Armenia’s Vatican ambassador says Azerbaijan pushing ‘false narrative’

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Last week, the Vatican received a delegation from Azerbaijan that held several high-level meetings, including with Pope Francis and his Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin. At the heart of the conversation was the ongoing conflict between this country and Armenia.

Following the visit, the Armenian ambassador to the Holy See voiced his concerns over what he described as “false narratives and statements” that were “being spread by the members of the Azerbaijani delegation to mislead both the interlocutors in the Vatican and the local press.”

In an email exchange with Crux, Garen Nazarian also said that “Our close relationship with the Holy See and Catholic Church is based not only on the Christian system of values but also on the common historical and spiritual heritage and widely similar approaches to the challenges facing the modern world.”

What follows are excerpts of that exchange.

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Crux: In recent days, there was a delegation from Azerbaijan to the Vatican. Is Armenia planning on scheduling a similar diplomatic exchange?

Nazariam: Our bilateral ties with the Holy See have always stood out for the high political dialogue we have been maintaining for decades now. A vivid testimony of Armenia’s fruitful dialogue with the Holy See is the continued high-level reciprocal visits and meetings. Just last October the President of Armenia paid an official visit to the Supreme Pontiff and also met with the Secretary of State of His Holiness [Cardinal Pietro Parolin] and other high-ranking officials in the Vatican. Last Fall we hosted in Yerevan a high-level delegation from the Vatican headed by the Substitute of the General Affairs of the Secretariat of State [Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra] who participated at the official opening of the Apostolic Nunciature (Embassy of the Vatican) in Armenia. 

We are confident that these mutual visits and exchanges will be continued further. 

Pope Francis, center, flanked by Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, left, and Catholicos Karekin II, the spiritual head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, arrives to preside over a prayer for peace in the presence of representatives of the Christian Churches and Communities at an interreligious meeting ‘Brother peoples, future land” organized by the Sant’Egidio Community, at Rome’s Colosseum, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

The dynamics and debt of our relations with the Holy See cannot be compared with those between the Holy See and Azerbaijan. Our close relationship with the Holy See and Catholic Church is based not only on the Christian system of values but also on the common historical and spiritual heritage and widely similar approaches to the challenges facing the modern world. This is a result of Pope Francis’ commitment to deepen our relations, which we highly appreciate and are grateful for. 

The visit of the Azerbaijani delegation has coincided with the 32nd anniversary of the mass pogroms against Armenians that began in Baku in January 1990. Do you believe this was timed, or was it a coincidence? 

I believe it was a coincidence, but during the visit false narratives and statements (for example: “all religious representatives live in peace in Azerbaijan” or “re-integration of the citizens of the Armenian origin” etc.) were being spread by the members of the Azerbaijani delegation to mislead both the interlocutors in the Vatican and the local press. 

Let me inform your readers and subscribers that 32 years ago these January days the mass pogroms against Armenians living in Baku were organized by the Azerbaijani authorities. These crimes became the culmination of the policy of annihilation and forcible displacement of the Armenian population living in Azerbaijan. Hundreds of people were murdered, mutilated, and disappeared among the Armenian population as a result of week-long bloody mass atrocities. These massacres, as a result of which half a million Armenians became refugees, completed the process of annihilation of Armenians from Azerbaijan. 

Today, the consistent denial of the Baku massacres and other crimes against Armenians, the glorification of their masterminds, the continuous insinuation of hatred against Armenians are still state policy in the so-called “multicultural and tolerant” Azerbaijan. It continues to manifest itself in the form of hate speech and aggressive policy towards Armenia and Artsakh [how the region of Nagorno-Karabakh identifies itself], which is a threat to peace and stability in our region.

Based on your experience, do you believe Pope Francis and the Vatican’s diplomatic team understand the conflict, or do you fear they might now have a one-sided view of what is happening, coming from Azerbaijan?

Without a doubt, the diplomatic team of the Vatican is fully aware of the gravity of the situation and the humanitarian consequences of the war unleashed against the Artsakh peaceful population in the Fall of 2020 by Azerbaijan. To date, the Holy See, other members of the international community, and human rights organizations, have been following with deep concern the anti-Armenian atmosphere in Azerbaijan and the actions aimed at the complete annihilation of any trace of the Armenian presence in the occupied territories of Artsakh. 

[Editor’s Note: Artsakh is the name the inhabitants of the Nagorno-Karabakh region give their self-declared republic. Although internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, the Armenian populated region has been self-governing since the 1990s.]

These are a blatant violation of international law, contradict universal values and should be severely condemned. During and after the war numerous calls for peace, cessation of aggression and return of the prisoners of war and civilian detainees made by Pope Francis have been totally ignored by the Azerbaijani government and president. Our partners in the Vatican and namely the Holy See Secretariat of State and Dicasteries concerned are fully informed on the continued manifestations of intolerant and racist attitudes of Azerbaijan towards the Armenian people and Armenian religious and historical-cultural heritage. 

Armenian leaders in the U.S. are calling on the U.S. government to cease its military aid to Azerbaijan until it stops harassing Christians and destroying Christian sites in areas under its control after a 2020 ceasefire of its conflict with Armenia. As the Armenian representative to the Holy See, would you agree with this assessment? Can you give an example of such harassment?

Calls for action focused on tackling the immediate threat against the ancient Armenian homeland by the diaspora are essential and natural steps. Community representatives and leaders in the U.S. and other countries demand and urge to hold Azerbaijan and Turkey accountable for their vicious roles in the war, including the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters and jihadists from various “hot spots” in the Middle East, particularly from the areas of Libya and in Syria under the control of Turkey and their subsequent transfer and deployment to the region with the purpose of committing atrocities against the people of Artsakh. 

This fact is not merely confirmed by the intelligence services of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries (U.S., France and Russia), a number of our partners, but also by the direct testimonies of the terrorists who have provided detailed information about their recruitment process, the expected monthly payment for fighting against “kafirs” (infidels), the extra payment for the each beheaded “infidel”, as well as about their envisaged terroristic plans. 

The transfer of jihadists to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone revealed the intentions of the Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance to give the conflict an inter-religious character. 

During and after the 44-day war numerous videos and photos were published also in the Azerbaijani social media domain on the atrocities against the innocent civilian population, acts of vandalism against the Armenian churches, religious sites and monuments, and their deliberate destruction.  In this regard, the desecration of the Holy Savior Ghazanchetsots Church in Shushi, which has become a target of the Azerbaijani barbarism, is especially outrageous.

As it is known, Azerbaijan used prohibited weapons and munitions during the war which is a matter of serious concern for every Armenian and not only. And of course, we are grateful for the efforts exerted by the Armenian professional groups in the U.S. to stop military and security assistance to authoritarian regimes like Azerbaijan with a long history of human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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