Christian Armenia Under Attack

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First Things - Web Exclusives

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Last week, Azerbaijan reignited its long-simmering war with Armenia over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The region, known in Armenian as Artsakh, has a Christian Armenian population of about 150,000, which makes it a minority territory in Muslim Azerbaijan (population 10 million).

Thirty years ago, in response to discriminatory treatment and outright pogroms against Armenians, the region declared independence. Armenia (population 3 million) supported Karabakh—though it has never formally recognized its independence—and a bloody war followed, in which 30,000 people died and hundreds of thousands on both sides became refugees. Against all odds, Armenia and Karabakh prevailed and established a buffer zone comprising perhaps 20 percent of Azeri territory.

An unstable ceasefire has held since 1994. But last week, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive against Karabakh and Armenia itself. This is more serious than past Azeri efforts to break the stalemate. Flush with petrodollars, Azerbaijan has purchased a large stockpile of heavy weapons, which it now employs against Armenia. Moreover, Turkey (population 80 million), which borders Armenia on the other side, is supporting Azerbaijan. Azeris are a Turkic people, though they are Shia, not Sunni, Muslims, and the Erdogan government sees the conflict as a way to pursue its goal of pan-Turanism. Turkey has supplied Azerbaijan with military advisers and equipment, including drones and fighter jets and thousands of Islamist soldiers from Syria, who fight for Azerbaijan on the front lines.