Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Jehovah’s Witnesses Now Outnumber All Other Minority Faiths in Karabakh Combined

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – Ninety-eight percent of the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh are followers of hte Armenian Apostolic Church, Yevgeny Vyshegorodsky of the Caucasus Post reports; but Jehovah’s Witnesses have more than half of the 3500 followers of other faiths, including Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism.  Significantly, today, there are no Muslims at all.

            Three aspects of these numbers are significant. First, they show that the Armenian authorities in control of Karabakh have successfully driven out or underground all the Muslims, a term that in the case of that region means virtually all the Azerbaijanis, the kind of ethnic displacement that Baku has long complained about.

            Second, they indicate that despite its efforts, the Russian Orthodox Church has made little headway in what is for Moscow one of the “frozen” conflicts on which the Kremlin depends.  Given the Moscow Patriarchate’s losses in Ukraine, this is yet another stinging debate for its claims to be a politically useful ally of the Russian powers that be.

            And third, these figures indicate that in such troubled times, activist religious groups like the Witnesses have a much better chance of gaining support than do traditional faiths, yet another reason why the Kremlin seems so committed to suppressing them but a fact of life that others interested in conflict resolution should not fail to take into consideration.

            In today’s Caucasus Post, the journalist surveys the religious situation in a region where most analysts focus only on ethnic issues.  He notes that at present “98 percent of the population of Karabakh” are followers of the ancient Armenian Apostolic Church” (

            The Armenian cathedral there was built in the 1860s, harmed during the conflicts after 1917, and used as a garage and storage facility under the Soviets.  During the active phase of the Karabakh war, the journalist continues, the cathedral was used by Azerbaijani forces as an arms dump. It was restored only in 1998.

            The religious community of Karabakh which has disappeared in this century consists of the Muslims, mostly Azerbaijanis, but also Kurds and Persians.  At the start of the 20th century, they formed 62 percent of the region’s population. But by the end, they ad contracted “in fact to 0 percent.” 

            The Agdam mosque was one of the few structures in the ghost town of Agdam that was not destroyed ruing the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, Vyshegorodsky says.  Like the Armenian cathedral, it was built in the 1860s, fell into disuse and was damaged in the various wars. By 2010, it was being used to house animals, although that reportedly has ended since that time.

            At the present time, he continues, “there are 11 religious organizations in addition to the Armenian Apostolic Church.” These have “approximately 3500 members, of whom more than 2,000 are Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Other minority faiths include Baptists, Catholics and Russian Orthodox.

            In 2012, the ROC MP began to build an Orthodox church in Stepanakert; but in 2016, construction stopped because of a lack of funds. “To this day,” Vyshegorodsky reports, “construction has not been restarted.” 

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