Tuesday, October 6, 2020

RLPB 570. Turkey, Azerbaijan, Artsakh and the Armenians

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 570 | Wed 07 Oct 2020
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 -- 'Turkey and Azerbaijan have genocidal intent'
By Elizabeth Kendal

Political Geography Now timeline (2 Oct 2020)

Azerbaijan and Turkey have launched a war against the Armenians for control of Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K), an Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan. Mountainous and forested, thousands of churches adorn N-K's peaks, many dating back to the 10th Century. DNA samples from excavated bones indicate that Armenians have been settled in the region for at least 4,000 years. For many centuries the region was known as 'Artsakh' and was a province of Armenia. When Russia annexed the region from the Persian Empire in 1805, the population of N-K was 94 percent ethnic Armenian, as it was in 1923 when the Soviet Union's Communist dictator Joseph Stalin mischievously and fatefully made Orthodox Armenian N-K an autonomous region (or oblast) of the Turkic Muslim Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. In December 1991, following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the residents of N-K held a referendum on independence in which 99.98 percent voted to secede from Azerbaijan. N-K's Azeri minority boycotted the vote and Azerbaijan responded with war. Ultimately the Armenians prevailed. Since then, the region has existed as a democratic self-ruled Armenian province inside Azerbaijan. In 2017 N-K's residents voted to change the region's name from Nagorno-Karabakh (a Russian-Azerbaijani hybrid) to Artsakh, the name by which it was known from the early 11th Century. RLPB will use the name 'Artsakh', not simply because history matters, but because, despite Stalin's mischief and the UN's intransigence, the region is Armenian.

Spurred on by neo-Ottoman Turkey, Azerbaijan is determined to seize control of Artsakh, which it claims solely on the basis of Stalin's 1923 declaration. There is no guarantee these Turkic Islamists will not extend the fight to Armenia itself. Make no mistake, one hundred years after the Armenian Genocide, Turkey and Azerbaijan have genocidal intent. Indeed, Azerbaijan's President Aliyev once even predicted that 'Armenia will soon perish from the world map'. According to Turkish journalist, Amberin Zaman, the current escalation 'was not sparked by accident but was pre-planned by Azerbaijan and its regional ally Turkey'. This claim is backed up by the testimony of foreign jihadists who report being recruited in Syria's Idlib Province a month before fighting began. This happens to be around the same time Turkey and Azerbaijan were conducting 'large-scale' joint air and land military exercises inside Azerbaijan in the wake on the July clashes [RLPB 560 (29 July)]. According to Armenia, as many as 4000 jihadists have arrived in Azerbaijan from Syria, courtesy of Turkey.

left: Stepanakert, Sunday 5 October.  right: Cathedral as bomb shelter
photos AFP, article StraitsTimes (6 Oct)

This crisis has the potential to escalate every bit as severely as did the crisis in Syria and along similar lines: Orthodox Armenia (backed by Orthodox Russia and Iran [which opposes Azeri nationalism]) versus Islamist Turkic Azerbaijan (backed by NATO member neo-Ottoman Turkey and its jihadist proxies). Hosting very expensive British and American oil and gas infrastructure and boasting the very latest cutting-edge Israeli weaponry, Azerbaijan is confident, determined and refusing to talk. The Artsakh capital, Stepanakert, has been under heavy bombardment for days. The basement of Stepanakert's leading Armenian Apostolic Church - the Holy Mother of God Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral of Intercession) - now serves as a bomb shelter. Its vast underground hall is ringed by chapels now serving as temporary homes for families. 'It is probably the safest place in Stepanakert'' says the priest, 'protected by the granite and by Our Lord.' Men, some in uniform, guard the cathedral's entrance. 'We will never let the enemy get in very deep,' said a priest clutching a gold crucifix. After all, 'We are here,' he explains as air-raid sirens ring out, 'on the historical land of Armenian Christianity.'

Kumkapi, Istanbul,
28 September

FURTHERMORE, there is a real danger the conflict could spill over into both Iran and Turkey. In Iran, ethnic Azeri pro-Azerbaijan demonstrations have erupted in several Iranian cities, whilst in Turkey's Istanbul, Turkish nationalists have been threatening and intimidating the city's Armenians with impunity. On the evening of 28 September, a convoy of vehicles draped in and flying Azerbaijani flags descended on Istanbul's Kumkapi neighbourhood, which is home to a large Armenian population and the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate. The government had approved the demonstration and Istanbul's governor did not intervene. On 30 September the demonstration was repeated, this time in Istanbul's Fener and Balat neighbourhoods, once home to many Jewish, Greek and Armenian residents. Opposition lawmakers and human rights activists have questioned whether the ruling AK Party is setting the stage for anti-Armenian pogroms and an Armenian exodus.


* intervene in grace and power to 'turn back the battle' (from Isaiah 28:5-6), 'that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord' (from Hezekiah's prayer, Isaiah 37:14-20 ESV).

* redeem this crisis to deepen and further personalise the faith of his people; may all Armenians keep their eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3) as they look to, call upon and put their hope in the LORD.

And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me' (Matthew 28:18 ESV).

* protect and defend his people (Psalm 28) and bring the way of the wicked to ruin (Psalm 146).

'The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord ... Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love ... Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.' (excerpts from Psalm 33, ESV)


In 1923 Joseph Stalin gave Orthodox-Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh (N-K) to Turkic-Muslim Azerbaijan. In 1991, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, N-K voted to secede from Azerbaijan. In 2017 N-K voted to reclaim its historic name from when it was a province of Armenia: Artsakh. Spurred on by neo-Ottoman Turkey, Azerbaijan continues to lay claim to Artsakh. That the current conflict was pre-planned is evidenced by the presence of foreign jihadis who claim to have been recruited by Turkey from Syria's Idlib Province a month before fighting began. Some 4000 foreign jihadis are reportedly fighting with Azerbaijan. The Artsakh capital, Stepanakert, is under heavy bombardment. The cathedral's basement has become a bomb shelter. Confident and determined, Azerbaijan is refusing to talk. Turkic aggression against ethnic Armenians risks spreading into Iran and Turkey. Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com