The Archbishop of Canterbury has met with refugees from the Nagorno Karaback region while visiting the South Caucasus.
Most Rev Justin Welby connected with them in Ketcharis, located in the Armenian province of Tsakhkadzor, where the Armenian Orthodox church is providing shelter for 120 people.
Speaking to the refugees, the Archbishop said: “I want to make sure that in Europe and the rest of the world, you are remembered, and that people know what you have gone through and how you are suffering.”
In 2020, the region descended into warfare, with Azerbaijan ultimately reclaiming key parts of the enclave where approximately 120,000 ethnic Armenians reside. Last month, unexpected conflict led separatist leaders to disarm, prompting ethnic Armenians living in the region since 1994 to evacuate their homes, packing their lives into vehicles or bags.
Azerbaijan has been accused of wanting to ethnically cleanse Karabakh, which they deny.
Archbishop Justin listened to the heart-wrenching stories of elderly women and mothers protecting their children while fleeing. One nurse, who had arrived at the accommodation just two days ago with her two teenage children, shared with the Archbishop the injuries she sustained during the attack on September 19th and 20th, as well as when a fuel depot exploded on September 26th.
Concluding his five-day trip to the South Caucasus region, the Archbishop said: “I think there are some very basic things that can be done by Azerbaijan which will help rebuild confidence and be a first, small step. One is the protection of graves and churchyards where people have buried their families, their husbands, their brothers, their sons who have been killed. They must have safe access to them, and graves must never be desecrated.
“Second, cultural heritage must be protected. For Armenians, cultural heritage is the soul of who they are. It’s their very inner being. And so protection of cultural heritage, with independent verification, including protected graves, is something that can be done. Doing this is no security risk for Azerbaijan and it will make a huge difference in making people feel more confident about the future.”