MESSAGE OF BISHOP HOVAKIM MANUKYAN THE PRIMATE OF THE DIOCESE OF THE ARMENIAN CHURCH IN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND IRELAND ON THE SITUATION IN ARTSAKH

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am writing to you with a heavy heart to invite you to pray and to act for our heroic people of Artsakh. The catastrophic aftermath of the hostilities that ended on September 20th is increasingly apparent.

After besieging and starving the entire population for a nine months, the Azerbaijani army attacked Artsakh. The fight was fiercer than in Autumn 2020.   Because of the absence of international independent media and fact-finding groups in the region, we do not have a clear picture of the scope of atrocities committed against innocent people. There are reports of mass killings, raping and torturing of people. A scene of war crimes is unfolding.

In an uneven battle, our brothers showed a true example of heroism and self-sacrifice, fighting for family, honour, and dignity. During the heavy shelling of the village of Sarnakbyoor, the Mayor of the village evacuated all the children except his own. After a picture of the missing eight-year-old Nver had been circulated, both Nver and his brother Michael (10 years old) were found dead a few days later. In the face of overwhelming force, the Defenders of Artsakh remained at their positions; they died with dignity. The loss of these beautiful and bright young men, so deeply felt by their families, is also felt by every single Armenian. Those who fell were all our sons, all a part of us, and we are bereft, devastated that their futures have been so senselessly ripped away from them. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

We are again facing genocide and the ethnic cleansing of our people in Artsakh. As I write, 7000 people had been evacuated to Armenia by September 25th. The International Red Cross has evacuated heavily wounded soldiers and civilians. After months of blockade, the Lachin Corridor is partially open but only to leave. There was a carefully pre-planned agenda of the Azerbaijani government to empty Artsakh of its indigenous Armenian population. I, together with many others, have been doing all we can to raise awareness and take action to prevent the unfolding ethnic cleansing of Armenians from Artsakh.  Warnings have been issued by many international experts, including the UNGenocide WatchFreedom House, and the Lemkin Institute, amongst others. The destruction of the Armenian religious and cultural heritage by Azerbaijan is well documented.

You may ask, what can I do as an Armenian in this horrific situation? It is very important to work together in a more organised manner. Some of the leading organisations in the community are conducting protests and other advocacy initiatives.

It is encouraging to see our brothers and sisters from other Churches and ecumenical organisations praying and supporting us. I have received messages of support and solidarity from Oriental Orthodox and Orthodox, Anglican bishops, Catholic clergy, and Free Church leaders. Bishops of the Church of England.  Barnabas Aid and their friends are providing humanitarian aid to persecuted and displaced people who have become refugees. Our friend of Armenia, Baroness Caroline Cox and her team are advocating and trying to help people through their channels, as are Christian Solidarity International. I will be travelling to the region next week with an ecumenical delegation led by Church leaders. Thanks to God, many international charities have joined us to help these people.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Each of us has a task to do. I am taking on the humanitarian aspect of the problem; at this stage, my foremost priority is to help the refugees.

Today, I am writing and appealing to you to stay united and help our people in desperate need of food, shelter, and medicine. 

On Sunday, our Church celebrates the feast of the discovery of the cross of Varag. Our history is a history of the saving Cross of Christ. In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Saint Paul writes: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18). Our faith teaches us and helps us to endure these difficult times with dignity. Jesus, who was crucified and killed on the cross with excruciating death, did not remain on the cross. He rose from death. The Cross is a symbol of hope. The message of the cross is not teaching us that we are exempt from pain and suffering. It teaches us how to endure it and go through it without breaking. As Christians, we need to stay firmer and never lose hope. Our faith and hope of victory will strengthen us to overcome these calamities.

By the order of the Catholicos of All Armenians, the Armenian churches in Armenia and the Diaspora will be holding a prayer service in solidarity with and for the people of Artsakh on Sunday, 1st October.  Please join me for this service. Prayer gives us hope and the power to be resilient and more united.

I invite you to prayer with me at this most critical time for Armenians:

God almighty, creator of all creatures, visible and invisible. Lord, in your foresight and truth, from the very beginning, you stamped the miracle of the Tree of Life as a paradigm for everything to come. You rescued your beloved Noah from the flood waters and his many animals by having them take shelter in an ark made of wood from the Tree of Life. And you piloted that ark in your love.

Lord watch over Your people of Artsakh who have become victims of injustice and extend your invisible right hand and bless them and rescue them as you rescued Noah and his people in the ark of love.

Please watch over your faithful people and the holy soil of Artsakh and Armenia. Grant our people strength, O Lord, and lead us together through the present time of trial.

Bless, O Lord, our ancestral land so that the site where you first established the blessed paradise would again bloom with flowers. Bless, O Lord, everything that is good in it, especially its appellation.

Defend them under the protection of your holy and precious Cross, keeping them in peace. Save them from visible and invisible enemies.

O Lord remember us too your servants and your faithful people, help us and give us wisdom to discern the right and make right decisions at this critical hour and help us to glorify you with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. Now and always and unto the ages of ages.  Amen