The ancient kingdom of Armenia was the first nation to embrace Christianity—in A.D. 301. Modern Armenia, formerly a Soviet republic, declared autonomy in September 1991 and today exists as a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. There you find many of the oldest churches in the world, and a people who have upheld the faith for nearly 1,700 years, often at great cost.
Nowhere has the cost been greater than in the little piece of ancient Armenia called Nagorno-Karabakh, cruelly cut off from the rest of Armenia by Stalin in 1921, and isolated today as a Christian enclave within Islamic Azerbaijan. Only 100 miles north to south, 50 miles east to west, there are mountains, forests, fertile valleys, and an abundance of ancient churches, monasteries, and beautifully carved stone crosses dating from the fourth century.
This paradise became hell in 1991. Vying with Armenia for control of this enclave, Azerbaijan began a policy of ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Karabakh, and 150,000 Armenians were forced to fight for the right to live in their historic homeland. It was a war against impossible odds: 7 million-strong Azerbaijan, helped by Turkey and, at one stage, several thousand mujahideen mercenaries.
On April 10, 1992, forces from Azerbaijan attacked the Armenian village of Maraghar in northeastern Karabakh. The villagers awoke at 7 a.m. to the sound of heavy shelling; then tanks rolled in, followed by infantry, followed by civilians with pick-up trucks to take home the pickings of the looting they knew would follow the eviction of the villagers.
Azeri soldiers sawed off the heads of 45 villagers, burnt others, took 100 women and children away as hostages, looted and set fire to all the homes, and left with ...