The heritage of all religions in the liberated lands of Azerbaijan, which suffered collateral damage, destruction and looting, has been the focus of the Azerbaijani government’s attention since the end of the war with Armenia in 2020. Post-war checks and investigations revealed the serious consequences of the Armenian occupation in churches, monasteries, mosques, chapels and more.
Although the Armenian authorities have ardently tried to shift the blame to the Azerbaijani side for the inhumane approach to religious sites, especially Christian monuments, in these lands, the post-liberation activities of Baku have proven that everything is reversed.
The Azerbaijani government has adopted a sensitive and responsible approach towards the heritage of all religions, including Christian monuments in the territories liberated from Armenian occupation. The activities of the authorities of the country so far have been a strong argument to fundamentally deny the Armenian accusations of so-called destruction of the Christian heritage.
It didn’t take long for Baku after ending the 2020 war with Armenia in a complete victory to draft several action plans aimed at rehabilitating historical, cultural and religious monuments in the liberated lands. Almost all the monuments in these lands, including in the Karabakh region, suffered badly from Armenian vandalism during the nearly 30-year illegal Armenian occupation, and Christian temples and churches could not escape the acts either. of vandalism.
During his visits to the liberated neighborhoods, President Ilham Aliyev personally exposed the traces of cultural savagery committed by Armenians in multiple Christian temples.
Armenians claim all Christian monuments in the Caucasus, including those in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, although even Armenian authors acknowledge that Christian Kipchaks (a Turkic tribe) and Christian Albanians (people of Caucasian Albania – a medieval state existed in the territory of modern Azerbaijan) had also lived in this region. The denial of the presence of Turkish and Albanian Christians in these territories is part of Armenian efforts to reject the religious heritage of the true owners in a bid to “cement” the highly questionable “indigenous roots” of Armenians in the region.
The “Armenianization” policy has traditionally been accompanied by the destruction of original signs and elements to accelerate the falsification of other people’s religious monuments. The famous Austrian scholar Erich Feigl mentioned in his book “Armenian Mythomania” the diversion of other people’s religious heritage under the patronage of Armenian religious leaders into a larger geography.
For example, an ancient Albanian temple in the village of Hunarli of Khojavand district, the White Cross temple near the settlement of Hadrut and the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also located in Khojavand district of Karabakh, have desecrated and deliberately turned into “Armenian churches”. .” Armenians almost completely destroyed a Russian Orthodox church in Khojavand during the decades of occupation. Russian Gazanchi Church in Shusha town and Albanian temples such as Beshikdagh Church in Aghdam district, Ganjasar and Khudavang monasteries complexes in Kalbajar, Aghoghlan temple in Lachin, Holy Elysee temple complex in Aghdara and some other Albanian heritage monuments have also been exposed to cultural vandalism and the “Armenianization” policy carried out by the Armenians during the decades of illegal occupation.
One of the irrefutable proofs of how Armenians enthusiastically pledged to mark Azerbaijani lands as “former Armenian territories” was seen in the city of Lachin after Azerbaijan regained control on August 26 of this year. An “old Armenian church” in the city was revealed to be a new building built by Armenians in 1996-98. Gubad Ibrahimov, a resident of Lachin, exposed the Armenian forgery with solid photos and documents, which prove that the church was established in the place of his private house in Lachin, Azi Aslanov Street, 35.
In a letter submitted by the Azerbaijani government to the UN in 2021, Armenia reportedly used a modern workshop for the production of “ancient” khachkars – Armenian stone crosses discovered in the liberated Kalbajar region of Azerbaijan. The workshop produced artificially antiquated religious elements to add to churches and temples, as well as similarly styled building materials to give new buildings an “old” look.
“These khachkars were oxidized and vinegar was used in the artificial aging process, then they were buried as ‘indisputable proof’ of the ‘centuries-old Armenian roots’ in this region,” the letter reads.
The “Armenianization” and “Gregorianization” of the Christian heritage of Azerbaijan constitutes a serious violation of the Hauge Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954, the European Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage of 1992 and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention 1972.
Rehabilitation of Christian heritage
According to data compiled by the Azerbaijani government, the total number of historical and cultural monuments registered by the state in the liberated territories is more than 900, including 403 historical and religious monuments: 67 mosques, 144 churches and 192 shrines.
The Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture has included all Christian monuments in the Karabakh region on the list of monuments of national significance and has supported the state-led campaign to restore religious heritage in the liberated lands. On November 14, 2020, President Aliyev said that Azerbaijan will properly protect Christian temples located in the liberated territories and that Christians living in the country can use these temples.
