Restoration or distortion of Armenian legacy in Shushi?
What’s happening to the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in NK
In Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, the public is concerned about the fate of the Ghazanchetsos Cathedral in the city of Shushi (the Azerbaijani name is Shusha), which, following the results of the second Karabakh war, is under the control of Azerbaijan.
Photos of the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral have appeared online without the cathedral’s domes.
The Azerbaijani side stated that “restoration work” is underway in the cathedral. And in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azerbaijani authorities are accused of “distorting the Armenian appearance of Shushi.”
In October 2020, in the midst of the second Karabakh war, the Shushi Cathedral came under rocket fire twice a day from the Azerbaijani side. It was the domes of the Ghazanchetsots temple that were badly damaged.
How it all started
On the afternoon of May 3, the press secretary of the State Emergency Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the unrecognized NKR, Hunan Tadevosyan, wrote on his Facebook page that the Azerbaijanis had removed the domes from the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi.
Tadevosyan attached a photo of the church to his post, which he took a few days ago. One of the domes is visible on it. Already in the comments to the post, user Masis Beglaryan published a more recent photo of the temple, on which there are no more domes.
Reaction of the Armenian Foreign Ministry
The Armenian Foreign Ministry condemned the actions of Azerbaijan.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that this is one of the many precedents of the destruction of Armenian religious buildings, monuments and the justification of these actions:
“Among the many war crimes committed by the Azerbaijani armed forces during the days of aggression against the Republic of Artsakh, one can name the deliberate double shelling of the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi from high-precision weapons in one day, followed by vandalism after the ceasefire was established.
It should be noted that Azerbaijan carries out actions related to the church without consulting the Armenian Apostolic Church, which clearly violates the right of Armenian believers to freedom of religion. “
The statement of the Armenian Foreign Ministry emphasizes that Azerbaijan began to change the architectural appearance of the cathedral before the start of the work of the mission of UNESCO experts to assess its condition:
“It is obvious that Azerbaijan deliberately blocks the entry of UNESCO experts to the threatened objects of the Armenian cultural heritage, on the one hand, to hide the war crimes committed by it, and on the other hand, to change the historical and architectural integrity of the monument.
In this situation, all the fears of the Armenian side that these actions of Azerbaijan are vandalism aimed at depriving the Shusha Cathedral of the Armenian identity are more than justified. “
“The goal is to eliminate traces of the Armenian presence”
NK Ombudsman Gegham Stepanyan wrote on Facebook that under the pretext of restoration, Azerbaijanis distort the appearance of one of the most important Armenian monuments:
“We have seen many times how Azerbaijan actually treats Armenian cultural values, and it is already clear what is hidden under the“ restoration work ”. The goal is to eliminate traces of the Armenian presence. “
For many years, according to the Ombudsman, Azerbaijan pursued a policy of “Albanization” of the Armenian cultural and religious heritage of NK:
“If Azerbaijan is really concerned about the preservation of cultural values and” restores “them, then a big question arises – what is the reason that until now Baku has not allowed an independent expert group of UNESCO to visit the region.”
“Cultural genocide is taking place in Shushi”
The head of the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized NKR David Babayan called the demolition of the domes of the Armenian church by Azerbaijanis a cultural genocide:
“Knowing Azerbaijan, studying this country for a long time, we can say that in addition to elements of Nazism, terrorism and genocide, there is also a tactical aspect. He specifically draws attention to this for several purposes.
The first is to strike a blow at our identity, pride, memory, pride. The second is to pave a way for himself in this way, diverting our attention from what he is doing now in the occupied territories. And in the occupied territories, the entire cultural and historical heritage of Artsakh is being destroyed. In addition, it is possible that in this way they are trying to divert attention from humanitarian problems, the problems of prisoners of war, hostages, etc. “
A repeat of the fate of Hagia Sophia in Turkey?
Chairman of the Commission on State and Legal Issues of the Armenian Parliament Vladimir Vardanyan also spoke about the incident with the Kazanchetsots Cathedral. In his opinion, Azerbaijan once again emphasized Armenophobia, the desire “to eliminate the architectural dominant, which was obvious in Shushi, and to show that Azerbaijan does not allow the presence of ethnic Armenians in this region.”
Likewise, he said, in Turkey, the Hagia Sophia temple was turned into a mosque:
“If we do not respond to this and do not force the international community to react to this, we will get new destroyed monuments.”
The head of the ruling parliamentary faction “My Step” Lilit Makunts called the incident with the domes “racist state policy of Azerbaijan”:
“This is the attitude of a state that has no cultural history and is trying to erase all traces of Armenian culture.”
Photo of Kazanchetsots before the second Karabakh war