Religious liberty experts are warning that a blockade due to the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is endangering thousands of Christians who are stuck in a disputed land between the two countries.
The conflict dates back decades, although the latest battle began in September when Azerbaijan, a Muslim-dominated country, attacked its border neighbor to the west, Armenia, a predominantly Christian nation. Some 120,000 Armenian Christians live in a disputed land known as Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies in the western portion of Azerbaijan.
A stretch of land known as the Lachin Corridor connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. It contains the only road between the two regions.
Although Azerbaijan blocked the corridor in December, a temporary ceasefire allowed thousands of Christians to flee Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. Upwards of half of the 120,000 Armenian Christians have fled into neighboring Armenia, believing they are no longer safe, a leader in the area told the BBC. The blockade led to shortages of food and medicine.
Open Doors, a religious liberty watchdog, reported that many Armenian Christians fear ethnic cleansing.
“I think it is still too early to draw conclusions. However, I expect that tensions will continue to simmer,” said Open Doors World Watch Research analyst Rolf Zeegers. “Let us pray that our Lord will protect His children in the region and that they will have peace. Pray that they will suffer no more violence.”
Azerbaijan ranks No. 58 on Open Doors’ World Watch List of the world’s top persecutors of Christians. The government monitors religious literature and requires permission for religious activities, according to Open Doors.
Pastors in the region are urging Christians to pray.
“We need to pray for peace so that the Lord will stop the war. Every neighborhood has dead soldiers, even among our relatives. Now civilians are leaving the area,” one pastor told Open Doors. A second pastor said, “Well, most importantly, pray that the conflict will be fully resolved, that there will be no more bloodshed. There are a lot of victims; pray for these families so that the Lord will comfort them.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
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