Nagorno-Karabakh: August, 1998: Baroness Caroline Cox, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament’s House of Lords in London is the international head of the English-registered charity, and Stuart Windsor is the United Kingdom’s national director. They had requested the help of Project C.U.R.E. in Nagorno-Karabakh, a little-known but terribly distressed area of the old Soviet Union.
As far back as AD 340, the Armenians can trace their Christian religious heritage through church buildings and monasteries located throughout the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. From the early 1900s to 1916, the Turks employed radical methods of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Armenians in Turkey. Those activities all but eliminated the Armenian population from Turkey. Likewise, in 1905 Azerbaijan chose to eliminate the minority population of Armenian Christians from their country. In addition to the tens of thousands of Armenian Christians killed in Azerbaijan, over half a million more fled the country as homeless refugees. In 1919 and 1920, the Turkish and Azerbaijani military forces took land masses for their own that once belonged to the Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians. More ethnic cleansing of the Armenians followed. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Joseph Stalin tired of the continual tribal fighting within his Soviet Union. He thereupon arbitrarily and capriciously declared the Armenian region of Karabakh part of Azerbaijan. Stalin paid no attention to the fact that there was neither moral nor historic nor ethnic reasoning behind his action to give Nagorno-Karabakh to the Azerbaijanis. He didn’t need a reason; he was Stalin the Supreme. He totally cut off the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh from the geographical borders of Armenia. He also destroyed or closed down all monasteries and churches from that time on.
As the Soviet system began to weaken by 1988, the people of Nagorno-Karabakh voted to secede from Azerbaijan. On December 10, 1991, they passed a referendum for independence and freedom. Azerbaijan’s answer was to impose a harsh and effective blockade around Nagorno-Karabakh, completely cutting off food supplies and travel from the rest of the world. Further, Turkey joined in Azerbaijan’s punitive efforts against the ethnic Armenians in both Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh by imposing a choking embargo and total blockade around Armenia. They simply hoped to starve out the Armenian Christians.
Moscow’s Soviet authorities then joined in the fray and once again declared Nagorno-Karabakh under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan. The Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh sensed the seriousness the looming death sentence. They endeavored to reopen a route to connect them once again with Armenia. The Soviet Fourth Army joined forces with the Azerbaijani and the Turkish troops and attacked Nagorno-Karabakh with tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters. In the early fall of 1991, the joint armies made their intentions known to annul Nagorno-Karabakh’s declaration of independence and autonomy and rename its capital city, giving it a Turkish name.
Somehow the Nagorno-Karabakh forces were able to fend off not only the army of Azerbaijan but Soviet and Turkish forces as well. As all-out war raged, the idea of genocide in Karabakh grew as a final goal in the minds of the leaders of Azerbaijan. Former Azerbaijani president Abulfaz Elchibey pronounced in June 1992 that if there were still Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by October of 1992, the people of Azerbaijan could hang him in the central square of Baku, the nation’s capital. Now, President Aliyev has been reported as saying that the only solution to the problem is the elimination of all Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
Eventually, against all odds, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh were able to recapture the town of Shushi and open, once again, a corridor to Armenia through Lachin. However, it was accomplished at an incredibly high price of bloodshed and loss of life. The Karabakhi loss was not limited to just the soldiers; thousands of women and children became the express targets of the Azerbaijanis, Turks, and Soviets. Today, the blockade could once again be imposed even though a fragile cease-fire is being somewhat honored.
Thursday, August 13, I arrived from Denver at London Heathrow Airport. At 5:00 p.m., I was able to meet up with the other team members I will be traveling with to Nagorno-Karabakh. Lady Caroline Cox is the excursion leader. During the terrible war years in Nagorno-Karabakh between 1990 and 1994, she went at least once a month and rode with the helicopter pilots as they flew the dead and wounded out of Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh, across the blockaded corridor into Yerevan, Armenia.
The people of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh view her as a hero for her work in bringing supplies and aid to the Armenians, as well as standing boldly before British Parliament.
Stuart Windsor, a retired British military chaplain who lives in New Malden, Surrey, England, is the UK national director. Stuart went many times to the front lines of the war and prayed with the Armenian soldiers and held the heads of the dying men. Stuart and his wife, Ethel, will also join us on our trip from London as well as a team of five doctors from US and UK.
It was a five-hour flight from London Heathrow to Tbilisi, Georgia, south of Russia on the Black Sea. Our delegation took British Airways flight 6711 to Tbilisi and then continued on with British Airways to Yerevan, Armenia, arriving at about 8:30 this morning. As soon as the luggage was collected and we cleared customs, we took vans directly to the Armenian hotel in downtown Yerevan where we will be staying.
Next Week: From Yerevan into war-torn Stepanakert
© Dr. James W. Jackson
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