units raise a white flag and dissolve their “illegal regime”. Without support and after an effective nine-month blockade, the ethnic Armenians soon gave in.
Around 120,000 ethnic Armenians live in the South Caucasus enclave, which is recognised internationally as part of Azerbaijan.
Many Christians from Muslim backgrounds have been killed in the lengthy fighting, including church leaders. In Armenia, Orthodox and Protestant Christians have been killed, as have believers from Yezidi backgrounds. Several churches in the two countries were bombed and seriously damaged, including properties where two small house groups met.
One thousand six hundred historic Armenian Christian monuments, chapels and artefacts were destroyed, thus damaging the region’s Christian heritage.
Azerbaijan is mostly Muslim, whilst Armenia is majority Christian. There is intense hatred between the two nations, and Christians have been caught up in the middle of an intense bloodshed.