Is the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan religious?
The 44-day-war between Armenia and Azerbaijan ended on November 10 with a Russian-brokered ceasefire and a new geopolitical configuration for this strategic region located between Russia, Iran and Turkey. The region is the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road and new East-West, North-South transport links. It is a crucial area for the United States and the world at large.
During the war, we saw myriad attempts to frame this conflict as a Christian-Muslim war. Such propaganda came primarily from Armenia’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, who labeled the conflict as a war between Christian and Muslim civilizations. It also came from some Armenian organizations and their allies in the U.S. and Europe. To back up these claims, the Armenian propaganda machine and its supporters constantly promoted the hyped-up claims about “Islamist jihadists” from Syria fighting on the Azerbaijani side. The Armenian side or their friends have not been able to provide a shred of credible evidence buttressing these claims about Syrian mercenaries. Nevertheless, this label of “a majority-Muslim country vs a Christian country” was quite attractive and convenient for many islamophobic and white supremacist forces to use it for their own racist propaganda.
Armenia even went as far as inviting Neo-Nazis from Germany to the occupied Karabakh in the middle of the war.
Also, a French Neo-Nazi leader joined volunteer groups fighting for Armenia.
The purpose of the propaganda presenting the conflict as a religious conflict was clear: To amass support for Armenia against Azerbaijan in the West. Did Armenia achieve its goal? With hindsight and absolute certainty, the answer is a big NO. Except for a few neo-Nazi, islamophobic, white supremacist racists, no one in the West seriously believes that the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict is a Christian-Muslim war. On the contrary, Armenia’s propaganda has hurt Armenia itself. Leaders in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, seem to have forgotten that labeling the conflict as a religious war might hurt Armenia’s standing among Muslim nations. Now, to minimize the self-inflicted damage, President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian has recently visited UAE and Jordan assuring, publicly that it is not and has never been a religious conflict.
And he is right. The conflict has nothing to do with religion. Otherwise, how can one explain the fact that Iran, a Muslim country, has for the most part of the last three decades strongly supported Armenia? On the other hand, Israel has been a strong ally of Azerbaijan along with other Western Christian nations, including the United States?
How many American planes transited or refueled in Azerbaijan on their way to fight America’s “longest war” in Afghanistan?
Azerbaijan is known for its secularism. There is a history of Christianity in Azerbaijan as old as the religion itself. The oldest church in the Caucasus was established in Azerbaijan in the first century by Bartholomew, one of Jesus’s apostles. In 313 the ancestral state of Azerbaijani people — the Caucasian Albania — became one of the world’s earliest Christian states.
Today, alongside Muslims, half a million Christians of all denominations — Orthodox, Protestants, Catholics — continue to freely live and practice their faith in Azerbaijan. Many churches in Azerbaijan have been renovated and restored by its Government. Pope Francis praised Azerbaijan’s religious tolerance and held a mass at the Catholic Church, which was built in downtown Baku on land donated by the President of Azerbaijan.
Despite the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, over 30,000 ethnic Armenians continue to peacefully live in Azerbaijan’s major cities like Baku, Ganja, Sumgayit and others. There is a beautiful Armenian church in downtown Baku, renovated and restored and protected by Azerbaijan.
The church has an extensive library of 5,000 ancient Armenian books, perfectly preserved as Armenian cultural heritage by Azerbaijan. Chief Armenian religious leader — Catholicos Karekin II visited this Church in 2010 and prayed there. He was deeply impressed by how well the church was maintained.
Alongside Christians, there is a large Jewish community living in Azerbaijan. Around 30,000 Jews peacefully live in Azerbaijan. In fact it’s one of the safest countries for Jews in the world, as attested by many prominent Jewish faith leaders. Today it’s much safer to be openly Jewish, wearing a Kippah, in the streets of Baku or elsewhere in Azerbaijan than in Paris, Brussels, Vienna or even Los Angeles. I have witnessed it myself visiting Azerbaijan with many Orthodox Jewish friends over the years.
Azerbaijan helps all religious communities, not only by building and rebuilding their houses of worship, it also helps them financially to maintain their respective communities. It’s a rare case of a staunchly secular government funding and helping the nation’s faith groups.
In the latest 44-day-war Azerbaijani Christians and Jews as well as representatives of all ethnic minorities living in Azerbaijan joined the military to fight in Karabakh defending Azerbaijan.
So after all this, all the blabbering about this conflict being a Christian-Muslim conflict seems extremely irrelevant and obviously malicious.
It is a conflict that’s a result of Armenia’s baseless territorial claims, driven by maximalist nationalism, against Azerbaijan: Territorial claims rejected by the entire world. The United Nations Security Council has clearly stated that Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent districts, which were invaded and occupied by Armenia in the early 1990s, are an inalienable, integral part of Azerbaijan.