Situated in the mountains of the Caucasus lies one of the oldest Christian outposts on the fringes of Europe, an internationally unrecognized Armenian enclave known as Nagorno-Karabakh.
Armenians have been living in the region of Karabakh as far back as the stone age. Armenia is the world’s oldest Christian nation, having converted in 301 AD (that’s 26 years before Emperor Constantine was baptised), and is home to some of the world’s oldest and most extravagant Christian churches.
Yet all is not well for present day Armenia and Karabakh.
To its south is the Islamic Republic of Iran, to its west is the Republic of Turkey (the successor state of the Ottoman Empire that slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians in the name of Islam in the last century), and to its east is the Republic of Azerbaijan, an oil rich Caspian dictatorship ruled by Ilham Aliyev.
Though Karabakh had been occupied by Armenians since time immemorial, in the last century, while Armenia was under the occupation of the Soviet Union, dictator Joseph Stalin had parceled off Karabakh and incorporated it into the Soviet State of Azerbaijan in order to satisfy neighbouring Turkey, with whom he was at risk of going to war.
For 65 years, Armenians lived peacefully alongside in Azerbaijan, until in the late 1980s when the dissolution of the Soviet Union became imminent. Armenians, who having a long and negative history of living under Turkish rule, did not wish to live in a Azerbaijani state, werethe Soviet Union was to collapse and grant these countries independence. It opted to reverse the changes made by Joseph Stalin, and in 1988 the Armenians in Karabakh voted unanimously to secede from Azerbaijan, with the hopes of joining neighbouring Armenia.
(To put it in a Canadian context: imagine if French Canadians had lived under a brutal regime ruled by people who in the last century had systematically slaughtered their ancestors. Now imagine that Quebec was separating from the rest of Canada, and then a little pocket of French Canadian Ontarians living beside Quebec voted unanimously to separate and join Quebec.)
This situation resulted in Azerbaijan clamping down more harshly on Armenians in Karabakh, and in 1990 in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, a pogrom began against Armenians. In 1991, with the collapse of the U.S.S.R, a war ensued in which the outnumbered and poorly armed Armenians nevertheless achieved their independence. In 1994, a ceasefire between the two sides was signed.
For the past 22 years, although this frozen conflict had at times heated up, this ceasefire had remained in tact- until now.
On April 2nd, starting at roughly 3am local time, Azerbaijan began strategic offenses against Karabakh. This full on assault included the use of tanks, drones, helicopters, and the shelling of innocent civilians. Though this conflict has remained virtually unnoticed by the western media, given Karabakh's strategic location, this conflict has the potential to spiral out of control and include much larger regional players, such as Turkey, Iran, and even Russia.
Many in the international community, including the Canadian government and the opposition have called for a ceasefire. However, recent hostilities have been raised to such a degree that it is now less likely that a diplomatic solution will resolve this conflict.
It is worth mentioning that Azerbaijan is no friend to democracy.
It commits deplorable human rights abuses daily, censors and harasses journalists who are critical of its government, and jails its political opposition. As is the case with Saudi Arabia, much of the international community turns a blind eye towards these abuses on account of Azerbaijan's vast oil reserves.
Now, to many in Canada who are wondering about why they should care about this conflict, please keep this in mind:
In the past several years Christians have virtually gone extinct in the Middle East. Priests are being beheaded daily, Christian women in Syria and Iraq are being raped and sold into slavery. Churches, from the time of Christianity’s early founding are being turned to rubble to the point where it is a common occurrence.
Azerbaijan, a Muslim country, if successful, will not simply expel this region's native and Christian population, it will slaughter them en masse, as they already appear to be doing.
Like ISIS, they will burn down century-old Christian churches, in order to deny Armenians’ historical presence there.
If Azerbaijan is successful, it will be just another circumstance, to which we have sadly become accustomed, whereby we will see the Crescent Moon and Star fly triumphantly over another forgotten and neglected Christian people of the East.