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Medieval sites in Nagorno-Karabakh face uncertain future after war

The recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has ended after the deaths of hundreds of people, and thousands more becoming displaced. Among the many questions about the post-war situation is what will happen to the region’s medieval sites.

The war, which began in late September, saw Azeri forces defeat Armenia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, and regain much of their territory that it had lost in previous fighting that took place in the 1990s. A ceasefire brokered by Russia ended hostilities on November 10th, with the terms of the deal heavily favouring Azerbaijan.

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Part of the agreement requires Armenia to return territories they had seized in the 1990s and to allow Azeri refugees to return to their homes. Kalbajar District is one of those areas, and in this area lies Dadivank, a large medieval monastery complex that dates back to the ninth century. It is traditionally believed to be the site where St Thaddeus, one of the patron saints of the Armenian church, is buried. The monastery thrived during the Middle Ages, but gradually declined in later times and was abandoned at the end of the 18th century.

When Kalbajar District was seized by Armenians in the 1990s, efforts began to restore the monastery, and Dadivank became a major tourist and religious site in Nagorno-Karabakh. With the end of the war, the monastery has been put under the protection of Russian peacekeepers. However, large numbers of Armenians are now visiting the site, fearing that they will not be able to return to it.

Local church officials at Dadivank have begun removing parts of the monastery to Armenia, including its bells and cross-stones. According to Asbarez.com, Hovhannes Hohannisyan, the monastery’s pastor, said “I was waiting for a miracle to happen since I wanted to remove the cross-stones that our ancestors have carved and placed here 800 years ago. I was even afraid of being punished for that. I have been afraid and have been waiting for a miracle.”

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Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has promised to protect Christian churches in the region once it takes control. Azeri officials have also condemned the widespread practice of Armenians setting fire and destroying homes and buildings as they depart from Nagorno-Karabakh.

Several other historical sites also exist in the area, including the 13th-century monastery of Gandzasar. It and others lie within the territory that will remain under Armenian control, although their long term future remains in doubt until a political solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute is resolved.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have longstanding claims to Nagorno-Karabakh, much of which dates back to the Middle Ages. The territory is considered to be part of Azerbaijan under international law.

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Top Image: Dadivank monastery – photo by Armen hay / Wikimedia Commons

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