Editor’s Note — The following article was first published by The Alabama Baptist on Jan. 15 and is being reprinted with permission for Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day (April 24).
Desperation and a sense of deep sadness continue.
Since the Azerbaijani military launched air raids and artillery attacks Sept. 27 on the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, long-disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan, more than 150,000 Armenian refugees still find themselves seeking food, shelter and life’s necessities.
“The people of Armenia are still suffering because much land was lost,” said Don Parsons, ministry director to unreached people groups for Mission Eurasia. “In many cases people can’t go back to their homes. They have nothing to go back to.”
Some who are returning to the Nagorno-Karabakh region are discovering towns and cities with few resources.
“In some of the worst cases, people have lost their lives,” Parsons said. More than 5,000 soldiers and at least 143 civilians were killed in the conflict, he noted, citing a recent BBC report.
In November, following six weeks of hostilities, Russia brokered a peace deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The November ceasefire split Nagorno-Karabakh into two territories: one controlled by Azerbaijan, where the population is largely Muslim; the other controlled by ethnic Armenians where the population is largely Christian, Christianity Today reported.
“The cease-fire agreement is holding right now, but many are concerned it won’t be a long-lasting agreement,” Parsons said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down for talks in the Kremlin Jan. 11 with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Associated Press reported. Many Armenians opposed the peace deal, which brokered about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to the region, but the Armenian prime minister has defended the deal as a painful but necessary move to prevent Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to AP reports.
Christian heritage erased
The Armenians were the first to declare Christianity as their national religion in the year 301. Alongside the devastating toll of human life and personal loss, many Armenian Christians fear destruction of the ancient symbols of their Christian heritage, such as churches and monasteries, particularly in the area of Nagorno-Karabakh controlled by Azerbaijan, CT reported.
In the city of Shusha, home to one of the largest Armenian Orthodox churches in the world, the situation is “deteriorating every day, said Father Andreas Taadyan, rector of the cathedral there, as reported by Christian Headlines. “In particular, I am told they are destroying houses, Armenian shrines and our cultural heritage. I believe that if the situation continues like this, there will be no traces of Armenians left there.”
Taadyan has fled his church but is trying to help displaced families.
“We all hope that tomorrow will be better than today,” Taadyan said. “So we go on with our lives, hoping for better days. I think that God will not leave us alone; everything will be fine, eventually. At the moment we are surrounded by Azerbaijanis, so there is a physical danger for all of us, but everything is in God’s hands.”
Hope amid heartbreak
Parsons, who recently spent time in Armenia helping with relief efforts, recalls visiting “one home where multiple generations of refugees were living. When we entered, the place was quiet and sad, even with children there. Why? One of the men of the home, a young father and husband and son had been missing for more than two months. They fear the worst, but not knowing is devastating,” he said.
In another home, the head of the household wept as Parsons spoke with him. The man had lost his farm with 1,000 fruit trees, almost everything he had, because his territory is now under Azerbaijani control.
“Ethnic Armenians lost a lot of territory. Huge swaths of land, including homes and livelihoods, were taken away, and right now there appears to be little hope for them of getting it back,” Parsons said.
Even amid the devastation, Mission Eurasia, numerous churches and ministry partners have come together to offer hope to Armenian refugees, providing not only food and clothing but also prayer guides and portions of scripture.
“We were thankful to be able to help provide food and some needed relief for them, but especially to share the Word of God. Mission Eurasia’s desire of course in not just to provide food but to also share the Gospel of Christ with every home, with every refugee that we meet,” Parsons said.
He expects “there will still be many years of struggle for this little nation and region. They need our help both physically and spiritually.”
For more information visit https://missioneurasia.org/armenia-azerbaijan-war-response.
To hear more from the area, check out this special report interview by TAB Media, https://www.thealabamabaptist.org/podcast/special-report-crisis-in-armenia/.