Continuing the search for authenticity, truth and the origins of the world, I visited the ancient Armenian land of Artsakh several years ago and studied some of its numerous exquisite ancient Armenian monuments.
I was particularly impressed by the architectural and high esthetical value of Amaras Monastery.
By tradition, it was founded as early as the start of the fourth century by St. Gregory the Illuminator (257-331 AD) and served as a major point for the spread of Christianity in the fourth century.
This happened in the context of two historical facts. The Armenian Apostolic Church is one of the oldest Christian churches and was founded in the first century. Armenia is the first country who adopted Christianity as its official dogma in 301 AD.
Amaras Monastery is also the burial place of St. Gregory the Illuminator’s grandson, St. Grigoris, who died in 338 AD.
St. Grigoris’ tomb still lies in the monastic complex.
Subsequently, Amaras Monastery developed into a prominent religious and educational center in medieval Armenia, also serving as a center of manuscript production and preservation.
Since the invasion of Arabic (821 AD), Turkomanic (eleventh century) and Mongolian (1223 AD) tribes from the East, the Monastery has been subjected to various attacks. It was raided and plundered in the thirteenth century by the Mongols, destroyed in 1387 during Tamerlane‘s invasion, and demolished again in the sixteenth century.
Apart from its unique esthetical value, Amaras Monastery serves as a historical and cultural symbol.
The founding of Amaras Monastery at the start of the fourth century and its development into a major religious, cultural and educational center where prominent representatives of the Armenian nation have served, created and taught, proves the historical identity of Artsakh as an ancient Armenian land and cradle of Armenian civilization.
A tragic fate and historical injustice has befallen Nakhichevan, usurped by Azerbaijan.
According to Koriun Vardapet, the pupil of Mesrop Mashtots, Nakhichevan is a major place where the Armenian scholar and theologian Mesrop Mashtots worked on the creation of the Armenian Alphabet and founded among the first Armenian schools.
About 1055 AD, the Seljuk Turks captured Nakhichevan, putting an end to its cultural development and prosperity.
I subsequently visited other significant ancient Armenian monuments in Artsakh.
Tzitzernavank, a fifth century Armenian church, stands out with its beautiful three-nave basilica.
The basilica of Tzitzernavank by tradition contains relics of St. George the Dragon-Slayer.
Yeghishe Arakyal Monastery was built in the fifth century. The monastic complex presently barely survives, purposefully left to decay under Azerbaijani control, in an effort to erase the cultural traces and the historical identity of the ancient Armenian land of Artsakh.
Dadivank monastery, first mentioned in the ninth century, was founded by St. Dadi, a disciple of Thaddeus the Apostle, who spread Christianity in Eastern Armenia during the first century.
Gandzasar Monastery, founded in 1216 AD, stands out with its remarkable architecture, its stone-sculptured dome with magnificent reliefs, its impressive gavit, the khachkars and the Armenian carvings insculped on its walls.
Gandzasar had a large scriptorium where ancient manuscripts have been preserved, reproduced and illuminated.
The Red Gospels of Gandzasar are safe under the preservation of the University of Chicago.
It was in Gandzasar where Mkhitar Gosh, the thirteenth century scholar, compiled his work “Code of Laws,” Armenia’s first compilation of civil legal regulations.
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Gandzasar by legend serves as the repository of venerated Christian relics, notably the head of St. John the Baptist.
Gandzasar was raided by Mongol hordes in the beginning of the thirteenth century and by Turkomanic gangs in the eighteenth century.
Horekavank Monastery, repaired in the thirteenth century, by legend serves as the repository of the Holy Cross, brought by Mesrop Mashtots.
The Armenian monastic complexes of ancient Artsakh have thus served as major points of the Armenian Enlightenment/Renaissance, where major representatives of Armenian culture have served, worked and taught as early as the fourth century.
