Much of the international media attention these days is on Vladimir Putin’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. But another diabolical situation has been heating up between two former Soviet nations. In fact, a disturbing new chapter recently unfolded amid the ongoing tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Joel Veldkamp, head of international communications at persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity International (CSI), told Faithwire about the September 13 event, its implications, and the complex history between the two nations. Veldkamp said “What was really shocking about this attack was that Azerbaijan was attacking the sovereign internationally recognized nation of Armenia itself,” he said. “For 48 hours straight, bombs fell on the country without stopping. … Seven thousand people fled for their lives, hundreds of soldiers were killed, and we just didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Horrific videos spread on social media surrounding the attacks, with one clip allegedly showing Azerbaijani soldiers “desecrating the dead body of an Armenian woman soldier,” Veldkamp said. Considering the strength of Azerbaijan Veldkamp and others feared Armenia could have been entirely conquered by Azerbaijan. “It was a really terrifying moment,” he said. “After 48 hours, a ceasefire was imposed apparently with the mediation of the United States, but the situation remains extremely tense.” Associated Press reported both sides of the dispute were blaming one another for the chaos: The fighting erupted minutes after midnight with Azerbaijani forces unleashing an artillery barrage and drone attacks in many sections of Armenian territory, according to Armenia’s Defence Ministry. It said shelling grew less intense during the day but Azerbaijani troops were trying to advance into Armenian territory.
Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry said it was responding to a “large-scale provocation” by Armenia. It said Armenian troops planted mines and fired on Azerbaijani military positions. But Veldkamp said the events, and the deeper history, are unambiguous. Veldkamp said the roots of the dispute are “long and complicated,” explaining that “Azerbaijani national identity has been formed in opposition to Armenia.” Both nations are making claims on the same land. Additionally, Armenia is a democracy, while Azerbaijan is “one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world,” he argued. “Dictators tend to look for enemies to rally the people,” Veldkamp said. “So, under the current government, Azerbaijan has really made hatred of Armenians into a unifying national ideology.” Veldkamp said the impact of this campaign creates violence when Azerbaijanis encounter people from Armenia.
Russia’s fledgling efforts in Ukraine are one of the other reason Azerbaijan is now intensifying assaults on Armenia. “Traditionally, Russia has been the only power that can really restrain Azerbaijan and Turkey in the region,” Veldkamp said. “But now, Russia’s tied up.” Those distractions might be sparking Azerbaijan’s efforts in the territory, especially as the two grapple over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia is very much a nation born out of genocide. The Armenian Genocide unfolded during World War I and led to Turkey killing 1.5 million Armenians. Turkey, which has historically denied this genocide occurred, has been accused of helping Azerbaijan in the current conflict, adding extra layers to the chaos. “Before World War I, the country that we know as Turkey today was controlled by the last Islamic empire. It was called the Ottoman Empire,” Veldkamp explained.
“20% of the population was Christian, most of them Armenians, but when World War I started, the Ottoman rulers decided that the Christians were a security threat and decided to liquidate them.” Starting in 1915, more than a million Armenians were slaughtered, with many more forced from their homes or deported. “The vast majority of what Armenians would consider to be their homeland was lost to them forever and all they were able to hold on to was a tiny little sliver of land that we know of today as the republic of Armenia,” Veldkamp said. “It has Turkey on one side of it and Azerbaijan on the other.” After the genocide, the Soviet Union conquered Armenia and forced the nation into its borders. “For 70 years, Christians were severely persecuted, churches were closed, priests were sent to the gulag, and the country suffered a great deal under Russian rule,” Veldkamp said. In 1991, Armenia once again became free.
Veldkamp said “This is the oldest Christian country in the world. A country that’s held on to Christianity through genocide, Soviet Communism, and the gulags,” he said. “They have some of the oldest Christian traditions in the world.” Tensions were already flaring before the September 13 attack. The area, mainly inhabited by Armenian Christians, has been at the centre of clashes between the two former Soviet countries. The Soviets first established the region in the 1920s. In 1988, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh, reportedly decided to become part of Armenia, “The Nagorno-Karabakh legislature passed a resolution to join Armenia despite the region’s legal location within Azerbaijan’s borders. This attempt at leaving the Soviet nation of Azerbaijan for Armenia, then another Soviet country, sparked decades of conflict and anger. According to Veldkamp, Azerbaijan has since been “trying to wipe these people out essentially.”
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