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Armenian clergy call for Australian aid

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Refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan ride in a truck upon their arrival at the border village of Kornidzor, Armenia, in September. Photo: OSV News photo/Irakli Gedenidze, Reuters
Refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan ride in a truck upon their arrival at the border village of Kornidzor, Armenia, in September. Photo: OSV News photo/Irakli Gedenidze, Reuters

The “devastated” Australian Armenian community is urging the Federal Government to send aid to its homeland as it struggles to cope with a growing humanitarian crisis.

More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians, almost the entire population of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in neighbouring Azerbaijan, fled their homes within days of a violent military takeover by the Azerbaijani forces on 19 September.

It came after 30 years of tensions over the region and a war in 2020 culminating in a months-long blockade of its main road into Armenia, known as the “Lachin corridor.”

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Monsignor Basil Sousanian, head of the Armenian Catholic Church in Australia and pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption Armenian Catholic parish in Lidcombe, said the community is “in mourning” and sending financial aid for the refugees who have already been starving for months due to the blockade.

His parishioners joined hundreds of Armenian Australians who gathered in Canberra from around the country in early October to seek humanitarian assistance for Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians.

The country’s Armenian Apostolic and Armenian Catholic churches are also fundraising to support their homeland, which has a population of less than three million and is struggling to assist the sudden influx of refugees with housing, food, and medical needs.

Msgr Sousanian said he had learnt from the Armenian Catholic Patriarch Raphaël Bedros XXI Minassian that Caritas Armenia was sheltering 100 families at its premises who had arrived in the country with nothing and nowhere to go.

“And I’m very sure that people have died from hunger due to the blockade,” he said.
Fr Avetis Hambardzumyan, parish priest of the Armenian Apostolic Church of Holy Resurrection in Chatswood, said the attack on the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, which they refer to as Artsakh, was “devastating” coming after months of anxiety about the blockade.

He said he has friends, including former seminary classmates, from the region and that fear had been building through the year as people survived on rationed food and subsistence farming.

“They couldn’t receive any medical supplies, people had no bread, children started dreaming about having treats like chocolate, and they have lived in fear,” the priest said.

“We were hoping that at least they would open the corridor to humanitarian aid, but after the unexpected attack on 19 September we are all devastated.

“Our souls are filled with infinite pain and concern because our brothers and sisters are experiencing difficult and alarming days—basically there are no Armenians left in Artsakh.”

Monsignor Basil Sousanian, head of the Armenian Catholic Church in Australia. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Monsignor Basil Sousanian, head of the Armenian Catholic Church in Australia. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

All the churches of Armenia and the diaspora held a national day of prayer on October 1.

Azerbaijan’s government denies claims of ethnic cleansing but Monsignor Sousanian said that its actions are an example of religious persecution and Fr Hambardzumyan expressed concern that its use of military force to resolve the territorial dispute now inflames tensions between Armenia and its neighbours Azerbaijan and Turkey.

“This can lead to painful developments and our people are worried because the same thing happened in 1915 [with the Armenian genocide],” Fr Hambardzumyan said.

In an open letter to Australian Catholics, Msgr Sousanian asked for financial support for the Armenians who have fled Nagorno Karabakh.

“Every contribution and financial aid will ensure a Christian person will be saved from persecution,” he wrote.

“Australia is a multicultural country where we live as one and this is one of the greatest blessings any Christian can ask for.

“Yet today unfortunately the Armenians of Artsakh are still being persecuted because of their beliefs and have been this way since Armenia accepted Christianity as a nation in 301AD.”

Both clerics expressed concern about the fate of historic monasteries in the region, some dating from the fourth and fifth centuries, which are now under the control of Azerbaijan, a predominantly Muslim country.

“Also, from 1991 up until last year, the Armenian community in Australia fundraised to build schools and child care centres in the area through the All Armenian Fund,” Fr Hambardzumyan said.

“Now it is all gone. We cannot do much for our people from this distance, besides financial support. We would be very grateful if the Australian Government also provides humanitarian aid to people from Artsakh who are currently in Armenia.”

Support the Armenian relief effort at ars1910.org

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