Shushi’s Ghazanchetsots Cathedral Bombed

Azerbaijan shelled Ghazanchetsots Cathedral (Photo: Armenian Unified Infocenter)

The Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi, Artsakh, also known as Holy Savior Cathedral, was severely damaged after two air raids conducted by the Azerbaijani military on October 8. Videos from the destruction reveal extensive external and internal ruin, including broken pews, scattered rubble and a partially collapsed ceiling.

Armenian officials collectively condemned the attack on the historic symbol of the cultural and religious heritage of Artsakh as a violation of international law and the continuation of a pattern of the destruction of Armenian cultural memory by Azerbaijan. The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin released a statement declaring that in “ignoring all international obligations, Azerbaijan has targeted the sanctuaries and historical and cultural heritage of Artsakh, thus revealing its condemnable and traditional policy aimed at the eviction of Armenians from Artsakh and the destruction of the Armenian cultural presence there.” Artsakh President Arayik Harutyunyan committed his administration to renovating the cathedral, proclaiming, “This manifestation of vandalism is against the laws of God and humanity.” 

Ghazanchetsots is a site of immense spiritual significance for the people of Artsakh, not only due to its consecration, but also due to its role throughout the history of the country’s struggles for self-determination. The 19th-century cathedral was desecrated and severely damaged in 1920 during the Shushi massacres. Between 1989-1992 during the Artsakh Liberation War, the church was used as an armory for the Azerbaijani military in Shushi, while the city was employed as a stronghold for firing upon Stepanakert. In 1992, following the liberation of Shushi, Armenian forces recaptured and restored the damaged cathedral.

Father Andreas of the Holy Savior Cathedral expressed his anguish in seeing the cathedral in ruins once again. “I feel the pain that the walls of our beautiful cathedral are destroyed,” he told the Associated Press. “I feel the pain that today the world does not react to what’s happening here and that our boys are dying defending the Motherland.” 

Deliberate acts of hostility directed against cultural property in wartime are prohibited by the 1954 Hague Convention for Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which Azerbaijan and Armenia are both parties. Yet Armenian leadership recognized that the government of Azerbaijan has long embraced a policy of demolishing Armenian monuments. In a statement denouncing the bombardment of Ghazanchetsots and the continued military aggression against civilian settlements and objects in Artsakh, the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalled that Azerbaijan “has completely annihilated the Armenian cultural heritage in Nakhichevan and in other parts of the historical homeland of the Armenian people.” 

The Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs referred to the eradication of Armenian cultural heritage in Nakhichevan. In the republic of Nakhichevan, which has been under the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan since 1920, the government of Azerbaijan undertook a systematic campaign between 1997-2006 to erase the region’s Armenian roots through the annihilation of thousands of khachkars (cross-stones), tombstones and dozens of medieval churches. 

In addition to damaged infrastructure of the cathedral, three journalists who gathered at Ghazanchetsots to document the devastation from the first air raid were injured during the second strike. Yuri Kotenok, Editor-in-Chief of the Russian news service, sustained critical injuries and is undergoing surgery in Stepanakert. Levon Arzanov, a Russian citizen and war correspondent, and their local guide Hrant Badalyan were wounded as well. 

This is not the first time that international correspondents have been targeted by Azerbaijani forces since they invaded Artsakh on September 27. On October 1, two journalists from the French daily Le Monde were injured in an Azerbaijani air strike in Martuni. One was critically wounded and underwent a lifesaving emergency operation in Stepanakert. During an evening press briefing on Thursday, Armenian Ministry of Defense representative Artsrun Hovhannisyan directly expressed his gratitude to the international reporters in the room: “Knowing from day one that it puts your lives in potential danger, you go to Stepanakert and Shushi to cover the reality of the events for the world,” he said. 

Meanwhile, the relentless shelling of civilian settlements in Artsakh, particularly in the capital city of Stepanakert, continues. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Artsakh conducted a thorough fact-finding mission regarding civilian losses. Between September 27 and October 7, a total of 20 civilians have been killed and 93 wounded (73 sustaining serious injuries). Over 4,600 immovable private property (including residential homes and shops), 430 vehicles and 750 public facilities have been damaged. 

Fighting along the Line of Contact persists at a similar intensity. According to Press Secretary of the Armenian Ministry of Defense Shushan Stepanyan, seven unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operated by the Azerbaijani military were located and destroyed in the Vardenis region in Armenia. The Artsakh Defense Ministry released thirty new names of soldiers killed in combat today. 

In Geneva, Switzerland, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov was set to meet with representatives from the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries (France, Russia and the United States) to present his country’s position on conflict resolution. The meeting was preceded by a resolution passed by the Geneva City Council titled “Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh have a right to live and self-determination” condemning Azerbaijan’s ongoing aggression against Artsakh and demanding the government to freeze the Aliyev family’s assets in Switzerland.

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian

Lillian Avedian is the assistant editor of the Armenian Weekly. She reports on international women's rights, South Caucasus politics, and diasporic identity. Her writing has also been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Democracy in Exile, and Girls on Key Press. She holds master's degrees in journalism and Near Eastern studies from New York University.

1 Comment

  1. Thank you Lillian for the tragic but true story of on going religious hatred the Azerbaijani terrorist are openly displaying targeting historic houses of worship such as the Cathedral of the Holy Savior targeted and hit by Israeli drones being used in the unholy campaign started and waged by the rue-some alliance of Azerbaijan and its Turkish cosponsors and Syrian mercenaries imported by Turkey to wage war. I would hope the UN, NATO, EU, Russia, the USA come on full force in stopping such a radical staging of Warfare with an alliance against Armenia unseen before. Time to put a harness on the plotters certainly Turkey and Israel and remind them that economic sanctions and stopping US liberal foreign aid to the war makers and religious atrocities not seen since the days of the Armenian Genecide carried out by Turkey.

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