It didn’t take long for Azerbaijani occupiers to desecrate and vandalize the Ghazanchetsots (Holy Savior) Cathedral in Shushi, which was bombed twice last month by its forces.
Armenia’s Minister of Education, Culture and Sports Arayik Harutyunyan, as well as the World Council of Churches urged UNESCO, the United Nations cultural arm, to protect Artsakh’s religious sites, which came under heavy Azerbaijani shelling and are in danger of being destroyed.
The WCC issued the following statement:
The executive committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC), meeting by video conference from November 9 to 13, 2020, is gathered at a pivotal and acutely painful moment for the people of the land of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh and for all Armenian people, following the announcement of an agreement between the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia to bring an end to six weeks of intense armed conflict. We make an appeal for an end to the bloodshed and destruction this conflict has brought.
We join with His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, in praying for wisdom, unity and calm. We grieve with all those who have suffered terrible losses not only in the renewed fighting since September 27, but throughout the long history of the struggle for self-determination in the region, entrenching antagonism more deeply with each precious life lost.
We stand in solidarity with the Armenian communities that are threatened by the renewal of the genocide against their people, particularly in light of the egregious comments made by Turkish President Erdogan vowing to “fulfill this mission, which our grandfathers have carried out for centuries, in the Caucasus region” and in light of Turkey’s role in the current conflict. The WCC condemns any such threats, explicit or implicit, and the actions of those who have insinuated themselves in the conflict and exacerbated its violence, including by supplying internationally-banned weapons, sending mercenaries and jihadists from Syria and elsewhere, and seeking to turn it into a religious conflict. The WCC condemns the use of chemical weapons and cluster munitions, the targeting of civilians, hospitals and public infrastructure, and all other war crimes, beheadings, torture and other atrocities witnessed in the past weeks.
Furthermore, we appeal for respect for the holy sites and cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, though the repeated shelling of the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi on October 8 and the numerous reports being received of other more recent desecrations indicate a different reality. We urge UNESCO to take all possible and appropriate measures to protect these sites.
We call urgently upon all members of the international community to join in supporting efforts for the protection of such holy sites, for the return in safety and dignity of all refugees and displaced people, for protection of the Armenian people from the threat of genocide, for a lasting peace founded on justice and human rights for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh and the wider region, and to refrain from instigating or encouraging antagonism, conflict and injustice.
We lift up and accompany the continuing ministry and witness of the churches of the region, and pray that the church leaders may be given strength and wisdom to guide their people through this crisis.