After the 44-day war, many monuments of historical and cultural value appeared under the control of Azerbaijan. Many of them face the imminent danger of destruction and distortion.
In the occupied areas of Artsakh, the Armenian culture is also being “Albanized”, that is, the Armenianness of churches and other monuments is denied and attributed to the Caucasian Albanian culture.
On September 27, 2021, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) condemned the deliberate damage to the Armenian cultural heritage and its Albanization during and after the war.
French President Emanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials have made statements on the need to protect cultural monuments remaining in the territories under Azerbaijani control.
With this article, the Fact Investigation Platform has summed up what is known about the monuments under Azerbaijani control a year after the war.
Destroyed and half-destroyed churches
In order to record the condition and any changes to the cultural heritage of Artsakh, “Monitoring the Cultural Heritage of Artsakh” (MONUMENT WATCH) platform was created in 2021.
In addition, the Caucasus Heritage Watch platform conducts satellite imagery surveys and alerts about the destruction of monuments in Artsakh.
Mount Dizapayt, on top of which the Katarovank (Kataro Monastery) is located, remained under the control of Armenian forces after the 44-day war. However, on December 12, violating the November 10 statement, Azerbaijani troops launched an attack on the villages of Hin Tagher and Khtsaberd. As a result of the offensive, the villages, as well as Dizapayt were occupied.
MONUMENT WATCH reports that on March 29, 2021, a video was posted where it can be seen that the church is used for military purposes. Azerbaijani soldiers live right inside the church. The footage shows soldiers eating, a bed and other similar items can be seen in the video.
The early structures of the monastery were destroyed at different times, and the present church was built in 1870.
Holy Savior Ghazanchetsots Cathedral
The Holy Savior Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi, the cultural center of Artsakh, was severely damaged during the hostilities. On October 8, the Azerbaijani armed forces twice struck the church with air bombs. The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch called it a possible war crime.
After the capture of Shushi, the cathedral was desecrated. The Azerbaijani military made notes on the walls of the church. Months after the war, it became known that Azerbaijan is “restoring” the church, and the dome of the church has been removed.
The Azerbaijani side reports that the restoration will return the “original” aspect to the church, meaning the condition of Ghazanchetsots after 1920, when the dome was removed. However, this claim is false, because the church used to have a dome before 1920.
Ghazanchetsots Cathedral was built in 1868-1887. It was severely damaged during the massacres of Armenians in 1920, and the dome was destroyed. In Soviet times it was used as a warehouse. When Armenian forces took control of Shushi in 1992, the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral was restored and reconsecrated.
St. John the Baptist Church / Kanach Zham
In November 2020, FIP.am discovered that the Kanach Zham Church in Shushi was partially destroyed.
In 2021, Google Earth satellite images showed that the upper part of the church has been completely leveled, with both the bell tower and the dome removed.
A report prepared by RBK in Shushi in July 2021, shows the destroyed dome of the church.
St. John the Baptist (Kanach Zham) Church is older that the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral. It was built in 1818.
Jebrayil (Mekhakavan) Church
In March 2021, the BBC reported that the Azeris had completely destroyed the St. Astvatsatsin Church in Jebrail (Mekhakavan).
The church was built in 2017.
In May 2021, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev visited the village of Tsakuri in the Hadrut region and declared that the local St. Astvatsatsin Church was Albanian. The Human Rights Defender’s Office of Armenia has condemned this fascist approach at the highest level of government. The Human Rights Defender’s Office has also translated Aliyev’s words: “This is an Albanian church. The Armenians tried to Armenianize this church as well, they wrote inscriptions in Armenian here, but they did not succeed. This is our ancient temple, the temple of our Udi brothers, and they will come here. Just as our mosques were desecrated, so were the ancient Albanian temples desecrated by the Armenians. But we will restore them, all these inscriptions are false. The inscriptions were added later. They have created false history for themselves…” Aliyev makes it clear that the Armenian inscriptions will be removed during the renovation works.
Tsakuri Surb Astvatsatsin Church was built in the 12th century and was part of the former Tsaghkevank monastery complex.
According to the statement signed on November 10, the entire Shahumyan region (Kelbajar region according to the administrative division of Azerbaijan,) came under Azerbaijani control, including the Dadivank monastery complex.
Initially, Armenian pilgrims and clergy were allowed to visit the monastery if accompanied by Russian peacekeepers. However, in July, both representatives of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Artsakh Human Rights Defender’s Office reported that Azerbaijan has been banning Armenian pilgrims and clergy from entering the monastery for months.
However, Udis are allowed to enter the monastery. In September, it was reported that Udis held a liturgy in Dadivank in memory of Azerbaijani soldiers killed during the war.
Azeris present Dadivank as a medieval Albanian architectural monument. According to them, the Armenian elements in the church have been added since 1993, when the whole region came under Armenian control.
Caucasus Heritage Watch revealed that between April and July, Azeris demolished the bridge in the village of Mets Tagher in the Hadrut region during road construction works.
The bridge called Makun was built in 1890.
State Museum of Fine Arts in Shushi
During the hostilities, the exhibits of the Shushi State Museum of Fine Arts were taken to bomb shelters. At the end of October, three sculptures by Hakob Gyurjyan, which belonged to the National Gallery of Armenia, were evacuated from the city, but all the other exhibits remained in Shushi, which came under Azerbaijani control weeks later.
