DESPITE THE SUPPORT, images of war remain: Body bags of families’ sons and fathers continue to arrive from the battlefront.
Varduhi Grigoryan (unrelated to Rafael Grigoryan) felt heartache in the Armenian city of Gyumri when she received a text message early on Sept. 29 from her son’s friend saying, “You are a strong person and you’re really very powerful.”
The night before, she had knelt in her church to pray for Vardges Minasyan, her 26-year-old son and an officer in the Armenian military fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh. When she read the message, she knew her son had died in battle.
Varduhi learned her son gave his bulletproof vest to a younger soldier when they went to retrieve the bodies of fellow soldiers. He was the only person not to survive an attack on his team.
Varduhi wasn’t surprised by her son’s action. She described him as a symbol of kindness and peace, recalling he became the godfather/sponsor of five younger soldiers after their baptisms. Minasyan was buried on Oct. 2.
“He was always protecting people who needed it,” Varduhi said. “It’s important his name goes down in history because he was a hero.”
Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh prize the region’s rich spiritual heritage: Churches and monasteries date back to early Christianity.
On Oct. 8, suspected Azerbaijani shelling struck the towering Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in the town of Shusha. A shell left a hole in the church’s high ceiling and scattered debris across partially damaged pews.
Zohrabyan said he received word that an evangelical church in Stepanakert was “totally destroyed.” Attacks also damaged several other churches belonging to Baptist, Pentecostal, and other denominations in the region, Rafael Grigoryan added.
“We have first-century Christian sites there,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America. “[These attacks] are meant to terrorize the population to make them flee or give up.”
TURKEY’S INVOLVEMENT is now stoking fears of a wider regional conflict and ethnic cleansing. Armenia reported a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down one of its planes on Sept. 29, and satellite images showed at least two Turkish F-16s and a possible cargo plane at Azerbaijan’s Ganja airport.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is denying involvement in the battle, but French intelligence confirmed that Turkey transported hundreds of fighters into Azerbaijan. They include at least 300 Syrian fighters linked to jihadist groups from Aleppo, transported from Syria to Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey and into Azerbaijan. Turkey also airlifted more than 1,000 mercenaries into Azerbaijan, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Erdogan had already been strengthening his country’s military alliance with Azerbaijan, holding Turkey’s largest-ever military drills there in July. Armenia called for Turkey’s withdrawal after a border skirmish then.
October’s fighting sets the stage for a wider war involving the region’s major powers. Russia maintains a military base in Armenia and is part of a treaty assuring support to Armenia if it faces a security threat. After a July border skirmish between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Moscow brokered one cease-fire, then two more in October. But fighters in the two countries have repeatedly broken the truces. Meanwhile, Moscow also maintains political and economic relations with oil-rich Azerbaijan.