Sassounian: Visit to Nakhichevan Shows Why Armenians Can Never Again Live Under Azeri Rule

Scottish researcher Steven Sim reported about his troubling experiences in Nakhichevan, an historic Armenian territory now occupied by Azerbaijan. Since Sim’s revealing 2006 report has not been adequately publicized in the international media, I would like to present here some of its highlights.

Sim stated that he entered Nakhichevan by land from Turkey and traveled to the village of Abrakunis at Yernjak valley. When he asked a 12-year-old about an ancient church there, the boy pointed to an empty piece of land.

Sim next visited Bananiyar, known to Armenians as Aparank, where he reported that “at least until the 1970’s there were some ruins of a large medieval church located on high ground in the middle of the village. Now a mosque is built on the former church grounds.” At Norashen, two Armenian churches and a graveyard had existed at the north-western edge of this village. He found no trace of either churches or the graveyard.

On his third day in Nakhichevan, while traveling by train to Julfa, Sim observed the remains of the Jugha graveyard. He reported seeing “a hillside covered by stone slabs, spread out over three ridges. All of the gravestones had been toppled, without any exceptions.”

In Ordubad, Sim was taken to the police station where his bag was searched, as he was interrogated about the purpose of his visit. He was then placed on the next bus back to Nakhichevan city. From there he went to Shurut, which used to be “a small Armenian town during the late medieval period, with churches, schools, monasteries, scriptoria, and several tens of thousands of inhabitants.”

At the neighboring Krna village, there were no traces of the local Armenian church. The same was true about the village of Gah. When he asked a passerby about the church in Shurut, he was told it had been destroyed.

In Shurut, Sim was confronted by a group of villagers. When he said that he had come to see the old church, they told him that there was never a church in their village. As he left Shurut, the taxi driver told Sim that the villagers had phoned the police in Julfa and that law enforcement officials would probably be waiting for him somewhere along the road.

A car was indeed waiting for Sim. “A policeman got into the back of the taxi and asked me if I had a topographic map, and an ethnographic book.” When Sim answered that he did not, the policeman made a cursory search of his bag. In Julfa, Sim stopped at the police headquarters, where his bag was searched again. After waiting in a corridor for a while, Sim was taken to the town’s Araz Hotel. He was escorted to a garden in the back of the building. Sim was finally allowed to leave after three hours. Everything in his “bag was taken out and carefully looked at, and the bag itself was examined for any secret compartments. This lasted for about 15 minutes, without a word being spoken.”

Sim was asked about his job. How much did he earn, who paid him to come to Nakhichevan, and why would he spend his own money to come here? The officers carefully examined Sim’s notebook and checked through all of his photographs stored in his digital camera. They showed the most interest in a photograph he had taken in Nakhichevan city. “It was of a stone slab that I had seen in the gardens opposite the Momina Hatun mausoleum, surrounded by a large collection of ram-shaped gravestones. On this stone was carved a cross rising from a rectangular base.”

The Azeri officials told him that it was not a cross. Sim told them that he had read about the church in an Armenian book. They angrily responded: “It is wrong. It is lying to you. You see, Armenians are always lying—they are lying to everyone.” They also stated that “there never were any Armenian churches anywhere in Nakhichevan. There were no Armenians ever living here—so how could there have been churches here?” The Azeris told Sim: “We think that you are not here with good intentions towards the Azerbaijan republic.”

Sim said that his unpleasant experiences in Nakhichevan shed “some light onto the attitudes that Azerbaijan holds about Armenians and anything Armenian.” The report shows why it is impossible for Armenians of Artsakh (Karabagh) to ever again live under oppressive Azeri rule. If a Scottish visitor is treated so poorly, imagine how much worse Azeris treated their Armenian subjects in Artsakh until its liberation.

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. Though dear Harut, never  “shrailer”  means overspends, any comment on my writs,I do commend  his always  and  have a few times  written here   and in aother Armenian forums that  he is our unofficial  spokesman this side  of the ocean.
    To add  that  here in Florida  a small group-my son in law in it- have produced  an 18 minutes  trailer -the feature fiolm of one hour  slated  to come out later this year- titled “Orphans of the Armenian Genocide”, in which this servidor, spanish  , sservant of the Armednian people  also speaks a few minutes , narrating  my grandparents,mother’s side Nakhijevantsi,  who were killed   in their own House  ,properties  land confiscated etc.
    Oh yeah, we shall in due course claim  that  province is Armenian,though turco-mongul  tatar  have “squattered”  in there during last century especially.A  Plan drawn up by headquarters  in kemalist, young  turks, and predecessor Turks…
    Justice  will prevail,no doubt about  that.People  like this Scotsman will help us.Thanks to him and to Harut, for publishing   above post .

  2. The name “Nakhichavan” in Armenian literally means “the place of descent”, a Biblical reference to the descent of Noah’s Ark on the adjacent Mount Ararat. The prefix “Nakh” means first, “ichav” means landing and “avan” is Armenian for town.
    Keep an eye on Mt. Ararat – don’t lose sight of it  ;)

  3. Harut’s last sentence is a perfect summing up.  Imagine if an Armenian was trying to do the research! I applaud Sim’s determination to continue in what promises to be a fascinating research study. I hope we learn more about his findings.

  4. Nakhichevan, Armenia– LOVE LOVE LOVE your post.. absolutely true.. Thank you

    Nakh can also be interpreted as Nakhniner.. mer nahkninera (ancestors) came from those lands.. My eyes were and will remain on our magnificent Mt. Ararat since birth and until I die…

    I love thee Armenia….


  5. Harut is our national treasure. Apparently we Armenians have instilled great fear in the Azeris that has resulted in such hatred of us. Only a “little people” would be crass enough to knock down grave markers.  Why doesn’t the United Nations do anything about this? They can try to erase the fact Armenians were  ever present in Nakhichivan but people like Mr. Sim will prevail eventually. Thanks, Harut.

  6. Several years ago, I received a Roman Catholic Diocese Newsletter that did a front page story on the destruction of hundreds of Khatch Kars in a cemetery near the Arax River. There were photographs of the people breaking up the Khatch Kars and throwing the pieces into the River. Drowning History, the legacy of a barbaric uncultured people. Nakhichivan must some day be reunited with the rest of the Armenian World. I’m sure there is video of the above mentioned events also.

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