RELIGIOUS CONFLICTS IN THE WORLD: CAUSES AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
Divisions between participants in war conflicts are often based on their different identities or awareness of them. Religious divisions have been the cause or accompanied many conflicts: conflicts between Catholic Christians and Muslims in East Timor, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir and the Indian state of Gujarat (conflicts between India and Pakistan), conflicts between Hindus and Sikhs in India, Taliban exclusivity towards other religions in Afghanistan. We can also add war conflicts in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Victoria and Tanganyika – Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda) in which the clergy also played a certain role, in the so-called Horn (Somali Horn – Ethiopians, i.e., Monophysite Christians, against Eritreans and Somalis – Muslims), then in Sri Lanka (Sinhalese – Buddhists and Tamils – Hindus), Chechnya (Orthodox and Muslims), Ivory Coast and Sudan (Christians and Muslims), as well in Kosovo and Lebanon.
The characteristics of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh (Monophysite Christian Armenians and Muslim Azeris) are particularly interesting for our topic. How important is religion in this conflict today? Yes, it is a conflict in which Christians are opposed to each other – Armenia is the oldest Christian country, it has been so since the beginning of the 4th century, and on the other side is Azerbaijan, the only Muslim country in the South Caucasus. It is easy to come to the conclusion that we are dealing with a clash of civilizations, Christian and Islamic. For Armenians, Azerbaijanis are first of all, Turks and only then Muslims. They relate the conflict to their national tragedy that they experienced in Turkey. They look at Azerbaijanis primarily ethnically, and only then religiously. It is about the genocide of the Armenians. Armenians linked the violence in Nagorno-Karabakh to that disaster. Historically, there is no connection: Azerbaijanis have nothing to do with the genocide in the Ottoman Empire. On the other hand, for Azerbaijanis, Armenians are not primarily Christians, but Armenians. And that is interpreted ethnically. Admittedly, religious authorities on both sides also made some announcements. There are Islamist networks in Azerbaijan that tried to turn the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh into a jihad, but they didn’t really succeed. Azerbaijani society is reserved towards such jihadist discourses.
And of course, at the end of this part, we will pose the dilemma of whether the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is the first religious war in the XXI century. The Russian Orthodox Church sees itself as the main fighter in this apocalyptic battle against evil. It thus aligns interests with the authoritarian state under Vladimir Putin, both in its effort to limit social diversity, and in its effort to keep alleged evil away from its own borders with military force, including nuclear weapons. Part of this alliance is also a historical construct that erases upheavals, ambivalence, inglorious stages from the history of Russia and even rehabilitates the stages of Stalinist terror and Soviet repression. Ukraine, on the other hand, took a different path after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Also in a religious sense. Historically speaking, Ukraine is characterized by great religious diversity. Changing borders and cultural subordination prevented the emergence and consolidation of a national Church for a long time. Even if certain politicians favoured one or the other Church, relatively democratic processes regularly ensured changes in power. The years after the fall of the Soviet Union brought a reawakening of Ukrainian national identity, which should not be confused with nationalism. Churches played an important, but never exclusive, role in that national identity. This was also influenced by the central meaning of the largest religious community, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and its connection with the Moscow Patriarchate.
The war in Ukraine – no matter how and when it ends – will have enormous consequences for the religious landscape in the region. Some arguments predicting the end of Russian Orthodoxy as an institution and a mass exodus of believers from that Church. In Russia, in the foreseeable future, all churches except the Russian Orthodox Church will disappear along with their charitable institutions, since they are currently no longer receiving any funds for their work. And at the same time, there are new processes according to which Orthodox believers in Ukraine will get closer and find a new form of Ukrainian Orthodoxy that separates from many principles represented by Russian Orthodoxy – proximity to power above all.
A war does not have to be directly fought over religious issues in order for it to take on a certain religious dimension in one of its phases. The importance of the religious dimension of a conflict increases in proportion to the extent to which religious structures coincide with power structures in a state. And in the conflicts of the post-global age, religions often play a significant role, especially when it comes to conflicts between states or groups that differ in terms of ethnic and religious elements, as well as civilizational affiliation and characteristics. Even today, religious conflicts have not been overcome. There is a danger of new large-scale conflicts, where civilizations usually rest on religious foundations or are imbued with elements of one of the religions.
In the XXI century, there was a significant change in the perception of religion as a factor of reconciliation and conflict. Three factors are usually cited as the main reasons:
1) strengthening of fundamentalist tendencies in world religions;
2) the role of Christian churches in the radical changes that took place in some eastern and central-eastern countries (primarily in Ukraine and Poland);
3) strengthening of ecumenical processes in the world during the eighties. This had the effect that religious conflicts are no longer derived only from non-religious, primary causes, but are also viewed as an independent factor.
When it comes to individuals, human sins and evil that cause the negative sides and passions of human nature, then religious organizations in a large number of cases fight against individual manifestations of aggression and violence. However, when it comes to mass phenomena such as religious and nationalist movements and wars between states, which are justified by religious or similar reasons, these same organizations are often on the sidelines and tacitly justify the conflicts.