Thousands of people have been affected by the military offensive launched by Azerbaijan last week on the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, including Christians on both sides. Please pray for God’s hand on this situation and for an end to the violence.
Many are fleeing the region because of fears of persecution and ethnic cleansing
Armenians are leaving the disputed breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh after Azerbaijan launched a military offensive last week which resulted in a ceasefire and ethnic-Armenian forces being disarmed.
More than ten thousand are estimated to have crossed the border into Armenia, believing they will not be safe under Azerbaijan rule, but many remain in the enclave situated in the South Caucasus.
The history of the area is complex. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan were part of the Soviet Union. When that began disintegrating in the late 1980s, the regional parliament voted to become part of Armenia, breaking away from Azerbaijan, and a full-scale war ensued. Over the years, thousands have been killed and over a million people displaced, with atrocities committed by both sides.
“Let us pray that our Lord will protect His children in the region and that they will have peace” Rolf Zeegers, Open Doors analyst
Nagorno-Karabakh has been home to a majority Armenian population of more than 120,000, but the footage of many fleeing due to fears of persecution and ethnic cleansing confirms the unstable situation which has been unfolding since the ceasefire agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, Armenians had to withdraw their forces from the disputed region and lay down their arms.
Despite the Azerbaijani government’s assurances of a peaceful reintegration, many ethnic Armenians believe they are no longer safe. Open Doors World Watch Research analyst Rolf Zeegers commented, “I think it is still too early to draw conclusions. However, I expect that tensions will continue to simmer. Let us pray that our Lord will protect His children in the region and that they will have peace. Pray that they will suffer no more violence.”
The complex ethnic and geographic situation of the region is at the heart of this decades-long conflict. The first confrontation, which lasted from 1988-1994, ended in an Armenian victory. As a result, the Nagorno-Karabakh region declared itself independent from Azerbaijan. The Lachin area between Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia was also under Armenian control until fighting resumed in 2020.
In September and October 2020, Azerbaijan successfully recaptured areas that were under Armenian control. This included the Lachin region which connected Nagorno-Karabakh directly to Armenia. Russians mediated a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan in which Russian troops would guarantee transport between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. But this did not put a stop to the conflict.
On 12 December 2022, the situation escalated when Azerbaijan blocked off the Lachin corridor. People in Nagorno-Karabakh were isolated for several months. On Saturday 9 September, this blockade was lifted – temporarily.
“We need to pray for peace so that the Lord will stop the war” Church leader from Azerbaijan
On 19 September 2023, Azerbaijan launched another military campaign – this time against Nagorno-Karabakh itself. As the separatist troops could not withstand the Azerbaijani troops, they agreed to a ceasefire.
Christians are affected on both sides of the conflict. Two church leaders from Azerbaijan spoke to our field partners in the region and asked for prayers.
“We need to pray for peace so that the Lord will stop the war. Every neighbourhood has dead soldiers, even among our relatives. Now civilians are leaving the area,” said one of the pastors.
The other said, “Well, most importantly, pray that the conflict will be fully resolved, that there will be no more bloodshed. There are a lot of victims; pray for these families, so that the Lord will comfort them.”
Azerbaijan is currently number 58 on the World Watch List. Restrictions to registering churches, monitoring religious literature, and requiring permission from the state for religious activities shows why the Christian community in Nagorno-Karabakh fears coming under the control of Azerbaijan.
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