Culture of Nagorno-Karabakh - History of Vandalism and Destruction

History of Vandalism and Destruction

First record of war and destruction during which monuments of faith in present-day Nagorno Karabakh suffered date from the early medieval period. During the Armenian-Persian war of 451-484 AD, the Amaras Monastery was wrecked by Persian conquerors who sought to bring pagan practices back to Armenia. In 821, Armenia was overrun by Arabs, and Amaras was plundered. In the same century, however, the monastery was rebuilt under the patronage of Prince Yesai (Armenian: Եսայի Իշխան Առանշահիկ), Lord of Dizak, who bravely fought against the invaders. In 1223, as testified by the Bishop Stephanos Orbelian (died in 1304), Amaras was looted again—at this time, by the Mongols—who took with them St. Grigoris’ crosier and a large golden cross decorated with 36 precious stones. According to Orbelian, the wife of the Mongolian leader, Byzantine Princess Despina, proposed to send the cross and the crosier to Constantinople.

In 1387, Amaras and ten other monasteries of Artsakh were attacked by Tamerlane’s hordes from Central Asia. According to a local Armenian legend, Tamerlane destroyed Amaras and ordered his soldiers to make up a miles-long line from the monastery all the way to the River Arax. Tamerlane’s soldiers were passing on the stones of the demolished buildings from one person to another and throwing them into the water to form a bridge. But as soon as the conquerors left the region, the legend says, the region’s inhabitants rushed to the river, brought the stones back and rebuilt the monastery to its original state. It must have been at that time when Amaras’ famous scriptorium was established.

Events in the Southern Caucasus that followed the 1917 October Revolution in Russia have had a devastating effect on the fate of the city of Shusha and on its architectural marvels. After the entry of Turko-Islamic nomads to Karabakh's highlands, in the 1750s, the city became divided into two parts: Armenian and Muslim. While the Islamic Turkic tribesmen (known since the 1930s as “Azerbaijanis” )constituted a small percentage of the population of Artsakh’s highlands, their largest concentration was in Shusha, where they have maintained difficult relations with the city’s Armenian residents. They city was a venue of sporadic inter-communal violence since 1905, but it was in March 1920 when it received the deadliest blow of all. Aided by expeditionary Ottoman forces, armed Turko-Tartar (“Azerbaijani” ) bands burned and destroyed all Christian quarters of the city, murdering most of its Armenian residents in the process—some 20,000 people in total.

The city’s three out of five Armenian churches were totally destroyed by the Turkic bands: Holy Savior “Meghretzotz” (Armenian: Մեղրեցոց Սբ. Փրկիչ, built in 1838), Holy Savior “Aguletzotz” (Armenian: Ագուլեցոց Սբ. Փրկիչ, built in 1882) and Hermitage of Holy Virgins (Armenian: Կուսանաց Անապատ, built in 1816). The Cathedral of the Holy Savior (1868–1888) was desecrated and severely damaged. With as many as 7,000 buildings demolished, Shusha has never been restored to its former grandeur. Instead, it shrank, becoming a smaller town peopled primarily by Muslims (14 thousand residents in 1987 versus 42 thousand in 1913). It stood in ruins from 1920 up to the mid-1960s, when remnants of the city’s Armenian half were bulldozed by the orders from Baku.

The Karabakh War (1991-1994) likewise left its deep scars on the architectural face of Nagorno Karabakh. The Azerbaijani Army intentionally targeted Armenian Christian monuments for the purpose of their demolition, using, among a variety of means, heavy artillery and military airplanes. Both Amaras and Gandzasar monasteries suffered in the process.

Robert Bevan writes: “The Azeri campaign against the Armenian enclave of Nagorno Karabakh which began in 1988 was accompanied by cultural cleansing that destroyed the Egheazar monastery and 21 other churches.”

Two out of the three mosques in the city of Shusha also suffered during the war when Armenian forces captured the town in 1992. The authorities of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic, however, are restoring at least one of the mosques, reportedly with some help from Iranian architects.

Read more about this topic:  Culture Of Nagorno-Karabakh

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