WCC and CEC Churches denounce blockade of ethnic Armenian region

In a joint letter sent to the European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches denounce the the ten-day-old blockade of the ethnic Armenian enclave of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh as a violation of the tripartite agreement that ended the six-week war of 2020.

By Lisa Zengarini

The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC), have urged the European Union to pursue all possible diplomatic initiatives to ensure that Azerbaijan re-opens the Lachin Corridor and provides appropriate guarantees that it will remain open.

The corridor — the only road connecting Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia —has reportedly been blocked by Azeri forces since 12 December, completely isolating around 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in the enclave, and depriving them of food, medicines and other basic necessities, as well as gas supplies.

A violation of the 2020 tripartite agreement 

According to a joint letter signed by CEC General Secretary Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen and the WCC Acting General Secretary Rev. Dr Ioan Sauca, the blockade violates the tripartite agreement that ended the six-week war of 2020, the international humanitarian and human rights law.

The agreement was signed by the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and the Prime Minister of Armenia ending the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, which broke out on 27 September 2020 after an Azerbaijani offensive against the self-declared Armenian breakaway state of Artsakh.

The South Caucasus territory, which is inhabited by a majority of ethnic Armenians, but is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, has been disputed by the two neighbouring countries since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In their letter issued earlier this week, the WCC and CEC decry the blockade, saying it  "contradicts any claims of goodwill and humanitarian responsibility" on  the part of Azerbaijan.

“By its actions in obstructing the humanitarian Lachin corridor, and by temporarily cutting gas supplies to the region just at the onset of winter, Azerbaijan is deliberately creating a humanitarian emergency for the 120,000 ethnic Armenian residents of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh, seeking to force Armenia into accepting a settlement on Azerbaijan’s terms, and trying to terrorize ethnic Armenians into abandoning their ancient homeland.”

Alleged war crimes against ethnic Armenians

The letter further draws attention to the evidence of “gross violations of human rights against Armenians by Azerbaijan’s military and security forces”, for which Baku has been accused of war crimes, that however still remain unaccounted for.

“In these circumstances, Armenian fears of renewed genocide against them cannot be discounted, and the blockade of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh is a context in which those fears are greatly and understandably exacerbated”

The WCC and CEC therefore urge the EU to intervene to ensure that Azerbaijan re-opens the Lachin Corridor and  keeps it open in the future.

Need for international monitoring of the Corridor

They also appeal to Brussels to do all in its power  to secure an extension of the mandate of the existing EU monitoring mission at the Armenia-Azerbaijan border to include the Lachin Corridor, in order to provide independent  monitoring of the situation in the area.

Pope Francis' appeal on Sunday

The Churches’ appeal follows Pope Francis’ recent call on all parties involved in the conflict  to find  “peaceful solutions to the dispute “for the good of the people.”

During the Angelus prayer in St Peter’s Square on Sunday, the Pope expressed concern about the situation in the region and in particular “about the precarious humanitarian conditions of the people, which are in further danger of deteriorating during the winter season”.

On the same day the Catholicos  of Armenia Karekin II had termed the blockade in the Armenian enclave as “inhumane” and blatant “provocation” conducted “under false pretences”.

UN Security Council

During a special session on the issue on Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council too urged an end to the blockade of the Lachin Corridor. Russia, a permanent member of the Council,said that it anticipates the opening of the Corridor in the near future. Its peacekeeping forces reportedly have been engaged in negotiations with the Azerbaijani side.

As crisis unfolds EU and Azerbaijan reinforcing energy cooperation

The new crisis comes as Azerbaijan has agreed last week to supply the European Union with green Azeri energy through an electric cable running under the Black Sea reinforcing their energy co-operation and therefore allowing the EU to further diversify its energy supply away from Russia, after its invasion of Ukraine.

The agreement was signed in Bucharest on 17 December  with Romania, Georgia, and Hungary. The construction on the subsea cable is due to start in 2023 linking the South Caucasus Republic to Hungary via Georgia and Romania, although it is not expected to come on stream before 2029.

According to the European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen who attended the signing of the memorandum, the Black Sea cable is a new transmission route “full of opportunities” and will allow the EU and other countries to definitively “turn their backs” on reliance on Russian fossil fuels and diversify towards “reliable energy partners”.

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21 December 2022, 14:35