According to an Armenian archbishop, Turkey is perpetrating a “third genocide” against the oldest Christian nation in the world.

He claims Turkey is using Azerbaijan to attack the Christian community in Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority-Armenian region of Azerbaijan that has been a de facto independent state since the 1990’s.

Recent fighting in the region has seen its churches targeted by Azerbaijani forces.

“It was never a religious conflict,” Armenian Archbishop Pargev Martirosyan told Spanish news agency EFE, days after shelling impacted the Holy Savior Cathedral, also known as the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral.

Martirosyan is the current Primate of the Diocese of Artsakh – as Nagorno-Karabakh calls itself – of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Fighting over the region restarted in late September, and there’s now a precarious Russia-backed ceasefire in place, so that both sides can retrieve the bodies of their fallen soldiers, and perhaps secure a more lasting deal.

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The mountainous region has been in limbo since a 1994 truce that ended a conflict that broke out in 1988 – when both Azerbaijan and Armenia were part of the Soviet Union – when the region made a bid to join Armenia, since an estimated 90 percent of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh is Armenian.

The conflict escalated in to a full-blown war after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Some 30,000 people died in the war, and close to one million others were forcibly displaced.

According to Martirosyan, the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan was never a religious conflict, because Armenians “don’t combat against mosques. We have no problems with the peoples of other confessions, and we never have had.”

The archbishop has been in Artsakh since 1989, so has been an eyewitness to the entire conflict.

“The heart of this conflict is rooted in the defense of the most elemental rights men have. The people who lived in the [Soviet] Karabakh couldn’t exercise their most basic rights. And they spoke up. Yes, we’re Armenian, we want to know our history, we want our churches to be open,” he said.

He told the Spanish news agency that for over seventy years the Azeris who ran Karabakh – incorporated to the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan – shut down all the Armenian churches.

“This was the problem,” he said. “There’s no religious conflict between Christians and Muslims here.”

Armenians often argue that Christianity is like the color of one’s skin: It cannot be changed, hence the influence the Armenian church has in the lives of the faithful.

Speaking about the shelling of the cathedral, the archbishop said that the Azerbaijanis want to “stomp on the symbols of our faith. They are barbaric. But this is no surprise for us: They did this in the war of the 1990s, when they attacked the monasteries.”

He believes that the churches are being targeted in an attempt to “weaken the moral” of the people.

“They want to bend our resistance,” Martirosyan said. “They don’t care that there is also a mosque here.”

He’s convinced that the bombing that cause the shelling in the cathedral is the “classic behavior of terrorist who cannot stand cultural, spiritual and religious values.”

He puts the blame squarely on the Turkish government, which supports Azerbaijan militarily.

“They destroy it all,” he said. “They’re authentic vandals. A terrorist, Turkish president [Recept Tayyip] Erdogan, trains them and send them to another terrorist, President [of Azerbaijan] Ilham Aliyev, who sends them to the front line.”

The archbishop was born in Sumgait, a seaside town of the then-Azerbaijan Soviet Republic. A pogrom in late February of 1988, during the early stages of the Armenian nationalist Karabakh movement, led to the systemic elimination of the Armenian population in the town, including Martirosyan’s family. The death toll is disputed: The official Soviet toll was 32, although Armenian sources put the figure closer to 200.

“This is the third genocide attempt,” Martirosyan said. “The first was in 1915 [when the then-Ottoman Empire systematically killed 1.5 million ethnic Armenians], the second in Sumgait and other cities of Azerbaijan. Now, we’re on the third one.”

The prelate is convinced Turkey is behind the current war because Erdogan has a foreign policy of “expansivity” towards a “region controlled by Russia for over 200 years.”

Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, he argues, are the only thing preventing Turkey from accomplishing its goal.

According to Asia News, Military exports from Turkey to Azerbaijan increased sixfold this year: Data provided by the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly show the escalation in arms sales for 2020 peaked last month – on the eve of the first fighting with Armenia.

On Tuesday, in the wake of the Russian mediation between Armenians and Azerbaijanis which lead to an Oct. 10 ceasefire, the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill released a statement calling for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“A bad peace is worse than a good fight,” Kirill wrote. “This old truth is today more relevant than ever. When there’s peace, people can come together, communicate and search for solutions for problems. But when there’s war, human blood is spilled, and crimes are committed. It’s hard to reach joint political decisions.”

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