Armenian Christians in Karabakh Head to Airport After Ceasefire Deal Forces Surrender

Thousands of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh have gathered at the airport where some Russian peacekeepers are based, after separatist forces agreed to a ceasefire, surrendering the territory to Azerbaijan. Pictures from Karabakh showed thousands of people at the airport, some with young children. Separatists running the self-styled “Republic of Artsakh” urged the population of 120,000 not to rush to the airport in the capital which they call Stepanakert. “We once again urge the population of Stepanakert not to succumb to panic and not to go to the airport on their own initiative in order to evacuate,” the separatists said. Azerbaijan has been accused of wanting to ethnically cleanse Karabakh, which Baku denies. Armenians, who are Christians, claim a long historical dominance in the area, dating back to several centuries before Christ.  Karabakh, a mountainous area in the volatile wider South Caucasus region, is internationally recognised as Azerbaijani territory, but part of it has been run by separatist Armenian authorities who say the area is their ancestral homeland.

Azerbaijan said it had halted military action in the region following the ceasefire, which was confirmed by both sides.  Under the agreement separatist forces must disband and disarm.  Talks on the future of the region and the ethnic Armenians who live there are ongoing. Fearful of what the future might hold, crowds of ethnic Armenians made their way to the airport in Stepanakert, the capital of Karabakh which is known as Khankendi by Azerbaijan. Others took shelter with Russian peacekeepers. Azerbaijan has said it plans to integrate the area’s 120,000 ethnic Armenians and that their rights would be protected under the constitution. But some Armenians are sceptical and neighbouring Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of trying to ethnically cleanse the territory, something Baku denies. “They are basically saying to us that we need to leave, not stay here, or accept that this is a part of Azerbaijan – this is basically a typical ethnical cleansing operation,” Ruben Vardanyan, a former top official in Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian administration, told Reuters.

The outcome is a military victory for Turkey-backed Azerbaijan whose forces far outnumbered the separatists, could cause political turmoil in neighbouring Armenia, where some political forces are angry that Yerevan was unable to do more to protect the Karabakh Armenians. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is already facing calls from some opponents to resign. Some Armenians are also furious that Russia, which has peacekeepers on the ground and helped broker an earlier ceasefire deal in 2020 following a 44-day war, was unable to stop Azerbaijan.  The Kremlin rejected that criticism and President Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying that Russian peacekeepers would protect Karabakh’s civilian population. It was unclear how many ethnic Armenians would opt to stay in Karabakh. Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Paruyr Hovhannissyan told Reuters that Karabakh Armenians could “in an ideal world” live under Azerbaijani rule but that historical experience made it hard to imagine.

Azerbaijan’s military operation had faced sharp criticism from the United States and some European countries, who said the Karabakh problem should have been solved through talks and that Baku’s actions were worsening an already dire humanitarian situation on the ground following a nine-month blockade of the area by Azerbaijan. Would you join us in praying for an outpouring of God’s grace amid this persecution, and for the faith of all believers to grow stronger and stronger.

* Pray for the basic humanitarian needs to be met and for the land corridor to open and be monitored and remain safe for all the people.

*  Pray for the people in Armenia for peace, faith, and unity. As there is ongoing despair, anger, and protests in parts of Armenia, pray that evil people will not use this to their advantage.

*  Pray that no form of ethnic cleansing will be carried out by Azerbaijan against the ethnic Armenian population living in the region.

Source: Reuters International

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