By Paul Goble
Moscow has taken another step to make the Russian presence in Qarabagh more permanent: it has opened the first Russian Orthodox Church there since the Soviets destroyed all such shrines more than half a century ago (interfax-religion.ru/?act=news&div=78077).
Nominally, the church, which is located on the base of the Russian peacekeeping contingent there, provides religious services to those troops. But it is already clear that those behind it want to help maintain the ethnic Russian community there and Moscow’s hold on the disputed territory.
Aleksandr Bodrov, president of the Russian Community of Stepanakert, says that “Russian churches in Qarabagh to my great regret have not been preserved. All were destroyed by the Bolsheviks in Soviet times, and because of that, the newly erected Russian Orthodox Church in honor of the Birth of Christ acquires sacral and historic importance.”
But there is another reason why the appearance of this new facility is likely to anger many in Azerbaijan and please many in Armenia. Last month, Patriarch Kirill established a Yerevan-Armenian bishopric of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/12/establishing-russian-bishopric-in.html).
There was no indication at the dedication of the new church in Stepanakert that it will be subordinate to this bishopric, but it is certain that many in Yerevan will expect that and many in Baku will be alarmed about what both will see as a tilt by Moscow in Armenia’s direction and an indication that Russia intends to remain in Qarabagh not for five years but forever.