Armenian Christian holy sites desecrated in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Vandalism of Holy Saviour Cathedral Shushi – now under Azerbaijani control.

Witney, England – Scores of religious sites, artifacts and gravestones have been desecrated or plundered in Nagorno-Karabakh, during the recent military conflict with majority-Muslim Azerbaijan, says Christian charity Open Doors according to reports they’ve received from the region.

Mobile phone footage shared online shows Azerbaijani soldiers desecrating Christian graves and holy sites, during the 44-day war in the region, which ended last month. Photos show churches and cathedrals badly damaged with shelling and vandalised with graffiti. Armenian Christians reportedly exhumed coffins of their loved ones prior the expected arrival of Azerbaijani troops.

Armenian Christians are saying that they fear that much of Christian heritage of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, is at risk, as more of it passes to the control ofAzerbaijan.

Open Doors spokesperson Rene Levonian says that these fears are well founded, based on the fate of another region now under Azerbaijani control. “One hundred years ago, two-thirds of the population of Nakhichevan (an Azerbaijani enclave) were Armenians. Today, they are all gone, and the entire Armenian Christian and cultural heritage vanished. This explains why Armenian Christians have no hope for preservation of their heritage in Nagorno Karabakh.”

Christian heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh dates back as far as the 4th century AD. It consists of churches, monasteries, cross-stones, frescos and engraved religious writings in the Armenian script. The department of the Armenian religious and cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh at the headquarters of the Armenian Apostolic Church estimates that around 100 such holy sites and artefacts are passing into the possession of Muslim-majority Azerbaijan.

Other mobile phone footage shows troops – a mixture of Azerbajanis and Syrian jihadis – standing on church roofs shouting “Allahu Akbar”.

“Many of these fighters come from the same Islamist factions that have been destroying Christian holy sites across Syria,” says Julia Bicknell, analyst for Open Doors’ World Watch List, which lists the 50 nations where Christians face the most extreme persecution.

“Along with the human lives lost, this is a tragedy. It’s a systematic attempt to erase Armenia’s Christian heritage from the region.”