Prayers4Peace: Armenia at War (Pt. II)

Armenia at War (Pt. II): Summary of the three-episode mini-course about Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan

By: Beth Seversen, PhD | Former Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow | Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)



On September 23rd and October 4th last year, CMEP hosted a three-episode mini-course about Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Episode 2 is entitled “The Current Geo-Political Situation” and Episode 3 was a time of prayer for Armenia. Below is a synopsis.
Watch the full mini-course here.

Introduction 

I write today with tremendous anguish over the unfolding Armenian soft genocide and the ongoing displacement of 120,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing their homes and livelihoods in response to Azerbaijan’s military strikes and aggression on the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Since December 22, 2022, the Lachin Corridor – the only road connecting the Artsakh region with Armenia – has been blockaded by Azerbaijani troops in violation of the Russian-brokered 2020 ceasefire agreement that called for opening all transport routes between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the termination of all hostilities between the two Republics in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Episode 2: In this second installment of Churches for Middle East Peace’s (CMEP) three-part webinar on Armenia at War, we hear from panelists Mrs. Carla Khijoyan, Programme Executive for Building Peace in the Middle East at World Council of Churches, followed by Sonya Nersessian, attorney and former Chairwoman of the Armenian Bar Association whose current interest is to prevent cultural and religious genocide in the areas of Artsakh now under Azerbaijani control. Mrs. Khijoyan describes what she witnessed firsthand during her recent visit to Armenia and the Lachin Corridor area and Atty. Nersessian continues the explanation of the current geopolitical situation and future trajectory of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, serves as facilitator. A summary follows: 

Recounting Her First-hand Experience in the Region of the Lachin Corridor

Mrs. Khijoyan and a delegation from the World Council of Churches (WCC) traveled to the Lachin Corridor earlier this week, arriving on the weekend (September 16-17) to observe the Nagorno-Karabakh humanitarian crisis firsthand and to ensure the ongoing ecumenical work and program of the WCC in the region. She reports, “The situation has deteriorated and worsens daily as Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh are slowly starving and dying.” The delegation traveled the Lachin Corridor on Monday, September 18, attempting to reach churches in Nagorno-Karabakh. The first five or six hours were undisturbed, but they were alarmed to see Armenian troops withdrawing. The delegation encountered checkpoints along the way and was informed that something was happening, but the details of the situation were uncertain. While they were on the road, bombing and shelling began and the delegation was advised to go back to Ammon. Hearing of more eminent military strikes, witnessing Armenians bloodied and fleeing the region, and seeing the Armenian army retreating, the delegation reluctantly turned back. 

WCC’s Shifting Foci

The focus of the WCC delegation shifted from opening the Lachin Corridor for the transport of humanitarian aid to assistance for those fleeing. “Ethnic Armenians face the dilemma of staying in Nagorno-Karabakh – endangered in their historic land – or fleeing to Armenia.” The delegation witnessed the first signs of displaced people arriving at the border and groups trying to register them. The scene and discussions surrounding assistance were chaotic. Mrs. Khijoyan describes the bombing and shelling attacks on Armenian troops, civilians, and even some children that began Tuesday, September 19. 

The Priorities of the World Council of Churches in Armenian

Khijoyan explains that the Armenian government and the World Council of Churches have three priorities in the current crises: First, the safety of civilians and the ceasing of any ethnic cleansing. “Some families were completely exterminated in their own homes and a lot of people have disappeared.” Second, the protection of churches and ancient churches, monasteries, and cemeteries. Third, the protection of southern Armenia from Turkey and Azerbaijan. 

Historical Significance of the Boundaries Drawn by the Treaty of Kars

Since the early 1990’s, Artsakh has maintained its own government and autonomy. Until this week, Artsakh remained 90% Armenian. Relevant to today’s situation is that the Treaty of Kars established the borders between Turkey and the three Transcaucasian republics of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Signed on October 13, 1921, by five countries –  Turkey, Russia, and newly formed Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, the treaty delineated the borders that remain valid as of a week ago. With the current crises, the map of the region will change. Significant to the present crisis is that the Treaty of Kars delineated and made special the territory of Nakhchivan, which became an autonomous Armenian region within Azerbaijan. Although Armenians were present in Nakhchivan in 1920, by 1990, there were none, foreshadowing the present displacement of ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. 

2020 War Land Conflicts and the Protection of Historic Christian Sites

After the 2020 War, a third of the autonomous land mass of Artsakh came under Azerbaijani control. At that time, Atty. Nersessian was tapped to protect the religious heritage in the parts of Artsakh now under Azerbaijani control. An article from 2021 in Christianity Today pictures the religious sites dating back to the fourth century A.D. that were once part of Christian Armenian Artsakh, now under the control of Azerbaijan since 2021 and in jeopardy of vandalism and destruction.  

December 2022 Blockade Commenced

When the blockade began last December, concern for cultural genocide shifted to the 120,000 Christian Armenians living in Artsakh under increasingly dire circumstances. Atty. Nersessian reports, “When you have grandparents that lived under a genocide, you recognize the signs of genocide: Azerbaijan deprived the population for nine months of fuel, medicine, electricity, and internet, and weakened them.” 

Atty. Nersessian asked participants to imagine ten days ago on Sunday, September 17, living in Artsakh without access to food for nine months, and having electricity and internet cut off by Azeris in certain regions. Now imagine that on September 18, last Monday, diplomatic efforts were being rewarded and cargos of supplies began coming in along the blocked Lachin Corridor. Imagine how amazed the population must have been and how they hoped their circumstances were going to change. Then imagine waking up on Tuesday to the sounds of war, and being the target of that war. “People’s hopes were completely dashed.” Hope turned to panic.  

