30Sep20-Armenia & Azerbaijan-Original

Dear prayer partners,

On Sunday 27 September, ongoing tensions led to open conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. The heavy clashes stoked fears that the dispute could spiral once again into a war. Armenia declared martial law and ordered its military to mobilise and Azerbaijan followed suit by also ordering the mobilisation of its military. Both sides blamed each other for the worst escalation since 2016. At least 24 casualties were reported in the recent clashes, with attacks from both sides.

The mountainous and heavily forested region has been disputed since 1918, when Armenia and Azerbaijan became independent from the Russian empire. Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh is recognised as part of Azerbaijan. However, most of the population of ethnic Armenians reject Azerbaijani rule and have been running their own affairs since Azerbaijan’s forces were pushed out in a war in the 1990s.

The US State Department said it contacted the two countries, “to urge both sides to cease hostilities immediately”. Iran, Russia, the EU, France, and Germany called for an immediate ceasefire and a peaceful resolution through negotiations. Turkey blamed Armenia for the flare-up and promised Azerbaijan its “full support”. Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it was “deeply concerned” about the deteriorating security situation and said that it stood with Azerbaijan as well. Pope Francis said he is praying for peace in the Caucasus region.

Armenia is home to about two million people, of which 92.5% of the population profess to be Christian. On the other hand, Azerbaijan is home to about 10 million people, of which 84.4% of the population are professing Muslims. The Armenian Apostolic Church, which is one of the oldest Christian churches, was founded in the 1st Century AD (said to have originated in the mission activities of Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus), and in 301 AD it became the first branch of Christianity to become a state religion. Christianity is said to have spread to Azerbaijan around the same time as Armenia by the same Apostles, and the first church in Azerbaijan was reportedly erected in the village of Kish. Despite both nations having deep Christian roots, they have pursued divergent religious paths.

Please join us in praying for both Azerbaijan and Armenia in this crucial and fragile time.

“I pray for peace in the Caucasus and I ask the parties in the conflict to make gestures of goodwill and brotherhood that may lead to resolving problems not with the use of force and weapons, but through dialogue and negotiation…” (Pope Francis)