Armenian churches are being destroyed in the regions ruled by Azerbaijan. This is how history begins to be rewritten.
Azerbaijan’s government has found a solution to rewrite history in the South Caucasus. At the end of March, the Armenian Church of the Holy Mother of God in the city of Jebrayil was razed to the ground. The region of the same name has been controlled by Azerbaijan since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh war in mid-November. No church, no Armenians, it’s that simple for Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.
Shortly after the ceasefire agreement, the first Azerbaijani soldiers celebrated their victory on the roof of the Armenian church in Jebrayil. Videos are circulating online showing an Azerbaijani officer standing on top of the bell tower. He raises his hands and shouts “Allahu Akbar” as loudly as he can for several minutes. His soldiers repeat this in chorus.
Armenia accuses Azerbaijan of destroying Armenian churches and cross stone monuments that the Armenians left behind in the regions now ruled by Azerbaijan. Numerous recordings show how Azerbaijani soldiers desecrate Armenian churches.
For its part, Baku recalls that it was Armenians who damaged and destroyed Azerbaijani cultural assets during the first war in the early 1990s. At that time, Armenia had conquered seven regions around the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
An empty field where the church no longer stood
The fate of St. Mary’s Church in Jebrayil became known because a team from the BBC had traveled to the region for research purposes. At the place where the church stood, the journalists found only an empty field. The Apostolic Church in Jebrayil was relatively new. It was built three years ago by Armenian soldiers for Armenian military personnel.
The Armenian side has registered over 80 Armenian churches and monasteries in Nagorno-Karabakh alone, which were built over many centuries. Over 4,000 monuments are included in the state’s list of historical monuments. Among other things, they are dated to the 9th century AD. Dozens of them are now under Azerbaijani control, such as the Dadivank monastery complex.
In March, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev visited a 12th-century Armenian church in the village of Hunarli (Armenian: Tsakuri) near the Hadrut region. This region belongs to the part of Nagorno-Karabakh that the Azerbaijani government now also controls from Baku. The very existence of this church is also threatened, although cameras documented Aliyev’s visit. The walls of the church are decorated with Armenian inscriptions. “All of these inscriptions are forged – they are more recent. Armenia made a wrong story for itself – in an old country that belongs to us, ”said Aliyev.
“Armenia wanted to Armenize these churches, but that failed,” said Aliyev. The message: Azerbaijan, which is predominantly Muslim, lays claim to Armenian churches and monasteries throughout the region. Baku’s reasoning is as follows: Azerbaijan is the descendant of the ancient Caucasian Albanian civilization. The term Caucasian Albania describes a former state. It was located in the Caucasus in ancient times, mainly in what is now Azerbaijan.
But the Azerbaijanis don’t stop at other Armenian memorial sites either. In the city of Shushi, Baku had a genocide memorial torn down, commemorating the Turkish genocide of the Armenians in 1915. That fits into the picture: Turkey was Azerbaijan’s most loyal ally during the Nagorno-Karabakh war.