Washington Stand

Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh: Scarred by Genocide, Endangered by Islamist Threats

Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“Who, after all, speaks today about the annihilation of the Armenians?” So said Adolf Hitler in 1939. He wrote these words while plotting his genocide of Germany’s Jews. He was counting on the world’s short memory of the Armenian Genocide, which to him seemed more or less forgotten, although it had cost the world as many as 1.5 million Armenian lives only two decades before. 

As we sadly recall those mass slaughters today, hatred against both Jews and Armenians continues to thrive. 

Many American Christians are aware of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel. However, few recognize the specific and ongoing threat against Armenia’s Christians, which continues even now. In fact, with every passing day, dangers continue against Armenia’s Christian population. But more specifically, threats are constant against a small enclave called Nagorno-Karabakh, which is adjacent to the ancient Christian nation of Armenia.

If you’ve never heard of Nagorno-Karabakh (it is also called Artsakh by Armenians), you’re not alone. Many Westerners are not even aware of its existence and its 120,000 endangered Christians, much less about its recent violent history. Once a part of the ancient Armenian Kingdom — with roots reaching back to the second century — the enclave’s present upheaval dates to Stalin’s regime in the USSR, when the dictator’s remapping surrounded Artsakh’s Christians with Islamic Azerbaijan. This separate remnant of Armenia — some 20 miles away from the existing border — was created by the divisive policies of the former USSR, when ethnic and religious groups were intentionally split apart.

In the early 1990s, Nagorno-Karabakh’s Christian communities were attacked by neighboring Azerbaijan, Azeri Turks, and other Muslim fighters. This conflict was widely understood by the Armenians as an extension of the earlier 20th century “jihad” — the Armenian Genocide itself. Miraculously, in a David vs. Goliath finish, Karabakh won that conflict — against all odds.

But the existential threats to both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh have never ended. Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, continues to breathe fiery threats against the Christians there. Aliyev was quoted by journalist Uzay Bulut in late 2022:

“Yerevan [the capital of Armenia] is our historical land. We, the Azerbaijanis, will return to these historical lands. It is our political and strategic goal, and gradually we shall reach it. … Armenia as a country is of no value. It is actually a colony, an outpost run from abroad, a territory artificially created on ancient Azerbaijani lands. … The Azerbaijani army is now stronger than it was two years ago, and everyone should understand that — Armenia and everyone.”

Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan also announced the ambitions of the war against Artsakh after the signing of the ceasefire agreement. At the same time, Turkey has become more deeply engaged in the Azeri-Armenia conflict. Turkey’s ambitious Islamist president absurdly declared Armenia as “the biggest threat to peace in the region.” His latest posturing threatens Armenia and Karabakh, both of which are almost entirely Armenian Orthodox Christian. And during his engagement in 2020, he sponsored hundreds of Syrian Islamist fighters to attack the Christians.

Family Research Council’s Travis Weber, vice president for Policy and Government Affairs, traveled to Armenia on a three-day trip sponsored by the Philos Project. Their press release explained the purpose of the trip was to introduce “American Christian and Jewish thought leaders to Armenia and the existential threats from its surrounding neighbors that face this Christian country. Six months ago, Azerbaijan initiated a blockade of Armenian Christians in the adjacent Nagorno-Karabakh region. The enclave’s 120,000 residents have since suffered extreme deprival of essential goods — including food and medicine — ever since.”

The group was led by Philos Project President Robert Nicholson and former Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback. The tour visited medieval monasteries and provided opportunities for the participants to speak with local residents of the city of Jermuk, who had been tragically affected by Azerbaijani aggression. They also met with Armenia’s president, Vahagn Khachaturian.

Weber described his impressions of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and what he learned about the ongoing conflict.

“The Armenian people have suffered through much since becoming the world’s first Christian nation in 301 A.D. For over 1,700 years, they have fought off various invaders and threats — and this continues today. Now they are at a particularly vulnerable moment as they are being ganged up on again by Turkey and Azerbaijan, with few in the world caring or even taking notice. Why shouldn’t the Christian community in the U.S. stand in solidarity with our fellow brothers and sisters, who are suffering from unprovoked attacks while they are trying to live in peace? There is precedent for this act; over a hundred years ago, during the Armenian Genocide, many Americans stepped in to do what they could for suffering Armenians. Once again, the Armenians need to know we are there for them.

“Unfortunately, the United States is supplying weapons to Turkey and to Azerbaijan, who are taking military action against Armenia. This must stop. President Biden should immediately start enforcing Section 907 of the United States Freedom Support Act, which says that ‘United States assistance under this or any other Act (other than assistance under title V of this Act) may not be provided to the Government of Azerbaijan until the President determines, and so reports to the Congress, that the Government of Azerbaijan is taking demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.’ The Biden administration hasn’t yet done that.”

On June 21, just days after the delegation’s return to the United States, Brownback participated in Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s (TLHRC) congressional hearing titled “Safeguarding the People of Nagorno-Karabakh,” hosted by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), both TLHRC co-chairs.

During the hearing, Brownback stated that Christians in the region were being “strangled by Azerbaijan, which is backed by a leading militant-Islamist.” Although he stated that the conflict is not officially religious in nature, he said it’s “hard to imagine that this would happen to Nagorno-Karabakh if it were a Muslim population. [However,] it’s a Christian population.”

Today, the hateful words of Adolf Hitler and the blood-stained evidence of Joseph Stalin’s deadly Soviet dictatorship have left scars both in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Meanwhile, the dangers to our Christian brothers and sisters there are increasing. Let’s contact our governmental representatives on their behalf. Let’s support relief organizations who assist them. And, most of all, let’s remember them in our prayers.

Read in the Washington Stand.