Southern Armenia in Danger of Annexation

Telling was a strange symbol on the weaponry and helmets of the Azerbaijani soldiers that came into Artsakh. The letter A appeared to be flipped upside down, with the crossbar moved a little closer to the point of the A, symbolizing that Azerbaijan plans to cut off the bottom of Armenia and take Syunik and Zengezur, connecting Turkey to  Azerbaijan. Armenia could very well become a flashpoint for more conflict and war. 

Atty. Nersessian Addresses the Question, “Why Has No Country Come to Armenia’s Aid?” 

Since the start of the Ukrainian War, the EU has been concerned with finding oil and fuel resulting from the boycott on Russia. Azerbaijan supplies a modest but growing share of the EU’s gas. Nersessian explained, “Whether people want to recognize it or not, some of Russia’s oil has been going through Azerbaijan, being repackaged as Azerbaijani oil, and moving into Europe.” Thus, the EU has been relatively silent about the nine-month blockade. 

The U.S. has secured Turkish agreements and bases and needs Turkey to defend against Eastern and Middle Eastern powers.

Turkey wants a route to central Asia, and not just a corridor through Zengezur. If they were to support another Azerbaijani War, then the three Muslim countries of Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan would be connected and Armenia would be left completely encircled by Turkey, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to their east, and Christian Georgia to their north. 

Although Christian, Georgia is unable to assist Armenia. Disputes with Russia have arisen during every attempt  Georgia has made to assert itself, which at one point in history escalated to a Russian invasion. 

Russia desires to maintain control of the South Caucasus but has not been able to keep its promise to protect Armenians and is facing many difficulties while being distracted by the current situation in Ukraine. “The recent events of this past week and a half, and I am being charitable, when I say they have been preoccupied but it is possible that they are unwilling because they are quite dissatisfied with the current president of Armenia who has started to pivot west towards the United States. This is a punishment to him to avert their eyes and let the Azeris have their way with the Armenians. That is what has happened.”

Where is Iran in all of this? Atty. Nersessian continues to explain that Iranians do not want a NATO presence to their north and they would be very unhappy if Turkey took the southern part of Armenia. Iran is also a threat to Azerbaijan, as the two countries do not get along. “25 million ethnic Azerbaijanis live in the northern part of Iran and must figure into the calculus Iran has of the current situation.” 

Lastly, Israel provided not only the Pegasus security system to the Azeris but also much of the weaponry for the 2020 War. Turkey supplied its military and expertise as well to the Azeris during the conflict. 

Atty. Nersessian concludes the list of actors in the region that might provide aid with, “No one came to Armenia’s aid in 2020. Armenia was outmanned, outgunned, and out-resourced, and no one intervened. Armenia does not have the same status as Ukraine. . . There is very little that we have to offer the world except that we are steadfast Christians for centuries and we have been there for centuries and have tried to live peaceably.  Now our very existence is in danger.” 

Mrs. Khijoyan announced that today, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a French military presence in the south of Armenia, “Because now everyone expects that area to be attacked.” She concludes her presentation with this future forecast: “If the international community does not protect Armenia, it will not exist for long, and Christianity will vanish from all of that area.” She warns that only international pressure can stop Azerbaijan and prevent another genocide and the disappearance of Armenia. 

Action Alerts – What You Can Do—Write Your Congressional Representatives in Support of: 

H.R. 5683—118th Congress: Supporting Armenians Against Azerbaijani Aggression Act of 2023.” The act has 28 bi-partisan co-sponsors calling the US to bolster Armenian defenses and to give aid to Armenians in dire need.

(HR 5686): ”Preventing Ethnic Cleansing and Atrocities in Nagorno-Karabakh Act of 2023” Introduced by Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chair of the House Global Human Rights Subcommittee. Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Jim Costa (D-CA) and French Hill (R-AR) are the original cosponsors of the bill. “Smith’s legislation requires the State Department to create a detailed strategy to promote long-term security and well-being of ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh through important security provisions.”) Calling an end to military assistance to Azerbaijan and for assistance to Armenia and ethnic Armenians suffering in Nagorno-Karabakh.  

Episode 3: Fast and Pray for the Middle East: Armenia at War: CMEP’s mini-series, Armenia at War, concludes with a prayer webinar on October 4. Prayers were said for ethnic Armenians fleeing their homeland and for Armenia:

  • God’s protection over and provision for the 100,000 internally displaced persons.
  • An end to persecution and ethnic cleansing in particular in the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
  • Provisions of food, medical care, and physical and psychological treatment for those affected by violence. 

Let Us Pray:

“Good and Holy Father, 

We ask that you deliver the 120,000 Armenians fleeing their homeland. Bring mercy and peace and justice for them. Fill them with hope. Provide for their basic needs and bring them to a place of flourishing. Please intervene and keep boundaries from being pushed back any further. Protect Armenia from further genocide and protect all people from war. Cause the aggressors to cease their atrocities. Please powerfully demonstrate your glory through this humanitarian crisis. Bless those fleeing their homelands any may they return to their homes through a negotiated just peace. 

In Jesus’ able name, we pray, Amen.”


About the Author: Dr. Beth Seversen was an Ambassador Warren Clark Fellowship scholar with Churches for Middle East Peace. Beth’s PhD is in Intercultural Studies; she is keenly attuned to the multiple narratives of people that lay claim to land and resources, and the colonizing that leaves communities displaced and dispossessed. Beth is passionate in her longing for the Kingdom of God to press further into our broken world restoring marginalized and erased people and contributing to the flourishing of their communities


Please note any views or opinions contained in this devotional series are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

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