For weeks, FRC has been closely tracking the terrible war in Nagorno-Karabakh, a community of some 150,000 Christians residing in an historic Armenian enclave. Their homeland was invaded in late September by neighboring Azerbaijan, a majority Muslim country. This invasion broke a 1994 cease-fire between the two countries. But to make matters worse, in this latest incursion, Turkey seems to have encouraged if not inspired the assault, providing massive military and financial support to the Azeris. Turkey’s Islamist President also transported thousands of Syrian mercenaries into the battle, more than a few of which were jihadis.
Baroness Cox is a life peer in Britain’s House of Lords and a Christian human rights activist, whom I first met in 2003. We met in Nagorno-Karabagh, a place that has been dear to her heart since an earlier war in 1990-1994, in which she arranged to provide generous financial and material support for the beleaguered Armenian Christians there. Along with other friends, we traveled to the tiny enclave—locally known as Artsakh. There we heard the stories of community leaders, Armenian Orthodox clergy, soldiers, and everyday Christians about the terrible violence they endured in those early 1990s battles. Baroness Cox’s love for the people and the land was deeply moving.
A few months after that trip, I was asked to write a biography of Baroness Cox’s work as a defender of human rights and persecuted Christians. Her efforts have spanned decades, spent in far-flung places like Poland, Russia, Burma, Nigeria, Indonesia, Sudan, and of course Nagorno-Karabakh. The book, Baroness Cox: Eyewitness to a Broken World, was released in London in 2007, and later that year in the United States. She and I remain in close touch, and I am in the process of writing a new, updated version of her book.
Today, Baroness Cox is in Yerevan, Armenia, and I received the following press release from her yesterday morning, describing the terrible aftermath of this latest Nagorno-Karabakh war. Please pray for the people who are suffering there—many of whom have lost everything including their loved ones, their homes, and their hopes for the future.
12 November 2020 // For immediate release
‘MY HOME IS IN RUINS. I HAVE NOTHING LEFT’
BARONESS COX ALONGSIDE DISPLACED FAMILIES IN ARMENIA
Civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh “hid under trees to escape aerial bombardments” with bodies “so destroyed” that DNA was needed to identify them, according to local witnesses who have been forced to flee their homes.
A mother-of-four told Baroness Cox on Tuesday: “My husband, a firefighter, was killed in attacks by Azerbaijan. I escaped in a car with my kids. But my home is in ruins. I have nothing left.” She said: “His body was so destroyed that we needed DNA to identify him. Everything in the village has been stolen or demolished.”
‘Evidence of torture and mutilations’
One family – whose son, an Armenian soldier, was captured by Azeri forces – said: “His phone was stolen by his captors and they posted an image of his beheaded body and sent this to his own social media account for his own family and friends to see.”
The same concerns were raised by the Armenian Human Rights Ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, who told Baroness Cox: “We have video evidence of torture and mutilations. Civilians and POWs are humiliated by their captors. Azerbaijan have returned 29 military bodies and few civilians – DNA was needed to identify four bodies. But it refuses to provide the list of current prisoners (30 now known, but there is likely many more) and continues to withhold information and access to prisoners from the Red Cross.”
A fragile peace?
Meanwhile, concerns remain over the fragility of Monday’s peace deal, which was brokered by Russia and agreed by Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Before the ceasefire was agreed, Azerbaijan targeted civilian infrastructure including hospitals, schools, homes, churches and electricity and water supplies. Supported by Turkey, its military forces reportedly deployed cluster bombs, heavy artillery and phosphorous – contrary to international law – with widespread evidence of torture, mutilation, humiliation and killings.
Baroness Cox arranged an emergency visit to Armenia to take aid to HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust) partners and to show solidarity with the Armenian people as they seek to hold their frontline of faith and freedom. She said:
“Given the past and recent history, the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh justifiably fear the possibility of ethnic cleansing. Despite Monday’s ceasefire, reports continue to emerge of brutality inflicted on military and civilian prisoners, including torture and beheadings, with claims that equivalent brutalities have been perpetrated by jihadists who receive payment for every Armenian beheaded.
“We are told that, when Azeris kill or capture any Armenians, they take over their social media accounts and send pictures of dismembered, decapitated bodies to their mothers and wives. It is impossible to fathom the suffering inflicted on these women, waiting to hear from their husbands, brothers or sons, and not knowing what might come to their phone.
“We hope – and pray – that the ceasefire will bring an end to the military offensives by Azerbaijan, that the people of Nagorno-Karabakh will be able to re-build their lives, and that peace will prevail. But as the crisis continues to unfold, Nagorno-Karabakh’s rightful claim to self-determination must be supported by the international community as an urgent priority.”
HART remains committed to providing advocacy and aid for our partners in Nagorno-Karabakh, continuing to support our valiant partner Vardan Tadevosyan’s work with people with disabilities.