Gazanchi Church in the liberated city of Shusha can be listed as one of the buildings being restored as an example of Azerbaijan’s Christian heritage. The restoration plan for the church was drawn up based on its original architectural image. Another example is the Russian Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist in Shusha, which should also be restored to its historical appearance modified by the Armenians. During the illegal Armenian occupation, the original domed roof of the temple, typical of Russian architecture, was replaced with a conical dome in order to transform the building into an “Armenian Church”.
In December 2020, Rafik Danakari, a preacher from the Albanian-Udi community of Azerbaijan was appointed to the former Albanian monastic complex of Khudavang located in the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan and led the first prayer ceremony for the Albanian community -Udi in the temple. Before leaving Kalbajar in November 2020, the Armenians ransacked the Khudavang temple, causing severe damage after looting sacred objects such as church bells and stones, artifacts and portraits. The Armenians then confessed that they did not intend to “bequeath anything to the Muslims” in Kalbajar, including religious monuments that already belonged to Azerbaijani residents of the neighborhood.
Khudavang or Dedeveng Monastery was built in the 8th-13th centuries during the rule of the former Azerbaijani state of Caucasian Albania which was founded sometime before the 6th century BC and lasted until the 8th century AD . Christianity was the main religious belief in this ancient state, which bears no relation to modern Albania in the Balkans. Khudavang is one of the largest and most comprehensive examples of Azerbaijan’s Christian heritage. Names such as Arzu, Tursun, Seyti, Hasan, Avag, Shams, Altun, Aghbuh and Garagoz, which appear in many building inscriptions in Khudavang Monastery, prove the Turkish identity of its founders.
Azerbaijan rehabilitated the monuments of Christian heritage in the Karabakh region as the heritage of Caucasian Albania and the heritage of Russian Orthodoxy and submitted fact-based rejections to its self -saying belonging to the Armenian Gregorian Church.
According to data compiled by the Azerbaijani government, before the occupation of the Karabakh region by Armenia, there were 128 Albanian temples and monasteries and three Orthodox temples.
Udis living mainly in the northern regions of Gabala and Oghuz in Azerbaijan are direct descendants of Caucasian Albania. There are two Albanian temples in the village of Gabala. In total, more than 4,000 Udis, the world’s largest population of this minority, are settled in Azerbaijan, notably in Gabala, Oghuz, Baku and Sumgait. Russia, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are also home to groups of Udis.
The Azerbaijani Albanian-Udi religious community succeeded the Albanian (Caucasian) Independent Apostolic Church. The Albanian Apostolic Church, as the first apostolic church in the Caucasus, has a long history and left indelible traces in the religious and cultural life of the people of Azerbaijan and the whole Caucasus. However, after various pressures and influences, the Albanian Apostolic Church was abolished by the Russian Empire in 1836. The invalidation of the church paved the way for the Armenian-Gregorian Church to claim part of its cultural heritage and spiritual with the aim of “Gregorianization”. .”
“Yin and Yang”
Religious sites and monuments, wherever they are and whatever religion they belong to, are considered the heritage of humanity, but of a certain group of people. It is a fundamental rule of humanism to be guided by respect and tolerance for the heritage of all religions. Azerbaijan, as an exemplary multi-religious country in the world, where Muslims, Christians, Jews and members of other religions live in a unique coexistence, has long been acclaimed for its equal approach to all religious beliefs. Three percent of the Azerbaijani population is Christian; less than 0.2% are Jewish and 0.2% are unaffiliated with any religion or belong to minority religious groups. Currently, more than 2,000 mosques, 14 churches and seven synagogues are functioning in the Caspian country. An Armenian church with an Armenian library is also kept in the capital Baku.
However, the same cannot be said for Armenia given the solid facts about how this mono-ethnic country is unable to tolerate the heritage of other nations on its territory. A report by Caliber.Az from the Armenian capital Yerevan recently demonstrated the results of Armenian vandalism against the heritage of Azerbaijanis in the city – almost all cultural and religious monuments have either been tampered with, Armenianized or completely wiped out. Furthermore, mosques in once-occupied Azerbaijani territories were either looted, destroyed or turned into pigsties in a deliberate attempt to desecrate the values of Islam by keeping an animal, which was recognized as haram for Muslims, in sacred places. .
So, can you now realize who is good and who is bad? It should be remembered that good always outweighs evil, as Azerbaijan did in the 44-day war in 2020…