Armenian Caritas, with the support of Catholic Relief Services and USAID (United States Agency for International Development), launched the Immediate Assistance to Displaced Families of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict program in the Ararat region. Food and non-food assistance is provided to help vulnerable households displaced from Nagorno-Krabakh to meet their needs while they figure out what next steps to take amid the uncertain situation. / Credit: Armenian Caritas

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Sep 8, 2023 / 11:10 am (CNA).

The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ international peace committee on Thursday called for an end to the blockade of humanitarian supplies in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, warning of a looming “catastrophe” if the conflict continues and aid workers aren’t permitted to bring supplies to those within it.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a press release on Thursday that the now-nine-monthlong blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory in western Asia long claimed by both Armenia and Azerbaijan, has had a “devastating impact.”

The USCCB on Thursday noted that “since December 2022, Azerbaijan has blocked the Lachin corridor,” cutting off humanitarian supply chains in the region for nine months. 

More than 100,000 ethnic Armenian Christians behind the blockade “find themselves trapped in Nagorno-Karabakh, facing dire shortages of food, medicine, and medical supplies, fuel, electricity, and other basic essentials to sustain life,” the bishops said.

Bishop David Malloy, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on International Justice and Peace, said in the press release that the prelates were holding “strong hope for a resolution” to the conflict. 

“With the continued impasse of this conflict and the mounting consequences of this blockade, let us all be of one mind and one accord in our prayers for those suffering from this conflict,” Malloy said, expressing hope “to see this impending humanitarian catastrophe averted and to see this conflict ultimately resolved through peaceful means.”

At the outset of increased hostilities in the region in late 2020, Pope Francis called for the warring factions to “perform concrete acts of goodwill and brotherhood that may lead to resolve the problems, not with the use of force and arms, but through dialogue and negotiation.”

Malloy at the time had noted that “the Caucasus is a far-off and little-known region to most Americans.” But, he said, “those who suffer are always close to Our Lord and to those who follow him.”

“I invite all Catholics and people of goodwill to join together in prayers for peace in the Caucasus,” the bishop said then.

Human-rights leaders have warned of the risk of “religious cleansing” posed by the larger conflict. This week New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith said the Azerbaijan government’s actions had raised the possibility of “genocide” in the region.

Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback warned earlier this summer that Azerbaijan forces were “working to make [the territory] unlivable so that the region’s Armenian-Christian population is forced to leave.”

The United States “must use every tool at its disposal to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Brownback said last month, adding elsewhere that the U.S. “must exert all the pressure and influence it has to save this endangered population from being starved and eventually driven from their homes.”

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