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, denying Armenian accusations of the so-called destruction of Christian heritage.
Shortly after restoring territorial integrity in 2020, Azerbaijani authorities developed several action plans to rehabilitate historical, cultural and religious monuments in the liberated lands. Almost all monuments in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan have suffered from Armenian vandalism during almost 30 years of illegal Armenian occupation, and Christian temples and churches are no exception.
During his visits to the liberated neighborhoods, President Ilham Aliyev personally exposed traces of cultural vandalism committed by Armenians in multiple Christian temples.
An ancient Albanian temple in Hunarli village of Khojavand district, the White Cross temple near Hadrut settlement and the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also located in Khojavand district, were desecrated and deliberately transformed in “Armenian churches”. Armenians almost completely destroy a Russian Orthodox church in Khojavand during the decades of occupation. 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, Saint Elysee temple complex in Aghdara and some other Albanian heritage monuments have also been exposed to cultural vandalism and the “Armenianization” policy pursued by Armenians during decades of illegal occupation.
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 would do the right thing protect Christian temples located in the liberated territories, and Christians living in the country could use these temples.
Gazanchi Church in the liberated town 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 St. John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Church in Shusha, which should also regain its historical aspect 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”.
Azerbaijan has rehabilitated Christian heritage monuments in the Karabakh region which are the heritage of Caucasian Albania, a former Azerbaijani state, and the domain of Russian Orthodoxy and unequivocally rejects any statement that it belongs to the Armenian Gregorian Church.
According to data compiled by the Azerbaijani government, before the occupation of the Karabakh region by Armenia, there were 139 places of worship and templesof which 128 were Albanian temples and monasteries and three Orthodox temples.
The Udin people living mainly in the northern regions of Gabala and Oghuz in Azerbaijan are direct descendants of Caucasian Albania. Almost 4,000 Udin are settled in the Nij village of Gabala and 100 live in Oghuz. There are two Albanians temples in Nij. Members of this ancient tribe are also found in the capital Baku, as well as in the city of Sumgait in Azerbaijan. Russia, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are also home to groups of Udins. The largest number of Udins in the world live in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani Albanian-Udi religious community successful 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 some of its cultural and spiritual heritage for the purposes of “Gregorianization”.
Turkish-Islamic researcher Telman Nusratoghlu is also convinced that the monasteries and temples of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan are the historical heritage of Caucasian Albania, an ancient Azerbaijani state that was founded sometime before the 6th century BC. and lasted until the 8th century AD.
“Everyone should know that Agoghlan monastery in Lachin region, Khudavang complex in Kalbajar region, Saint Elysee temple complex in Aghdara region and Ganjasar monastery are the heritage history of Caucasian Albania, which is the first Christian state in the South Caucasus”, it wrote in an article, adding that Caucasian Albania united Turkic and Caucasian tribes under one flag and played an important role in shaping the ethnogenesis of Azerbaijani Turks.
Today, 24 christian religious communities hold prayers in 16 churches in Azerbaijan. Four percent of the ten million inhabitants of Azerbaijan are made up of the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church; Georgian Orthodox Church; Armenian Apostolic Church; Seventh-day Adventists; Molokan Church; A Roman Catholic Church; other Christians, including Evangelical churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as Jews and Baha’is, and the International Krishna Consciousness Society, according to 2019 International Religious Freedom Report: Azerbaijan published by the US Department of State.