The offices of the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA) shook as Azerbaijani missiles struck the building next door last week. One team member rushed to the damaged office to salvage infant formula for aid distribution, loading it into a truck under heavy shelling, said Harout Nercessian, the mission’s Armenian representative: “Bricks fell off, windows and the ceilings came down.”
Renewed fighting broke out on Sept. 27 between the majority Christian Armenia and mostly Muslim Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, known locally as Artsakh. The territory, roughly the size of Delaware, is in Azerbaijan but home to mainly Armenian Christian communities. Armenia said Azerbaijan launched air raids and artillery fire in the region, and Azerbaijan said it responded to a military attack. The clashes have killed more than 360 people from both countries and left local Christians scrambling for shelter. It’s the deadliest conflict in the region since the 1990s war that left about 30,000 dead.
Shelling on Thursday destroyed a towering cathedral in the town of Shushi. At least two men from the Armenian Evangelical Church that shares its building have died in the fighting, Nercessian said.
“Everybody in Artsakh has a father, brother, son who’s fighting, and everybody that I know has a relative that’s been martyred,” he said.
AMAA is providing Bibles, food, and encouragement to the many women, children, and elderly huddled in basements and shelters. Christians from other Armenian cities have donated food, clothes, and medical supplies to the residents of Yerevan. The ministry has sheltered dozens of families fleeing to the city.
Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia, said local Christian leaders estimated between 15,000 and 20,000 people fled Nagorno-Karabakh. A spokesman for rebel groups in the area told Agence France-Presse as many as 75,000 people—half of the region’s population—had left.
About 2,000 families arrived in Vanadzor, Armenia, looking for shelter, local pastors with the Evangelical Christian Church of the Pentecostal Faith told Rakhuba on Tuesday. The church set up several collection points across the city where people dropped off blankets, clothing, and food items for the refugees.
Many civilians displaced by the conflict face the start of winter in unheated basements and damaged buildings, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned last week. The aid agency said it was sending medical supplies and body bags to support hospitals and the region’s forensic bureau.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have traded blame for targeting civilian populations, ignored global calls for a cease-fire, and placed conditions on talks. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he would continue military action unless Armenia withdrew from the region. In a Monday post on Facebook, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan showed similar defiance, calling demobilized servicemen “to fight a war of survival for their fatherland.”
Armenia also demanded Turkey vacate Nagorno-Karabakh after accusing it of sending arms and foreign fighters to Azerbaijan. French President Emmanuel Macron this month said intelligence reports confirmed Turkey supplied at least 300 Syrian fighters from jihadi groups to assist Azerbaijan in the conflict.
Steven Howard, the national outreach director of In Defense of Christians, highlighted Turkey’s track record of Christian persecution. His ministry and its partner organization, Armenian National Committee of America, called on the United States to seize military aid to Azerbaijan and sanction it and Turkey.
“What we’re seeing from Turkey, Azerbaijan and the jihadists is that they’re going to try to drive out the Christian presence there,” Howard said.