“And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia.” (2 Kings 19:37)
6/20/2023 Armenia (International Christian Concern) –– The Armenian Bar Association’s June report documents the recent systemic destruction of Armenian Christian monuments and culture in the world’s oldest Christian nation by Azerbaijan.
The report, titled “Religious Persecution and Ongoing Ethnic Cleansing in Artsakh 2023,” places recent cultural destruction in the history of systematic cultural genocide of Armenian Christian heritage.
The Armenian Bar Association, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, brings together legal professionals of Armenian heritage to address the legal concerns of the Armenian community.
The cover of the report shows an aerial shot of the Holy Savior Cathedral in Shushi, Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), commonly referred to as “Ghazanchetsots.” It shows the damage of two bombings by Azerbaijan under the pretense that the Apostolic cathedral was being used for military purposes in October 2020, an act that Human Rights Watch termed a “possible war crime”.
The following month, on Nov. 7, 2020, Azerbaijani forces seized control of Shushi. Within 18 months, reports appeared that the dome and cross of the cathedral had been removed in a “restoration” of the cathedral’s “original” appearance, which, allegedly, lacked a canonical dome––despite photographs of the dome existing from over a century ago.
The Azerbaijan Ministry of Culture subsequently referred to the so-called restoration as representative of “the care of the Azerbaijani state [for] Christian heritage as a whole. It denies that the cathedral is part of the Armenian Apostolic heritage, vaguely terming it “Christian.”
The cathedral in Shushi is emblematic of both the militaristic persecution of the Armenian people and the insidious persecution of their cultural heritage. Under Soviet atheism and Azerbaijani rule, it survived being set on fire three times with car tires, being respectively requisitioned as a granary and arms store, persistent shelling first noted in 1970, a government dismantling in 1989 that resulted in the stone being requisitioned for suburban villas in the city and its bronze bell, sold, being later found for sale in a market in Donetsk, Ukraine.
The “case” of Shushi is indicative of the well-documented history of Armenian cultural and religious destruction by Azerbaijan. From 1997 to 2006, Azerbaijan systematically obliterated almost all traces of Armenian culture in the Nakhichevan area, which included the destruction of medieval churches, thousands of carved stone crosses (“khachkars”), and historical tombstones.
As the report states, video footage in 2005 shows Azerbaijan operatives destroying the remaining portions of Djulfa––a medieval necropolis that houses tens of thousands of Armenian cross-stones, some of which dated from the 6th Century. Since 2021, several organizations, such as Caucasus Heritage Watch, Save Armenian Monuments, and Monument Watch, were established to monitor the destruction. The former organization, led by professors from Cornell and Purdue University, reported in June 2021 that 51 sculptures (many of Christian value) in the park of the Shushi Museum of Fine Arts have been either removed or destroyed, as well as the reported (by USCIRF in September 2021) destruction and desecration of cemeteries––a serious attack on Armenian-Christian burial rites. The ABA report describes this latter act as ‘yet another attempt at destroying evidence that Armenians levied and died in the region […] another attempt to try to disconnect Armenian Christians from the land.’