Local Armenians worried about refugee crisis in their home country

Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 11:04 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Victor Bedros opened the doors to St. Garabed Armenian Church on Thursday and lit a candle, praying for the protection of nearly 80,000 people fleeing an area they no longer feel safe calling home.

“We’ve maintained deep roots in our faith and it’s helped us maintain our hope for the future as Armenians,” said Bedros.

On Sunday, he will be leading a prayer service for the people in the embattled region.

Just east of Armenia, across the border with Azerbaijan, is an enclave known to some as Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenians know it as Artsakh. 95 percent of the people who were living there are ethnic Armenian. A decades-long conflict over whether it should be an independent republic came to an end this week. Ethnic Armenians began fleeing en masse.

For ten months, Azerbaijan blocked the only road to Armenia. Sunday, they opened it. That day 30 people arrived at a refugee camp. By Thursday, the total number of people fleeing reached 78,000. That’s 65% of all who lived in the area. Analysts expect that number to grow.

The winding mountain road is jam packed with cars. People are piled into trucks. Some are walking the 21 miles of road to enter. Armenia is struggling to manage the influx with limited resources. People can now be seen sleeping in the street.

Lana Evans is heartsick about it. She is Armenian. Before she came to Blue Springs, she lived in Russia.

“My grandparents were refugees. My parents were refugees. I myself, me and my cousin, we were refugees,” said Evans. “When is this gonna’ stop?”

She gathered on her porch with Armenian friends and family. Some grew up in the region. Some have family there now, trying to leave. The Armenian roots in the region are ancient. Armenian churches abound.

“For essentially 2,000 years, Armenians have been living there,” said Bedros. “There are dozens and dozens of monasteries dating as far back as the fourth century.”

The ethnic identity is strong. Inside the local church is a painting depicting as saints more than a million Armenians killed in a genocide during World War I, along with Greeks and Assyrians National boundaries have been redrawn again and again over centuries.

“Armenia is a really small country,” said Alexander Gregoryan. “It used to be big.”

“We don’t care about geopolitics,” said Samvel Topchian. “We just want to survive on our lands.”

He worries about losing more land and losing a culture. Lana Evans said her greatest hope right now isn’t about the past or the future.

“My only hope is for civilians to be able to get food, a place to sleep,” she said. “Azeris want the land. Fine. Take the land. I only worry about people.”

The prayer service at St. Garabed Armenian Church begins at 11 a.m. All are welcome. It is located at 4400 Wyoming Street in Kansas City, Missouri.