On Karabakh Frontline, Faith Remains a Key Weapon

By Michael Krikorian

If you can imagine a priest who was a badass, you’d get Father Varazdat, a priest who wears two uniforms.

Father Varazdat Najaryan stands – a rock solid 6-foot, two inches – in front of the Holy Savior Church in downtown Stepanakert dressed in his black priest robe and pulls it aside revealing his army fatigues. He’s heading today to the front lines of the war. He knows war well. He was in two of them as a member of Armenia’s Special Forces Unit.

But, these days he goes to the front in hopes of inspiring the spirituality of the men fighting the invading Azerbaijanis.

“First, we go to the front to inspire the soldiers, to strengthen and encourage their faith, to expel fear from them,” Najaryan says. “But what often happens is the opposite. They inspire us. We see their honor and courage and we are strengthened.”

On the morning of September 27, Najaryan was at home in Yerevan preparing for service at St. Anna Church when someone yelled out, “They are shooting at Armenia.”

That was the beginning of the Azerbaijani offensive to take Artsakh, the mountainous autonomous region also known as Nagorno Karabakh. Instantaneously, Father Varazdat felt the call of duty. “I knew I had to be here. The earth of Armenia was calling me.”

Soon he was at the church in Stepanakert and then to the front lines, a varying, ever changing battlefield, that has found him in many places and often transforming himself. “You go to the war as a priest, but once you are there, you turn into a soldier. A Kalashnikov is never far away from me.”

Still, having seen so much, he offers his take on war and compares the AK47 to faith. “Yes, you need a rifle, it helps, of course. It is a strong weapon. But, an even stronger weapon is spirituality. Confidence in good faith is an actual physical weapon. It gives you real physical strength. Not only in a spiritual, mental way, but in an actual muscular way. Your arms are stronger. Your legs are stronger. You are more focused. Your determination mounts.”

And, he says, if you’re fortunate to be surrounded by similar fighters – and Armenians are – it only increases your instincts to fight and survive and surmount the odds. “You are not only fighting for yourself; you are fighting for the 100 around you, behind you and to your sides.”

He talks about the “many miracles” the soldiers in Martouni, in Martakert have told him. When pressed, he tells of one tale.

“A soldier had a thick New Testament in his breast pocket in front of his heart. He was hit by a projectile and the Bible stopped it from hurting him.”

What book of the Bible, he is asked. Was it Luke? Matthew?

Father Varazdet Najaryan smiles and says “The next time I see him, I will find out.”

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Michael Krikorian is a writer from Los Angeles. He was previously a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and for the Fresno Bee. He writes under the pseudonym “Jimmy Dolan” for the Mozza Tribune. His website is www.KrikorianWrites.com and his first novel is called “Southside”.