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(LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò is calling on the international community to assist the more than 60,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing war-torn Nagorno-Karabakh, an autonomous, heavily disputed region in the Shiite Muslim majority nation of Azerbaijan that was conquered by that country earlier this month.

Viganò’s message was supported by traditional Catholic actor Mel Gibson, who has described the events as “ethnic cleansing.”

“Where is the international community, always ready to welcome Islamic migrants of military age, fleeing war zones or funding a proxy war in Ukraine under the pretext of Russian invasion?” Viganò asked. “Where is the petulant Bergoglio, according to whom no ethnic replacement is taking place?”

How did the situation get to this point?

Also known as the Republic of Artsakh, Nagorno-Karabakh was an an autonomous zone under Azerbaijan before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Since that time, its 99 percent Christian population has suffered through three significant conflicts with Azerbaijan – one in 1994, another in 2020, and now the current situation.

During the First World War, the Turks committed genocide of Christian Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, leaving more than 1 million dead. Gibson has said that in this instance “history tragically repeats itself.”

Despite Russia spending extensive diplomatic and military resources to ensure peace for the approximately 120,000 Armenians who had been living in Nagorno-Karabakh, with President Vladimir Putin’s attention turned toward the war in Ukraine, an opening was left for Turkish-backed Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyez to capture the region. The Israeli government also provided weapons for the offensive.

On September 19, Aliyez’s forces launched what his government called an “anti-terror” operation with artillery and drones. In less than 24 hours, Karabakh Armenians were overrun, including civilian causalities. More than 60 percent of the population has sought refuge in Armenia, which can only be accessed via the Lachin Corridor, a long and winding road that was previously blocked for 10 months by the Azerbaijan government. The U.S. State Department immediately denounced the attack.

Reports from numerous outlets indicate that fleeing Armenians need up to a day or more to traverse the road, sometimes by foot, thanks to traffic delays and fuel shortages allegedly caused by Azerbaijani bad actors seeking to inflict even more suffering on those who are leaving. Many of the refugees are short on water, medical, and food supplies.

Archbishop Viganò calls out world leaders

In a post on X dated September 27, Archbishop Viganò expressed great sympathy for the Armenian people. He also noted the hypocrisy of the “international community” for not doing more to help the fleeing Christians but who are “always” eager to assist Muslim migrants.

“The Armenian people, for centuries persecuted by Islam and the Communists for their Faith, are once again the target of vicious ethnic replacement,” he said. “Thousands of Armenians are leaving their country, driven from their homes, considered strangers in their homeland.”

“Where is the international community, always ready to welcome Islamic migrants of military age, fleeing war zones or funding a proxy war in Ukraine under the pretext of Russian invasion?” he asked.

He continued, “I appeal to the institutions of all countries to act promptly by giving aid and protection to the Armenians, opening a humanitarian corridor to receive them, and above all by taking immediate diplomatic action so that the exiles can soon return to their homes.”

“I invoke the intercession of St. Gregory the Illuminator, Patron of the Armenian Apostolic Church, that he may protect the persecuted Catholics and confirm them in the heroic witness of Faith that has animated them for centuries.”

Vatican peace efforts have failed

In 2016, Pope Francis visited Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is believed to have less than 300 Catholics. He also met with Azerbaijan’s leader in 2020. During a sermon at St. Peter’s Basilica with the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church in April 2015, Francis said that “the first genocide of the 20th century” was “against you, the Armenian people.” The statement caused the Turkish government to recall its ambassador to the Vatican for 10 months, as the nation has long rejected the accusation it committed targeted killings.

On September 20, Francis called for peace but to no avail after the Azerbaijani military launched its campaign on Nagorno-Karabakh. It is believed the attacks have left hundreds if not thousands of ethnic Armenians dead. Survivors fear for their lives as the “reintegration” of Nagorno-Karabakh into Azerbaijan is set to begin on January 1, when the republic will be officially dissolved.

Mel Gibson makes note of the media’s silence

Mel Gibson amplified Vigano’s message with a recorded video message that the prelate posted on X. The actor observed the similarities between the Armenian genocide of World War I while also calling for “safe passage” for those who are fleeing the region.

“History tragically repeats itself as we witness a modern-day genocide unfolding. Yet the media silence on this issue is deafening,” he stated. “The Armenian people, who have endured centuries of persecution due to their faith, find themselves once again subjected to a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

“In the grip of Azerbaijan and Turkey, countless Armenians are enduring unspeakable horrors: loss of life, forced displacement, starvation, and isolation from essential supplies,” he continued. “These are the same Armenians whose roots run deep in a land they called home for generations.”

“I implore the international community across all nations to take swift action, extend a helping hand to the Armenian population, offer them the protection they desperately need, and create a humanitarian corridor for their safe passage.”

“Most importantly, let’s engage in immediate diplomatic efforts to ensure that these exiled individuals are returned to their rightful homes without delay. To the Armenian people who still suffer, I say don’t lose heart. God is with you.”

Continued fallout and reaction across the world

The Azerbaijan government has predictably denied that it is conducting any sort of “ethnic cleansing.” It says that those who are leaving are doing so on their own accord. It has also stated that Armenian claims that they are relying on Turkish mercenaries are also untrue.

Although Azerbaijan’s president has said that those who stay will have their rights protected, international experts remain skeptical, apparently with good reason. The president previously called Nagorno-Karabakh’s leaders a “criminal junta” that needed to be brought to justice. Moreover, the former president of the Nagorno-Karabakh government was arrested earlier this month as he was escaping via the Lachin Corridor.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said that his country is preparing to “welcome our sisters and brothers of Nagorno-Karabakh to the Republic of Armenia with all care.” Armenia currently has a population of around 2.8 million.

CNN reported that there are temporary refugee camps set up in the border towns of Goris and Kornidzor. The outlet also related that during a visit to Armenia, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) chief Samantha Power warned that refugees were suffering from “severe malnutrition.”

Catholic humanitarian activist Gia Chacon has also raised awareness about the situation.

“Another CHRISTIAN genocide is underway in Nagorno-Karabakh!” she posted on X. “The world’s first Christian nation – Armenia – is facing a SECOND GENOCIDE.”

“This is one of the darkest pages of Armenian history,” a 33-year-old Armenian priest similarly told Reuters. He was visiting the border to provide spiritual support for those fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Armenian Apostolic Church is the national church of Armenia and belongs to the Oriental Orthodox community. Armenia is home to many churches and monasteries, some of which date to the fifth century. The Eastern Rite Armenian Catholic Church is in communion with Rome. It has more than 600,000 members worldwide. Both churches recognize St. Gregory the Illuminator (c.257-c.328) as their protector.