They have facilitated the spread and teaching of the Armenian alphabet, the foundation of the first Armenian schools, the spread of Christianity as early as the first century, and the preservation, reproduction and illumination of ancient manuscripts.
They have served as the burial place of ancient Armenian nobility and the refuge of the population within the monastic complex fortifications during the times of Persian, Arabic, Turkomanic and Mongol invasions.
In all, the Armenian monastic complexes of Artsakh serve as a symbol of Armenian Enlightenment and Renaissance and opposition to the danger from the East, safeguarding the furthest Eastern front of the Western culture.
Apart from their historical and cultural role and function, they are irrefutable masterpieces of the multiple forms of Armenian architecture, sculpture and art which have evolved over the centuries and coexist in the masterpieces of ancient Artsakh.
Nevertheless, the Armenian cultural and historical treasures of ancient Artsakh have been subjected to hostility, both against the structural complexes and against their historical and cultural identity.
Due to their precarious geographic location, they have been under constant danger.
Military offensives from Azerbaijan and treasure hunters have caused significant damage to the structural complexes over time, and major political leaders of Azerbaijan have insulted and attempted to usurp the historical and cultural identity of the Armenian monuments of ancient Artsakh.
The Armenian monuments of ancient Artsakh have been given false characterizations, e.g. ‘Albanian-Azerbaijani’ or even ‘part of Azerbaijan’s purported cultural heritage’, purposefully and ridiculously ignoring the Armenian script engraved on their walls, proof of their historical identity.
The Azerbaijani offensive against Artsakh escalated before the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1988-1991).
Although the vast majority of the population of Artsakh has historically been Armenian, ethnic tensions between the indigenous Armenian majority and the Azerbaijani minority have continued since 1988.
The intense military struggle lasted until the ceasefire of 1994, but hostilities have continued over the years, culminating with the current violation of the ceasefire and the resumption of the Azerbaijani offensive in 2020.
In all, the resumption of the Azerbaijani offensive against the ancient Armenian land of Artsakh is a continuation of the persecution of the Armenian nation and its geographical, historical and cultural integrity.
The Armenian nation, an ancient Mesopotamian nation stemming from the ancient people of Urartu, primarily settled around Lakes Van/Sevan/Urmia, the sources of the Euphrates River and Mt. Ararat, has historically been subjected to mass persecutions, threatening its very existence.
Indigenous to a very precarious geographical location, the Armenians have been subject to partition and mass movement of population multiple times:
- In 387 and 591 between the Greek-Byzantine (Rum) and the Persians.
- In 1555 and 1639 between the Ottoman Turks and the Persians.
This has been followed by the Tatar/Azeri hostilities against the indigenous Armenians in 1905 and the multiple genocides against the Armenian nation, before, during and after 1915, including the massacre of 10-thousand Armenians of Nakhichevan by the Ottoman Turks in 1918, when they captured Nakhichevan.
Hostilities and ethnic and religious prejudice against Armenians continue in Turkey, which continues to deny its responsibility and the right to freedom of speech and expression.
The assassination of Hrant Dink in 2007 is just one more example of the continued persecution of the Armenians in Turkey.
Pan-Turkic ultra-nationalistic and fundamentalist aspirations are thriving and expanding, using mercenary forces, and taking advantage of the weaknesses of the West to stop them.
The current offensive of Azerbaijan against the national, territorial, historical and cultural identity and integrity of the ancient Armenian land of Artsakh is a continuation of the human, historical and cultural genocide of the Armenian nation.
West and East are clashing again, under the disguise of religion.
The values of the Western world, including civil rights, democracy, education, freedom of speech and expression, equality of the genders, are in peril.
It is the West’s responsibility to stop this continued genocide once and for all, to oppose the threat from the East and to maintain and protect its cultural and historical roots and integrity.
If not, the West will pay the price of a continued, expansionist and more violent invasion from the East, the consequences of which are already visible with the recent violent fundamentalist episodes in France, Austria and other European countries.