8 December 2023

Calls to save 120,000 Armenian Christians facing persecution

Armenian National Committee of Australia board member Hovig Melkonian called on the Australian government to speak out against Azerbaijan’s military aggression in Nagorno Karabakh. Picture: Maya Pilbrow

Maya Pilbrow

25 September 2023

Armenian Australians have called on the Australian government to hold Azerbaijan accountable for ethnic cleansing of Armenian Christians in the Nagorno Karabakh region.

The Armenian National Committee of Australia organised a demonstration outside of the offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 25 September following a military escalation by Azeri forces in Nagorno Karabakh.

Protesters called on Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong to impose sanctions on Azerbaijan and Azeri president Ilham Aliyev.

Janet Kaplandjian calls for sanctions on Azerbaijan and leads the crowd in chants of ‘Armenians are dying, Azeris are lying’. Video: Maya Pilbrow

Amplified by megaphones, Janet Kaplandjian and Carl Melkonian led chants calling for an end to the conflict and for the Australian government to use its power to help the Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh.

Nagorno Karabakh, known in Armenian as the Artsakh region, is a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Tensions between the two nations have made the region the centre of decades-long conflict, with the most recent war breaking out in 2020.

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Mr Melkonian said he had been to Nagorno Karabakh and had friends in the region. He said his presence at the demonstration was partly to show support for his friends in Artsakh, but also to seek specific solutions such as a United Nations Peacekeeping mandate for the region.

Nagorno Karabakh is an ethnically Armenian enclave surrounded by Azerbaijan, connected to mainland Armenia by a single mountain road called the Lachin corridor.

120,000 Armenian Christians remain trapped in the region according to Christian human rights organization Christian Solidarity International.

Since 2022, access to the Lachin corridor has been blockaded by Azerbaijan.

Demonstrator George Boghikian said Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh had no access to food or medication. Mr Boghikian said he was concerned that the current situation mirrored the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

“History repeats itself with monstrous regularity,” he said.

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ANC national board member Hovig Melkonian said Christian monasteries and places of worship in Nagorno Karabakh were being destroyed by majority Muslim Azeri forces. He said the Azeri government was trying to forcefully assimilate the Armenians in the region. Mr Melkonian said the actions of Azerbaijan met the criteria of the UN Genocide Convention.

Parish priest of St Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Melbourne the Reverend Father Khacher Harutyunyan prayed for Armenian Christians to live in peace in their own homes. He then led the crowd in reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Armenian.

The Reverend Father Khacher Harutyunyan leads the crowd in reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Armenian. Video: Maya Pilbrow

Ms Kaplandjian said more awareness of the crisis facing Artsakh was needed. She said the Armenian diaspora needed support from others and urged Australians to put pressure on their local members of parliament to address the situations in Nagorno Karabakh.

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