In 301 A.D., Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion. Now, more than 1,700 years later, Armenian Christians are facing a religious and cultural genocide — for the second time in a century.
A recent report issued by the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague urgently warned that neighboring Azerbaijan’s blockade of the only road connecting Armenia to the Nagorno-Karabakh region is preventing desperately needed food, medical supplies and other essentials from reaching the 120,000 people, mostly Christians, who live there.
“Starvation is the invisible genocide weapon,” the report states. “Without immediate dramatic change, this group of Armenians will be destroyed in a few weeks.” The report goes on to say that there is a “reasonable basis to believe that genocide is being committed against Armenians.”
This group of Christians is not months or years, but mere weeks away from extermination. The situation could not be more urgent, and both U.S. and international government officials must pressure Azerbaijan to end the blockade immediately so these much-needed supplies can reach Nagorno-Karabakh. This genocide must not be allowed to happen in plain view on our collective watch.
Like all ethnic conflicts, the history of the Nagorno-Karabakh area is complicated. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan claimed the region, sparking a land dispute that led to the first Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1994. Armenia gained primary control of the territory in the end, but tensions flared again in 2020 when Azerbaijan launched a war of choice to retake land. Russia brokered a peace deal, with Azerbaijan gaining control of large areas of the region. Armenia is now connected to Nagorno-Karabakh via a small strip of land called the Lachin corridor. But Azerbaijan is blocking access to this strip, seeking a final solution.
A line of 19 trucks and 360 tons of food has been parked for two weeks waiting for permission to cross the Lachin corridor. Natural gas has been cut off since March and other energy supplies remain spotty at best. Families have been separated and surgeries canceled.
Genocide has been defined as the killing of a people not for what they have done but because of who they are. What we are witnessing in this region is more than a mere land dispute. Muslim-majority Azerbaijan’s aggression against Christian-majority Armenia is distinctly religious in nature, and the ongoing blockade is only the most recent example of Azerbaijan attempting to erase Armenia’s cultural and religious heritage.
I recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Armenia as part of the Philos Project, an organization devoted to protecting the rights of Christians and religious minorities in the Near East. Former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, who also attended the trip, rightly observed, “Azerbaijan, with Turkey’s backing, is really slowly strangling Nagorno-Karabakh. They’re working to make it unlivable so that the region’s Armenian-Christian population is forced to leave, that’s what’s happening on the ground.”