WCC news: WCC delegation witnesses Azerbaijani forces shelling of Armenian enclave

WCC news: WCC delegation witnesses Azerbaijani forces shelling of Armenian enclave

A World Council of Churches delegation led by general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay has concluded its visit to Armenia after “witnessing dramatic events”.

The delegation was at the border near the entrance to the Lachin Corridor on 19 September as shelling by Azerbaijan’s armed forces of Stepanakert began in the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakhed. 

A ceasefire agreement outlined by Azerbaijan and the Russian Defence Ministry was announced the following day. It requires the complete disarmament of the ethnic Armenian forces of Nagorno-Karabakh. The agreement provides for Azerbaijan’s assumption of control of the entire region after a decades-long conflict over the status of the territory where Armenians form the majority.

“We were witness to the dramatic events of 19-20 September 2023”, said general secretary Pillay, “and we are gravely concerned for the welfare of the people of the region after months of what was effectively a blockade of humanitarian supplies and essential services, compounded now by the impacts of the very recent armed violence.” 

Assistance to children

Pillay called for “urgent assistance to the children, women and men of the region, to alleviate their acute suffering”.

Rev. Rita Famos, president of the Swiss Protestant Church and a member of the WCC delegation, recalled that “many expressed to us their fears of the ethnic cleansing of Armenians from a region their people have inhabited for centuries.” She stressed that “the international community must monitor the situation closely to see that the status and equal human rights of the people are ensured and that their fears are not realized.”

Hundreds of refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh have been arriving in Armenia. There, the churches, the government, and local and international organizations are working to provide for their care and support. 

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, also part of the visiting WCC delegation and the vice moderator of the WCC central committee, appealed to the international community and all people of goodwill to “stand with the Armenian people in this time of displacement and dispossession, for all Armenians.” 

He stressed, “The events of the last few days bring back terrible, painful memories of the tragedies endured by the Armenian nation throughout its history and make us afraid for the future of our people and our unique ancient Christian culture.”

WCC general secretary Pillay explained, “In the next days and weeks, the WCC will be consulting closely with its counterparts in the international community on the evolving situation in the region and remaining in prayerful solidarity with its member church, the Armenian Apostolic Church and ecumenical partners in Armenia.” The delegation was accompanied by Peter Prove, director, WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs; Carla Khijoyan, WCC program executive for the Middle East; and Dr Ani Ghazaryan Drissi, WCC program executive for the WCC Faith and Order Commission.