The Shushi Museum of Fine Arts was located in the restored building of а former inn. The idea to open the museum belonged to Academician Grigory Gabrielyants. Through his efforts, a collection was compiled, including the works of Martiros Saryan, Minas Avetisyan, Carzou, Jansem, Henrik Siravyan, Hakob Hakobyan, Nikoghayos Nikoghosyan, Gayane Tbilisetsi (Khachatryan), Yuri Grigoryan, Armine Kalents, Karen Aghamots and others. Works of foreign artists were also on display.
Caucasus Heritage Watch has revealed that the sculpture park of the gallery has been completely leveled to the ground, 51 sculptures have disappeared from the area. Their fate is still unknown.
Through satellite photos, Caucasus Heritage Watch revealed that between April 10 and June 5, all the works disappeared from the Sculpture Park next to the Shushi Museum of Fine Arts, and the area was completely cleared.
State Geological Museum in Shushi
The entire collection of the Geological Museum remained in the bomb shelter – 480 items of ore and organic fossil remains. The collection included ores from 47 countries of the world, including 20 regions of Russia. There were more than 1 billion 200 million year-old exhibits in the museum, samples from Artsakh, the oldest of which is 146 million years old.
The Geological Museum was founded in 2014 on the basis of the private collection of Grigory Gabrielyants, Doctor of Geological Sciences, Professor, Minister of Geology of the USSR in 1989-1991, Advisor to the President of Artsakh.
History Museum in Shushi
The History Museum in Shushi, housing 300 exhibits, has also come under Azerbaijani control.
After the end of the war, Azerbaijani forces destroyed several cemeteries with a history of hundreds of years.
On October 27, 2020, the Azerbaijani armed forces captured the village of Avetaranots in the Askeran region. It is one of the oldest settlements of Artsakh and is rich in monuments. According to various sources, there were 53-83 monuments in the village.
In June, it turned out that the Azeris had demolished the village cemetery. The Investigative Committee of Artsakh has initiated a criminal case on the occasion of destruction of the graves by Azerbaijanis in Avetaranots village.
The village of Sghnakh in the Askeran region came under the control of the Azerbaijani armed forces on October 28, 2020. In May, it became known that the Azerbaijanis had leveled the village cemetery to the ground. The cemetery had been in operation since the 18th century.
The cemetery of Mets Tagher village in Hadrut region founded at the beginning of the 19th century has also been destroyed.
Caucasus Heritage Watch revealed through satellite photos that the Armenian cemetery in Shushi has also been partially destroyed.
The statue of Vazgen Sargsyan
The statue of the former Prime Minister of Armenia, national hero Vazgen Sargsyan, placed in front of the Shushi City Hall, was vandalized and destroyed.
On December 3, 2020, the journalist of the Russian “Kommersant” newspaper Kirill Krivosheev published the photos of the memorial complex dedicated to the victims of the Second World War and the “Revived Talish” monument in the village of Talish. Both monuments have been destroyed. The “Revived Talish” monument was inaugurated in June 2017.
In August 2021, the website karabakhrecords reported that the Azeris destroyed the bust of Armenak Khanperyants (Sergey Khudyakov), Marshal of the Soviet Union, Deputy Commander of the Red Army in the village of Mets Tagher of Hadrut region. Khanperyants was born in that village.
In the same month, karabakhrecords revealed through satellite photos that Azerbaijan had destroyed the World War II and the First Artsakh War monuments in Azokh.
In fact, all the monuments that are related to the Armenian culture, and cannot be presented as Caucasian Albanian, are endangered. However, there are churches that are currently under imminent threat of destruction by Azerbaijanis. International media and organizations have referred to some of them.
Vankasar Church is located on a hill near the ancient site of Tigranakert. It was built around the 6th-7th centuries.
Caucasus Heritage Watch has alerted that the Azeris have moved heavy military equipment to the church.
ALERT: @CaucasusHW reports *possible* threat to 7th c. Armenian church of Vankasar (Agdam, Az). Satellite imagery from 4/16 shows probable heavy equipment in parking area and possible structure across road. Can authorities clarify intent of this equipment? @UNESCO_AZ, @ArmUnesco pic.twitter.com/5RtPlmwEZs
— CaucasusHeritageWatch (@CaucasusHW) April 19, 2021
Part of Taghavard village in the Martuni region came under Azerbaijani control during the war. Caucasus Heritage Watch demonstrated with satellite photos that the area on the Azerbaijani side has been completely destroyed and leveled.
Holy Astvatsatsin Church of Taghavard is located in that area. It is very close to the part destroyed by the Azerbaijanis, and, hence, it is also endangered.
St. Astvatsatsin Church was built in 1840.
Holy Savior Church, Mets Tagher
Caucasus Heritage Watch reported that the Armenian Church of the Holy Savior, founded in 1846 in the village of Mets Tagher in the Hadrut region, also faces an imminent threat of destruction. The area around the church has been bulldozed and trucks are parked there.
It is noteworthy that there is simply no information about many of the monuments. Their current condition is unknown.
Thus, both during and after the war, Azerbaijan has been pursuing a consistent policy of eliminating the Armenian trace in Artsakh. Evidence of this claim are the destruction of many movable and immovable monuments, the destruction of graves, as well as the Albanization of a number of monuments.