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Armenian bishop: Ancient Christian enclave faces ‘genocide by starvation’

An Armenian Catholic bishop is calling for prayer and action as some 120,000 ethnic Armenians face what he and other experts call “genocide by starvation.”

“It is a violation of every kind of law,” Bishop Mikael A. Mouradian of the California-based Armenian Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Nareg said. The eparchy is part of the Armenian Catholic Church, one of the 24 self-governing Churches in communion with the pope.

For the past nine months, Azerbaijani forces have blocked the only road leading from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh (known in Armenian by its ancient name, Artsakh), a historic Armenian enclave located in southwestern Azerbaijan and internationally recognized as part of that nation.

The blockade of the 3-mile Lachin Corridor, which connects the roughly 1,970 square mile enclave to Armenia, has deprived residents of food, baby formula, oil, medication, hygienic products and fuel — even as a convoy of trucks with an estimated 400 tons of aid is stalled at the single Azerbaijani checkpoint.

In February, the International Court of Justice ordered Azerbaijan to ensure “unimpeded movement of persons, vehicles and cargo along the Lachin Corridor in both directions.”

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross said in July that “despite persistent efforts” the Red Cross was “not currently able to bring humanitarian assistance to the civilian population through the Lachin corridor or through any other routes.”

That same month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to ensure transit through the corridor and to pursue peace negotiations.

The U.S. is “deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said during an Aug. 16 U.N. Security Council briefing on Armenia and Azerbaijan. “Access to food, medicine, baby formula and energy should never be held hostage.”

With the area surrounded by Muslim-majority Azerbaijan, the blockade amounts to an “ethnic cleansing of Christians,” since “the sole Christian people in the Caucasus are now the Armenians,” who are “not new in the region,” said Bishop Mouradian.

Armenia was the first nation to officially adopt Christianity in 301, having been evangelized by the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew between A.D. 40 and 60.

Both Christian Armenians and Turkic Azeris lived for centuries in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which became part of the Russian Empire during the 19th century. After World War I, the region became an autonomous part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh declared itself independent in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union, and quickly became the focus of a 1992-1994 struggle between Armenia and Azerbaijan for control of the region, with some 30,000 killed and more than 1 million displaced. Russia brokered a 1994 ceasefire, and in a 2017 referendum, voters approved a new constitution and a change in name to the Republic of Artsakh (although “Nagorno Karabakh Republic” also remains an official name). Fighting also erupted in 2020 and 2022.

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