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World News

Historic Armenian Cathedral decimated by shelling

by Will Maule

Armenia has accused neighbouring Azerbaijan of deliberately shelling a historic Cathedral in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Fighting has erupted in recent weeks as the two countries battle for the contested Caucasus region, which is under Armenian control but recognised formally as part of Azerbaijan.

The Holy Savior Cathedral, also known as the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, was struck by a shell on Thursday last week, with the projectile piercing the building's dome and causing significant damage to the interior. 

Reports indicate that children were inside the cathedral when it was hit, but managed to escape uninjured. Hours later, the building came under additional shelling, which resulted in two Russian journalists sustaining injuries - one of them remains in grave condition. 

The Armenian Foreign Ministry called the shelling a “monstrous crime and a challenge to the civilized humankind”.

In response, Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry denied the attack, insisting it "doesn’t target historical, cultural and, especially, religious buildings and monuments". 

A priest at the Cathedral, who identified himself as Father Andreas, told AP: “I feel the pain that the walls of our beautiful cathedral are destroyed.

"I feel the pain that today the world does not react to what’s happening here and that our boys are dying defending our Motherland.”

The prized Cathedral was restored following the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict — known as the Nagorno-Karabakh War — which came to an official end with a ceasefire in 1994. The Cathedral is under the governance of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

The latest conflict has claimed the lives of several hundred people since breaking out roughly three weeks ago. International actors have since attempted to mediate a peace agreement without success.

Russia, which backs the majority-Christian and former soviet state of Armenia, suggested that a ceasefire be instituted so both sides can collect their dead and exchange prisoners. Though both sides eventually accepted the terms following lengthy talks in Moscow, they have since accused each other of further military offensives.

Turkey, which backs Azerbaijan, a Muslim-majority nation, has called on Armenian troops to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh. 

“We see that Azerbaijan is extremely determined in liberating its territory," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said during a speech at an economic forum on Thursday. "As Turkey, we support with all our heart Azerbaijan’s righteous struggle to reclaim its territory. We invite all countries who defend justice and fairness to support Azerbaijan." 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the ceasefire was made with the understanding that both sides would engage in further peace talks overseen by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group.

Erdoğan questioned OSCE's effectiveness, suggesting that the only way of solving the conflict would be for the Armenian troops to withdraw from the region.

“The Minsk group until now has not shown any will to solve this problem," he said. "The solution to the issue — which has turned into gangrene, so to speak, because of Armenia’s uncompromising and spoiled attitude for nearly years — is for the occupation to end."

Between 1914 and 1923, the Turkish Ottoman government massacred 1.5 million ethnic Armenians in what became known as the Armenian Genocide. 

In comments made last week, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that his country was facing "an Azeri-Turkish international terroristic attack".

"To me, there is no doubt that this is a policy of continuing the Armenian genocide and a policy of reinstating the Turkish empire," he added. 

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