STEPANAKERT, Artsakh (ChurchMilitant.com) - A secret mission to send Italian Catholic tradesmen to the war-torn Republic of Artsakh is being unveiled as the effort to teach trade skills to war-weary citizens is bearing fruit — and expanding into an educational exchange.
Church Militant has just received permission from Christians in Need Foundation (CINF) to report on Italian tradesmen, who began arriving at Artsakh's capital, Stepanakert, on Sept. 30. The first wave consisted of two women and one man, with six more men on the way.
The master craftsmen are teaching 550 students tailoring and carpentry at the school, Antonia Arslan Armenian-Italian Hamalir. More trade skills will be added to the curriculum as teachers arrive.
One of the Italian craftsmen shared his blog, wherein he described over dinner his reason for keeping his pledge to teach in the war-torn country:
The evening ended with an exchange of good wishes for the common work that awaited us and, to the question of what pushed us to the risk of coming to Artsakh, we answered, "For the friendship that binds us to Antonia Arslan and above all because what unites us is the same faith. In him there are no Greeks or Romans but all children of God and brothers in Christ."
It won't just be Italian teachers going to Artsakh, however.
An educational exchange will take place between the two countries, with Artsakh's college students and a trade school teacher traveling to Italy. This program will include:
In March 2019, CINF began planning and preparing for the exchange program. Its last major shipment of equipment left Italy a year later just before lockdowns were instituted for COVID-19.
Following the pandemic-related delay, the exchange program was next hit by the paralyzing delay of war as documented extensively by Church Militant.
On Sept. 27, 2020, the so-called secular nation Azerbaijan launched an Islamic jihad against the Christian Republic of Artsakh. The puppet nation of Azerbaijan is ruled by the corrupt regime of President Ilham Aliyev, who enjoys the protection and support of NATO-ally Turkey. Together they violated the human rights of Artsakh, an Armenian enclave, and killed over 5,000 Armenian soldiers before the 45-day war came to an end.
Muslim-majority Azerbaijan has repeatedly violated the Russian-brokered cease-fire, cut off electricity and water to the Armenians in Artsakh, shot soldiers and civilians in the country of Armenia itself, and flouted international law by refusing to release prisoners of war and civilian hostages.
The reason for the secrecy surrounding the Italian exchange program was owing to the complex geopolitical issues at play. During Church Militant's on-location, investigative reporting, an advocate of Azerbaijan's conquest of Artsakh attempted to have the U.S. State Department and Azerbaijan's minister of foreign affairs take action against Church Militant's reporter in Artsakh, calling him an "illegal traveler" to Azerbaijan.
Turkish tribes have threatened Christendom since their conversion to Islam. The Ottoman Empire provided the most enduring threat of Muslim invasion into Europe. But Muslim invaders were stopped in 1683 at the Battle of Vienna, where the beleaguered city was near capitulation. King Jan Sobieski III of Poland, aided by allied Catholic nations, defeated the Ottoman siege of Vienna.
Unlike Vienna, where Christians coalesced to defend each other, the Republic of Artsakh was virtually ignored by the international community during the 2020 Azeri-Armeno War. The Christian republic still stands despite the world's apparent apathy. The Armenian people serve as one of the last Christian bastions against the Turkish descendants of the Ottoman Empire, who now rule Turkey and Azerbaijan.
There are Catholics, however, who will not be hampered by the inability of governments to protect human rights. Organizations like CINF stand ready to help rebuild the economy of a Christian nation under continued siege. Rita Mahdessian, president of CINF, is overjoyed the organization is executing its plan to support the Armenians of Artsakh:
They came on a mission to help rebuild the economy and infrastructure of Artsakh. Upon arrival they immediately set up the state- of-the-art equipment already sent there by CINF worth over $50,000. They began work the day after their arrival. They began training Artsakhtsi three days later, holding classes for students of the Antonia Arslan School younger groups and for adult groups that consisted mostly of young mothers who came to learn a trade in order to support their families in these dire times. The artisans and students immediately bonded, the teachers astounded by the enthusiasm of their students.
Today, there's no powerful league of Catholic nations supporting the determined republic, but there are simple craftsmen who have come from Italy to help their brothers and sisters in Christ. Perhaps this beacon will lead others to join the call in resisting evil.