- Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay, WCC General Secretary
- Rev. Rita Famos, President, Protestant Church of Switzerland
- HE Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Vice-Moderator of WCC Central Committee (Armenian Apostolic Church)
- Mr Peter Prove, CCIA Director
- Ms Carla Khijoyan, WCC Programme Executive for peacebuilding in Middle East region
- Dr Ani Ghazaryan-Drissi, WCC Programme Executive, Faith & Order Commission
- Conveying solidarity to Armenian Apostolic Church and ecumenical partners – achieved
- Fact-finding in relation to humanitarian access to Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh – partially achieved
- Define WCC follow-up role – achieved
Key counterparts/meetings in Armenia:
- HH Karekin II, Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armenians, Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, and other representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church
- HG Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamian, Primate of the Diocese of Artsakh
- Dr Karen Nazaryan, Executive Director, WCC Armenia Roundtable Foundation (ACT Alliance member), and colleagues
- Dr Diana Tsaghikyan, WCC Central Committee member, Faculty of Theology at State University of Yerevan.
- Mr Paruyr Hovhannisyan, Deputy Foreign Minister, Republic of Armenia
- Mr Thierry Ribaux, Head of ICRC Delegation, Armenia
- Mr Marek Kuberski, Deputy Head of Mission, EU Monitoring Mission in Armenia (and Mr Dimitar Dermen, Political Adviser, EUMA)
- Ms Kavita Belani, UNHCR Representative in Armenia, and colleagues
- Dr Sergei Melkonian, Applied Policy Research Institute (APRI) Armenia
- The Lachin Corridor, the only access route to Nagorno-Karabakh specifically stipulated in the November 2020 ceasefire agreement (to which Azerbaijan committed) had been blockaded by Azerbaijani protestors since mid-December 2022. Since that time, only ICRC and the Russian peacekeepers had been able to pass the corridor and provide humanitarian assistance, though far from sufficient to compensate for the 400-500 tonnes of goods that had previously entered Nagorno-Karabakh via the Lachin Corridor each day. Since an exchange of fire at the entry point to the corridor in mid-June, the route had been completely closed to the transport of goods. Thereafter the ICRC had only been able to continue the transfer of critically ill patients from Nagorno-Karabakh for treatment in Armenia, and to return with very limited essential medical supplies. During this period, electricity, gas and fuel supplies to the region were largely cut off. Consequently, the population of Nagorno-Karabakh (an estimated 120,000 people) suffered a continuous and systemic deterioration in their humanitarian situation throughout this period. Offers by Azerbaijan of the provision of supplies from the eastern side of the territory (via the Aghdam Road) were resisted by the people of Nagorno-Karabakh on the grounds that this was seen as a means of Azerbaijan asserting its sovereignty over the region, while in breach of its commitment in the 2020 ceasefire agreement to keep the Lachin Corridor open. Hopes of a possible breakthrough for resumed humanitarian access were raised when, after weeks of negotiations, two ICRC trucks carrying essential supplies were finally able to enter the territory – one via the Lachin Corridor from Armenia, and one via the Aghdam Road from Azerbaijan – on the morning of 18 September, the first day of the WCC delegation’s visit.
Conclusion: Azerbaijan subjected the ethnic Armenian population of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh to months of siege-like conditions, precipitating an escalating humanitarian crisis, in breach of its obligations and commitments under the November 2020 ceasefire agreement.
- On 19 September, the WCC delegation planned to visit the entrance to the Lachin Corridor to observe the current circumstances for humanitarian access (having previously been denied permission by the Government of Azerbaijan to travel through the corridor into Nagorno-Karabakh). However, some five kilometres before reaching the entrance, the delegation was stopped at an Armenian military/police checkpoint and advised that it would be unsafe to travel further due to fighting having broken out in Nagorno-Karabakh an hour or two previously, with Azerbaijani forces shelling Stepanakert (the main city of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh). The sound of artillery explosions could be heard in the distance. The security officials also warned of the proximity of active Azerbaijani sniper positions on the hills ahead. After recording short video messages on the site, the WCC delegation therefore withdrew, and travelled to the Noravank Monastery and participated in an evening prayer for peace.
Conclusion: Azerbaijan’s attack on Stepanakert and other areas still under the control of the ethnic Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh was in violation of the terms of the November 2020 ceasefire agreement, and resulted in numerous civilian casualties (currently estimated by the Artsakh authorities as 10 civilians killed and 40 wounded, in addition to hundreds of armed service people killed and wounded, approximately 3,000 displaced people, and several thousand missing) and significant damage to civilian infrastructure. There is a strong implication that Azerbaijan’s long humanitarian blockade of the territory was planned as preparation for the subsequent military attack.
- Over the next 24 hours, the delegation received real-time reports of the shelling and fighting in Stepanakert from personal contacts in the city. The following day, the cessation of fighting was announced, after the commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces negotiated the capitulation of the ethnic Armenian fighters of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh, their disarmament, and the transfer of control of the territory to Azerbaijan.
Conclusion: The events of 19-20 September 2023, to which the WCC delegation was witness, effectively ended the history of ethnic Armenian control of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh, and of Armenian claims to self-determination in the territory where they have lived for millennia.
- Following the military capture of the territory, Azerbaijan is pursuing talks with the Armenian authorities of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh on the ‘re-integration’ of the people of the territory into Azerbaijan. However, the ethnic Armenian population is extremely distrustful of the government and authorities of Azerbaijan, and of their intentions towards Armenians. Depending on the subsequent actions of the Azerbaijani authorities vis-à-vis the Armenian population, a significant proportion of the present Armenian population can be expected to leave the territory, possibly in circumstances that may substantiate claims of ‘ethnic cleansing’.
Conclusion: The conditions which the Azerbaijani authorities will now provide for the Armenian population of the region are of critical importance for i) stabilization and improvement of the humanitarian situation of the population after many months of humanitarian blockade, and after the impacts of the latest fighting, ii) the security and status of the people of the region, ensuring equal rights for the ethnic Armenian population, iii) mitigating threats of ‘ethnic cleansing’, and iv) protecting Armenian cultural and religious heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh.
- The outcomes of this conflict leave only a thin strip of southern Armenian territory (Syunik Province) separating Azerbaijan from the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan, and beyond that from Türkiye. In light of its recent military success, Azerbaijan’s (and Türkiye’s) ambitions may not be limited to the establishment of the Nakhchivan Corridor already agreed to (though not yet defined). In public statements earlier this year President Aliyev has referred to the whole of Armenia as ‘Western Azerbaijan’.
Conclusion: The new geopolitical situation following the events of 19-20 September 2023 carries grave implications for the security of Armenia proper, with further attacks/incursions by Azerbaijan into the sovereign territory of Armenia widely anticipated. The future security and sovereignty of Armenia – the oldest Christian nation – and of the ancient Christian heritage of this land is now at real risk.
- The Armenian genocide (1915-1917) remains a very present reality in the minds of all Armenians. Many view the latest developments in Nagorno-Karabakh as threatening a renewal of genocide against the Armenians of that territory, and potentially of Armenia itself.
Conclusion: The political and social salience of Armenian people’s past experience and future fears of genocide must not be under-estimated. It should be recalled that ‘ethnic cleansing’, while lacking a specific definition in international law, often refers to actions that could/should be prosecuted as genocide.