Religion and Conflict

Persecuting Armenians in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh)

Published on: August 24, 2023
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Image: “I was ill and you visited me.” Sculpture by Timothy Schmalz, Rome, Italy

As I pen down these words in my office at the Armenian Theological Seminary of the Holy See of Cilicia, it’s heartrending to acknowledge that over 120,000 Armenian individuals, including children in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh) within the South Caucasus, are facing the dire fate of starvation. Unlike many other instances of famine, this crisis has been inflicted upon them due to the actions of their neighboring country, Azerbaijan. By blocking the sole connecting road to the Republic of Armenia, known as the Lachin Corridor, Azerbaijan has triggered and augmented this suffering. For more than a week, 400 tons of vital humanitarian aid have been stranded along the road to Artsakh, all due to Azerbaijan’s political agenda of ethnic cleansing in the region, with the aim of asserting the entire territory as part of Azerbaijan.

The blockade of the Lachin Corridor on the map (roadoflife.info)

Just last week, international law expert Luis Moreno Ocampo released an article titled “Expert Opinion: Genocide Against Armenians in 2023” on the “Center for Truth and Justice” website. In it, he compellingly highlighted: “Starvation is the invisible genocide weapon. Without immediate and profound change, this group of Armenians will be annihilated in a matter of weeks.” Yet, dishearteningly, the majority of the international media, influential figures, and even religious institutions have failed to raise the alarm about this grievous injustice unfolding right before our eyes. In the face of the occurring genocidal acts, the world seems to have abandoned the Armenians of Artsakh.

In 2020, I had the privilege of visiting Vatican City, to represent the Armenian Orthodox Church, as part of a study visit organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. A poignant memory from that visit resurfaces—the sight of a black sculpture on the side of the road portraying a “homeless” man lying on the street. Strikingly beautiful, yet placed in an intentionally “neglected” corner. Drawing closer, I observed the sculpture’s hands bearing scars, hands and feet bearing the marks of nails. It was a deeply moving moment, as those scars made me recognize Him—the Lord. Scars, while never easy to witness, evoke compassion and empathy.

Armenians in Artsakh protesting for the Lachin Corridor Blockade (Armenpress.am)

Today, I view the Armenian people as akin to that sculpture of the Lord—placed by the wayside of a vast global “street” where countless individuals pass by, often unaware of the people lying there, victimized by life’s cruelties. Those familiar with the Armenian history are aware of its richness in martyrdom and bloodshed. The generational trauma and the unhealed wounds of the 1915 Armenian Genocide still persist, and now we are witnessing another unfathomable act of genocidal cruelty against the same people. Personally, as a second-generation descendant of Armenian genocide survivors, the realization of witnessing yet another genocide against my people in the 21st century is a devastating revelation.

Moreover, comprehending how justice functions in this modern world where genocides persist is perplexing. We have grown up in a world where justice and equality are taught to be essential values, discussed, preached, and promoted by various educational institutions and governments. Yet, the application of these principles across social, political, and ecclesial realms remains inconsistent. We yearn for a world where justice and equality prevail for all nations, ethnicities, races, regardless of gender or religious identity, but our efforts to establish this still fall short. The words of Martin Luther King Jr. echo: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” How can we witness justice and equality as integral to society when we remain silent in the face of injustices?

As a priest, a preacher of Christ who advocated for social justice, I grapple with teaching about justice’s importance while my fellow Armenians in Nagorno-Karabagh perish unjustly. How can I inspire my students and the younger generation to believe in the foundational role of justice and equality in society when the world seems blind to our collective agony? For more than a century, Armenians have believed in justice through commemorations, protests, education, and political efforts, only to feel disillusioned as the world fails to address and end life-threatening aggression. The silence surrounding injustices hurts even more than the injustices themselves. This is my stance, shared by millions of Armenians in the global Diaspora.

This article doesn’t seek to chronicle the ongoing genocide in Nagorno-Karabagh, but to champion the importance of unity through compassion. Despite our racial, ethnic, faith, or religious differences, our shared suffering unites us. In this vein, St. Paul the Apostle poetically likened the Church of Lord Jesus Christ to one body, emphasizing the interdependence of its parts. He wrote, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:20-26). Recognizing others’ pain is the initial step towards healing. The Armenians of Artsakh need our voice, compassion, and advocacy. Our silence shouldn’t render us complicit in injustice and undermine the principles of justice and equality.

When we successfully address injustices and crises on Earth, we will naturally stand side by side in a common journey. However, the first step is to acknowledge the scars, much like the Good Samaritan, and from there, a meaningful parable can unfold—a life-affirming story for future generations. In recognizing and acknowledging others’ pain, we initiate the healing process. The Armenians of Artsakh require our vocal support, compassion, immediate assistance and advocacy, so that our silence doesn’t contribute to injustice and undermine the very essence of justice.

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

About author

  • Very Rev. Barouyr Shernezian

    Very Rev. Barouyr Shernezian

    Dean of Armenian Theological Seminary of the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia

    Very Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian, an Armenian Orthodox Priest, was born in Beirut, Lebanon. He studied at the Armenian Theological Seminary from 2004 to 2012 and was ordained as a priest in 2012 by the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia. He served as the director of the "Cilicia" Museum and sp...

    Read author's full bio and see articles by this author

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Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in the articles on this website are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.

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