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02/26/2024 Artsakh (International Christian Concern) – Until October 2023, more than 100,000 ethnic Armenian Christians lived in Artsakh, also known as Nagorno- Karabakh, a breakaway enclave internationally recognized as a part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians.

Artsakh can be found in the southern Caucasus region and lies between Azerbaijan and Armenia, with the two nations fighting three wars over the past three decades over the enclave. The end of the Republic of Artsakh this year started with a nine-month blockade by Azerbaijan on the enclave, followed by an overwhelming lightning military operation by Azerbaijan. In the days following Azerbaijan’s takeover of the enclave, more than 100,000 Armenians, including over 40,000 children, fled Artsakh into Armenia. By October 1, Artsakh was emptied of Armenians.

In the months following the war, the thousands of Armenian refugees have been trying to set up new lives in Armenia. Families have been settling in all parts of the country, living wherever they can find affordable housing. The refugees have to navigate a new system of schools for their children and develop trust with their new neighbors.

Despite the coldness of winter fast approaching, many were in such a hurry as they fled that they brought meager belongings. Refugees struggled to stay warm and feed their families. And work proved difficult to find in Armenia.

The families are struggling with the trauma of such rapid displacement and the loss of their nation, their land, homes, farms and everything they left behind. Most of the men served in the armed forces in defense of their land in the last war and are experiencing a deep sense of defeat from losing their homeland. The women and children are in trauma from the rapid displacement and in losing everything, and in some cases, family members who died or who are missing since the conflict and displacement.

All the Artsakh refugees ICC has spoken with shared that the reason they left was because they feared being massacred by the Azerbaijani military if they stayed under their control.

In addition to the complex history of conflict between both sides over the territory, there is a deep sense of the history of the Armenian genocide repeating itself, which happened more than a century ago and killed and displaced millions of Armenians. At that time, the Ottoman Empire declared a holy war against the empire’s Christians and sought to kill, or displace from their lands, its Christian populations and perhaps most significantly, Armenian Christians.

Rhetoric leading up to the conflict from Azerbaijani officials and media outlets enhanced that fear of a similar intent in Artsakh, with statements such as the need of “purging Nagorno-Karabakh of the ‘Armenian virus.’” In both past wars as well as the 2023 conflict, there is documentation of Azerbaijani forces destroying and desecrating Armenian churches in territories seized, and efforts to change the historical narrative of the millennia of Christian heritage in Artsakh.

When ICC has asked the Armenian Christians refugees how the outside world can both help and pray for them, they shared that they want prayer to continue defending their faith, their land, and their Christian Armenian heritage. Many Armenian Christians hold with deep sense of pride and honor with their identity as the world’s first Christian nation.

It is indeed inspiring to see their zeal to defend, cling to, and persevere their faith and pass it on to the next generation even amid massive oppression to their faith.

For many of the refugees during this time of seeming defeat and suffering, however, there are those that are considering what that Christian identity really means. In their trauma and suffering, it is paramount that these refugees be reminded and encouraged in the Christian’s true identity in Jesus Christ, even in the loss of their Christian homeland.

ICC is coming alongside these refugees to help them through their trauma, meet their daily needs, and to build sustainable income generating opportunities for families to begin a new life in Armenia. For some of the families, we have served and encouraged, it was the first time they had prayed in months since the tragedy. For others, it gave a renewed sense of light in their darkness of missing loved ones.

And for all, they were blessed in their deep faith of God’s presence with them through the care and kindness of global Christians sharing some of their resources to assist them in this time of crisis.

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