Armenia marks its 31st Independence Day today, celebrating its freedom on Sept. 21 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But, these days, many Armenians are more concerned with their existence than with their independence.

Sparking new concerns, fighting renewed last week between Armenia and Azerbaijan and this time in Armenia proper, not the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. One Armenian civilian was killed, 135 soldiers and 70 Azeri soldiers were killed in this last round.

“On the one hand we are celebrating our independence, but on the other hand we are mourning the lives of our soldiers who fought against Azerbaijan last week,” Hagop Djernazian, an active member of the Armenian community in Jerusalem, told ALL ARAB NEWS. “The threat of facing another war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is putting the territorial integrity of Armenia in danger.”

The recent fighting was enough to prompt U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to lead a congressional delegation to Armenia – and to condemn Azerbaijan.

“Our meeting again had particular importance to us because of the focus on security following the illegal and deadly attacks by Azerbaijan on Armenian territory,” Pelosi said on Sunday. “We strongly condemn those attacks.”

In a statement, Pelosi explained that the delegation’s visit was “a powerful symbol of the United States’ firm commitment to a peaceful, prosperous and democratic Armenia and a stable and secure Caucasus region.”

America and Israel tread carefully in their support of Armenia in order to not rock the boat with Turkey. The Ottoman Empire was responsible for the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians living in Turkish lands – an atrocity known as the Armenian Genocide – which is denied by Turkey to this day. The systematic killing and exile of Armenians took place over several years beginning in 1914.

President Joe Biden became the first American president to officially recognize the genocide, which he did in 2021, soon after taking office. Israel, which maintains good relations with Azerbaijan and recently restored diplomatic ties with Turkey, has not recognized the genocide.

Pelosi’s visit notwithstanding, the U.S. has been eager lately to come to Ukraine’s defense, but Armenia is likely to remain on its own.

A HOSTILE NEIGHBORHOOD

A diminishing Armenia succumbed to vast territorial gains by Turkey in 1920 and more recently to Azerbaijan in 2020 after a brief but devastating war.

Armenia is home to just less than 3 million residents who live in a hostile neighborhood in the South Caucus. The predominantly Christian country borders Georgia to the north and on its other borders are Muslim nations, including its arch enemies Turkey and Azerbaijan, and its ironic ally, Iran.

It is a complex region in which Iran and Russia are Armenia’s allies – yet both of them have their own complicated relations with Turkey.

One of Armenia’s deep concerns now, Djernazian said, is Azerbaijan moving into Armenia’s Syunik region – a sliver of land disconnecting Azerbaijan from its Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Doing so could cut off Armenia geographically from Iran.

But that is not the only territory at stake, apparently. In 2018, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said the Armenian capital, “Yerevan is our historical land, and we, Azerbaijanis, should return to those lands.”

“This is our political and strategic goal, and we should gradually reach it,” he added in a speech in which he also claimed the Zangezur region, in southern Armenia and the region surrounding Lake Sevan.

TERRITORIAL DISPUTE OR JIHAD?

Is the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict a historic territorial dispute or, as some Christian advocates say, religious?

“On the surface, and as widely reported by media, this is yet another territorial dispute, this time between (Christian) Armenia and (Muslim) Azerbaijan. Beneath the surface, however, lurks that old Muslim-Christian divide, typified by jihadist hate for ‘infidels,’” writes Raymond Ibrahim, an author who frequently speaks about persecution of Christians by Muslims.

Ibrahim, who has been following the conflict, contends that the evidence of Azeri soldiers’ alleged atrocities, which have gone largely unreported, point to Islam. Take for instance last week’s rape and mutilation of a female Armenian soldier – which appears to have only been reported in Armenian media outlets and could not be independently confirmed by ALL ARAB NEWS.

“They committed atrocities in our combat positions against our servicemen, including women soldiers,” said Army Chief of Staff Edward Asryan in a briefing to diplomats. “I cannot find words to describe how they dismembered a female soldier, cut off her legs, fingers and stripped her naked. This is unheard of cruelty.”

Ibrahim writes that the “severing of this woman’s fingers is a telltale sign that jihadist motives were behind the mutilation.”

THE ARMENIAN CONNECTION TO MODERN AND ANCIENT ISRAEL

The Armenians as a people group date back to the 7th century B.C. In 301 A.D., King Tiridates III declared Christianity the national religion and thus it has remained through the centuries. It was this decision that sparked pilgrimages to Jerusalem to see the sites where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again. And this is what led to the modern-day Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. plans to open an exhibit focusing on Armenia’s unique connection to Christianity and the Bible, translated in Armenian as “breath of God.”

“In 2023, Museum of the Bible will open a groundbreaking exhibition focusing on the significance of the Armenian Church and people to the history of the Bible. The Bible, or the ‘breath of God’ in Armenian, is deeply ingrained in Armenia’s culture. In this exhibition, guests will explore the Bible’s history in Armenia and see that it is ancient, exceptional, and resilient,” the Museum says on its website.

For Djernazian – the grandson of genocide survivors – and other Armenians in Jerusalem, the connection to their homeland remains deep.

“The Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem is like a little Armenia,” he continued. “We all care for its future and the continuation of the Armenian presence here and Armenia as well. Both places complete each other, both places are home to all Armenians and, as much as we care about our home here, we care also for our homeland, Armenia.”

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