". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Abused Armenian Christians: Today and Yesterday

February 29, 2024

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Those were Adolph Hitler’s infamous words — which he used both to justify and to diminish the significance of his pending invasion of Poland in 1939. They are often quoted as a reminder of the Fuhrer’s bloodthirsty ambitions; he was referring to the near-annihilation of Armenia’s Christians which took place from spring 1915 through autumn 1916.

According to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, “There were approximately 1.5 million Armenians living in the multiethnic Ottoman Empire in 1915. At least 664,000 and possibly as many as 1.2 million died during the genocide, either in massacres and individual killings, or from systematic ill treatment, exposure, and starvation.”

Hitler’s high hopes for exterminating Jews and other minority groups would be met with similar disinterest and detachment from the rest of the world. After all, as he said — who spoke of them? Hitler wasn’t entirely wrong, but eventually horrific reports of his holocaust of Jews opened the world’s eyes to his butchery.

Meanwhile, sadly, some things never change. In today’s deeply troubled and increasingly anti-Christian and anti-Semitic world, there are once again threats against the Armenian nation. Those threats may not be quite so outspoken as they have been in the past. However, there are increasing dangers lurking. In fact, shots have already been fired: “Armenia said on Tuesday that four of its soldiers were killed by Azerbaijani fire along the two countries’ heavily militarised border…”

Armenia is the world’s oldest Christian country — in 301 A.D. it became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion. Since that time, the Christian faith has played a significant role in the shaping of the Armenian people. For more than 1,700 years, Christianity has been an essential aspect of Armenian identity.

During the 1990s, I visited Yerevan, Armenia after spending two weeks in Nagorno-Karabakh — also known as Artsakh. At the time, Artsakh was a small but thriving Armenian Christian community with lovely churches and a warm-hearted community of believers.

In recent years, I was saddened to learn from friends that the Artsakh enclave had been experiencing increasingly deadly attacks by Islamists from neighboring Azerbaijan. Murders, rapes, and violent incidents by armed intruders were reported. And now, in fact, some years since my visit there, Artsakh’s Christian community is virtually gone.

As my journey to Armenia ended, I stood with friends beside the eternal flame at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. I felt a surge of rage at the injustices I’d learned about during our visit. We had seen evidence and heard first-hand reports of brutal anti-Christian violence. It wasn’t clear at the time: Why had peaceable Armenian Christians been subjected to brutal attacks by thugs from Azerbaijan and Turkey? Why did those attackers include Islamist fighters from as far away as Afghanistan?

In fact, three conflicts between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan have taken place in recent years. That first one, between 1988 and 1994 concluded with an Armenian victory. The second, in 2016, ended inconclusively. But the third, which began in 2020, ended with the evacuation of Artsakh in September 2023, from where more than 100,000 refugees fled into Armenia — with little more than the shirts on their backs.

On September 26, 2023, CBN reported that “thousands of Armenians have streamed out of Nagorno-Karabakh after the Azerbaijani military took over the Armenian territory. … [T]he blitz attack forced nearly 14,000 refugees to cross into Armenia, with thousands more stuck in massive traffic jams at the only checkpoint crossing. Amidst all this, a massive explosion at a fuel depot killed 20 and injured more than 300 as refugees scrambled to get gas before escaping.”

Azerbaijani officials quickly rejected claims of ethnic cleansing, denying that the mass displacement was “required.” Instead, they declared that the rights and safety of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh would have been guaranteed if they had stayed; their departure was therefore completely voluntary.

Human Rights Watch responded, “Such assertions are difficult to accept at face value after the months of severe hardships, decades of conflict, impunity for alleged crimes, in particular during hostilities, and the Azerbaijani government’s overall deteriorating human rights record.” In fact, because of pressure inside Azerbaijan, many Christians have reportedly fled the country

Armenia is sandwiched between two hostile neighbors — Azerbaijan and Turkey. Both are Islamist-dominated regimes; Armenia is Christian. At the same time, Armenia has welcomed more than 100,000 displaced people from Nagorno-Karabakh. This has been a huge challenge, involving urgent humanitarian relief including shelter, food, health care, and psychological help.

Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has called for Armenian annihilation. According to Azeri news reports, “‘Armenia has no choice but to accept Azerbaijan’s terms of a peace deal,’ Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said … ahead of fresh talks between the two nations.”

Aliyev bluntly declares, “Armenia, which is trying to find a new master and is throwing itself into others’ arms, should realize that its only option is to accept all the conditions of Azerbaijan and give up its territorial claims to Azerbaijan.”

As concerned Christians, we need to pray and speak out against Azerbaijan’s dangerous effort to either dominate or annihilate the Armenians. And let’s also pray that Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s boasts and bravado will fall on deaf ears in the international community.

Middle East commentator Uzay Bulut compares Aliyev to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. He is, in her words, “a populist and Islamist who prioritized his Muslim Brotherhood exegesis and personal wealth above the constitution and the welfare of the Turkish people. Today, the same pattern repeats with Aliyev, who presents himself as a secularist but, behind-the-scenes, pursues an irredentist and Islamist agenda in concert with Erdo?an.”

The Armenian people do not deserve the mockery and manipulation of their arrogant neighbor, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. Nor should they be at the mercy of Turkey’s president-for-life, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, and his anti-Christian intentions. Instead, Armenia’s endangered Christian community very much deserves our concern and encouragement. Let’s pray for God’s protection, as well as their restored hope, prosperity, and freedom.

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. She lived in Israel for over ten years, and is the author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner."