The Story of Armenian Cultural Heritage
Cultural awareness is a crucial issue in the existence of any nation especially when it comes to initial elements like history, monuments…etc. Many nations are trying to attribute others' history to themselves, but they forget that the world becomes a small village and social media is a live eye recording that reveals the truth.
The story started a long time ago when the Turkish genocide happened against Armenians which led them to flee from their original lands to the Middle East and the rest of the world. Armenians left behind them great architecture in every country they lived or still live in, they established many churches in Turkey around 2,300 and schools estimated at nearly 700, with 82,000 students before 1915.
These numbers are only for churches and schools under the jurisdiction of the Istanbul Armenian Patriarchate and the Apostolic Church, and therefore do not include the numerous churches and schools belonging to the Protestant and Catholic Armenian parishes.
Unfortunately, most of these buildings are lost or stolen in Turkey, particularly after converting them into mosques or libraries.
Artsakh – Nagorno Karabakh conflict
The story didn’t end to this end, as Azerbaijan had launched an attack on Nagorno-Karabakh that historically called “Artsakh” in Armenian, the landlocked, mountainous land in the south Caucasus populated and controlled by 150,000 ethnic Armenians but claimed by neighboring Azerbaijan. Looking back, exactly 102 years ago, in 1920, Artsakh’s population was over 90% Armenian.
History of Artsakh
Artsakh is home to one of the world’s oldest surviving indigenous Christian populations, though their history predates Christianity by centuries. Its cultural topography, speckled by fortresses overlooking canyons, intricately carved cross-stone monuments with ancient eternity symbols, and centuries-old monasteries with fortified walls serve as a living witness to the enduring existence of the Armenians.
Armenians have existed in Artsakh for over two millennia. In 189 BCE, under the Armenian King Artashes, the region of Nagorno-Karabakh “Artsakh” became one of the 15 provinces of the Kingdom of Armenia.
Two of the 12 apostles (Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew) were the first evangelizers of the Armenians and were martyred, in the first century CE. Christianity, however, continued to spread throughout the region, from the efforts of St. Gregory the Illuminator — an Armenian-Parthian noble, raised in Cappadocia (present-day Turkey). By roughly 301 CE, King Trdat III made Christianity the official religion of the Kingdom of Armenia, which included Artsakh.
One of the famous cathedrals in Artsakh –The conflict area– is Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi which was extensively restored in the aftermath of the first war and reconsecrated in 1998. During the 2020 war, it was damaged by Azerbaijani attacks, viewed as a “possible war crime” by Human Rights Watch.
This cathedral is characterized by a small circular room hidden behind the altar where you can pray and hear your voice 360 degrees around your body. Additionally, there is a path from it to the Silk Road, which runs through Shushi and on which many of old traders had traveled with their caravans to Iran and beyond.
Why Armenia isn’t able to nominate any sites?
Azerbaijan has not nominated any of the hundreds of churches and monuments in Nagorno-Karabakh to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. But it has been nominated a fortress in Shushi. Whereas, Armenia is not able to nominate any sites because the United Nations regards Nagorno-Karabakh as a territory lying within the borders of Azerbaijan, contrary to Nagorno-Karabakh’s historical autonomy in the Soviet period and the population’s later referendums on self-determination during the breakup of the Soviet Union.
As long as Azerbaijan lays claim to Nagorno-Karabakh, the region’s Armenian cultural heritage sites are at serious risk. Azerbaijan employs its Caucasian Albanian argument to tie itself to a vanished Christian civilization in the South Caucasus, to remove a living one: the Armenians. Despite adopting the idea that Armenian cultural heritage is Caucasian Albanian and thus Azerbaijani, as applied to other regions, such claims have not stopped Azerbaijan from the whole destruction of both movable and immovable Armenian cultural heritage that finds itself within Azerbaijan’s changing borders. It destructs 89 Armenian churches and thousands of medieval cross-stones, called khachkars, and Armenian tombstones in the exclave of Nakhichevan.