European Christians feel solidarity with fleeing Armenians


Eastern Europe

Joe-Lize Kruijsse-Brugge, CNE.news

Refugees board a bus as they leave the Red Cross registration center, in Goris. The first group of Nagorno-Karabakh refugees since Azerbaijan's lighting assault against the separatist region entered Armenia on September 24, 2023. Photo AFP, Alain Jocard

Since the escalation of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Christians from all over Europe have voiced support for the Armenian population. How come?

Christian Armenians do not only live in Armenia itself. Two-thirds of the ethnic Armenian population reside abroad nowadays, the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad calculated recently. Most immigrants fled Armenia around the First World War when the Ottomans killed between 1 and 1.5 million Armenians.

This killing spree is also known as the Armenian Genocide. Turkey never took responsibility for it. Yet, it is engraved in the memory of all Armenians. That means that the word genocide has a very strong historical connotation when Armenians say to fear for a genocide in Nagorno-Karabakh.

According to the Reformatorisch Dagblad, only 2.8 million Armenians live in Armenia today. Russia and the United States have an Armenian population of about a million and France of a few hundred thousand. In the Netherlands, the Armenian community counts a few tens of thousands of members.


The Armenian Churches of France have strongly spoken out against the recent aggression from Azerbaijan against the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. In a joint statement, they call the acts “a plan of extermination” and “ethnic cleansing”, Evangeliques.info reports.

Archimandrite Krikor Khachatryian, the primate of the French diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Elie Yeghiayan, bishop of the Holy Cross Eparchy of Armenian Catholics and Evangelical pastor Joel Mikaelian signed the press release that was published at the end of last month. In it, they condemn the military actions of Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. Tens of thousands of Armenians have fled the area.

The French religious leaders called on the international community to intervene. They demand a "strong and unequivocal condemnation, international sanctions, the sending of an international force and real international aid."


In Sweden, Armenian Christians take action, too. The Apostolic Church there has started a fundraiser, Dagen reports. "We cooperate with a sister church in Armenia", Isa-Lei Arminé Moberg says. She monitors developments for the Armenian Apostolic Church in Sweden. The sister church she talks about has started to receive people from Nagorno Karabakh. The Swedish congregation supports this work by supplying funds for food, medicines, hygiene products, clothes and blankets.

An elderly woman holding an infant waits as ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh arrive to a registration center of the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, near the border town of Kornidzor, Armenia. Photo EPA, Narek Aleksanyan

However, the "most urgent thing" is to provide people with a roof over their heads, Isa-Lei Arminé Moberg explains. "Armenia is not prepared to receive this many people."

State religion

Armenians also fear for the Christian heritage in Nagorno Karabakh. They are worried about what the predominantly Muslim Azerbaijan will do to the countless Christian monasteries, churches and monuments, Dagen writes.

Armenia is the oldest Christian nation we know, Dutch MEP Peter van Dalen said at a meeting of his party, the Christian Union. The country made Christianity its state religion already in 301 C.E. The Christian Union has always shown solidarity with Armenia and its population, which consists for 90 per cent Christians, the Dutch daily Nederlands Dagblad writes. Because of its Christian history, Van Dalen finds it important to support the country. "Armenians show in their speaking and deeds that they are Christians; they don't just say they are."

Rich church history

However, that Christian heritage is now under threat of attacks by Azerbaijan, Van Dalen warns. "The ancient churches and cemeteries have been systematically attacked. What happens here is a cultural-historical destruction."

Isa-Lei Moberg from Sweden agrees. "It is about a rich church history that is on the verge of disappearing", she says to Dagen. "This is not only a historical displacement and ethnic cleansing, but also a cultural heritage that may be lost."

Religious conflict

Rita Famos recently visited Armenia. The President of the Swiss Protestant community believes that this conflict is not just about territory. "This is a genocide that began a hundred years ago in Turkey and continues in Nagorno Karabakh", she says to Reforme.net. She points out that human rights organisations have sounded the alarm and condemned the "genocide against the Christian minority." Famos emphasises that Armenia is a common heritage to all Christians."

The Dutch Gor Khatchikyan, who has Armenian roots, also believes that religious reasons play a role in the conflict, he says to the Nederlands Dagblad. "In the area, Armenia is the only Christian enclave. Azerbaijan uses that in its propaganda about Armenians. Christians are portrayed very negatively in general."

Also, Elbert Pogosjan, who fled to the Netherlands from Armenia 25 years ago, sees it that way. "The Islamic countries around it have always oppressed Armenia."

Pogosjan points out to CVandaag that early Islamic teachings already mention Armenia and call believers to fight it. “Islamic documents write that Armenia is a target to bring Islam there.”

At the same time, he points out that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is also political. "In essence, it is about taking over Armenia as a whole. They doubt the right of Armenia to exist: it would always have been part of the Islamic Azerbaijan."

The organisation Œuvre d'Orient, which supports Christians worldwide, organised a meeting for the Armenian community in France and all those affected or interested in the conflict. "We cannot remain silent in the face of this tragedy", says the organisation's director, Pascal Gollnisch, to Le Pelerin. With the meeting, Œuvre d'Orient wants to alert politicians and the international community about the severity of the situation. Gollnisch warns that it is not unlikely that Azerbaijan will not stop at Nagorno-Karabakh but proceed to attack Armenia to establish a corridor to its ally Turkey.

Œuvre d'Orient also supports Armenia by supporting the Armenian Catholic Church, which assists the population onsite.


The Austrian Bishops' Conference calls for prayer and help for the people in Nagorno-Karabakh, Religion.orf writes. With that request, Archbishop Franz Lackner and the Board of the World Council of Churches in Austria joined the call of the Armenian Apostolic Church to hold a prayer day last Sunday. "Let us pray together for the displaced and suffering; let us pray for peace", Lackner said, representing all Catholic bishops of Austria. "We call on all Christians in Austria to carry this prayer request in their hearts on Sunday and beyond", the Bishops said in a statement last week. "We pray for the 120,000 residents of Nagorno-Karabakh who are currently losing their homes, we pray and ask for peace, and at the same time, we pray for the conversion of hearts so that Armenians and Azerbaijanis can live side by side in the future", they conclude their statement.

Pope Francis emphasised the need to find a solution to the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh last Sunday, La Croix reports. He called the situation "dramatic". He called for support from the international community to "find a lasting agreement that puts an end to the humanitarian crisis."

Ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh travel on a dump truck crossing the border with Azerbaijan near the village of Kornidzor, Armenia, 29 September 2023. Photo EPA, Anatoly Maltsev

According to La Croix, it was the first time Pope Francis called the fighting parties by name in this conflict. Earlier, he only spoke in general terms, about "silencing the guns", for example.

The Pope also added that he is praying for the victims of the explosion at a gas station in Nagorno-Karabakh, Ria Novosti reports. The blast killed at least 170 people, local rescuers said.


Despite all the worries from the European Christian community, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev reassures the Armenian community that their rights will be protected in Nagorno-Karabakh. "We officially declare that the rights and safety of the Armenian population will be protected. We have already presented to the Armenian community of Karabakh our vision of reintegration, which covers respect for their religious, educational, cultural, municipal and all other rights that are reflected in the international conventions", Aliyev said earlier as reported by IRP News. However, not many Armenians seem to trust this promise. The stream of refugees leaving the enclave has not quite dried up yet.



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