We have previously reported at ChristianPersecution.com about the targeting of the Armenian cathedral in Nagorno-Karabakh and other churches, and its systematic erasure of its Christian past, which recalls its ally Turkey’s contempt for its own Christian history. In Turkey, as well as all over the Middle East and in Central Asia, one principal manifestation of this contempt is the fact that there are mosques built on the former sites of Christian churches, and most notoriously, world-renowned churches that have been converted to mosques, such as Hagia Sophia and the Monastery of Chora. All this is part of an ongoing attempt in both Azerbaijan and Turkey to efface all traces of the Christian presence, so as to give the impression that no Christians ever lived in a particular area from which they were been driven out, and no injustice was actually done.
For more ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the persecution of Christians in and by Azerbaijan, see here.
“Azerbaijan announces plans to erase Armenian traces from churches,” by Heydar Isayev, Eurasianet, February 4, 2022:
Azerbaijan’s government has announced that it intends to erase Armenian inscriptions on religious sites in the territory that it reclaimed in the 2020 war with Armenia.
It justified the move by arguing that the churches in fact were originally the heritage of Caucasian Albania, an ancient kingdom once located in what is now Azerbaijan. The theory, which is not supported by mainstream historians, has long been propagated by nationalist Azerbaijani historians and has been embraced by the current government in Baku.
Minister of Culture Anar Karimov told a press briefing on February 3 that a working group has been established which will be responsible for removing “the fictitious traces written by Armenians on Albanian religious temples.”
“We are going to inspect those places with the working group members, and after the inspection, we will consider our next steps,” Karimov said. While he did not identify who will be in the working group, the minister stated that the group will consist of “both local and international experts.”
The Albanian theory was first developed in the 1950s by prominent Azerbaijani historian Ziya Buniyatov, who claimed that Armenian inscriptions in churches on Azerbaijani territory were later additions to Albanian churches. According to this theory, they were only “Armenianized” following large-scale Armenian emigration to the region after Russia won control of the territory from Azerbaijan in the beginning of the 19th century.
The theory has gained momentum following the 2020 war, when Azerbaijan regained control of territory that contained several significant medieval Armenian churches.
In March 2021, on a trip to Hadrut, President Ilham Aliyev, together with his wife and daughter, visited a 12th-century Armenian Holy Mother of God Church, which was in ruins. “Armenians wanted to Armenianize this church and wrote inscriptions in Armenian here, but they failed. If this were an Armenian church, would they leave it in such a state? It looks as if it were a garbage dump,” Aliyev said at the church. “All these inscriptions are fake – they were written later.”
The day after the ceasefire was signed ending the 2020 war, Karimov tweeted about the medieval Armenian Dadivank Monastery in Azerbaijan’s Kelbajar district, calling it by the Azerbaijani name Khudavang and describing it as “one of the best testimonies of ancient Caucasian Albania civilization.”
In May 2021, a 19th-century church in the city of Shusha that had been damaged in the war started to undergo reconstruction, to what Baku said was its “original” form.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan also has been promising to restore Azerbaijani monuments in the territory that had been neglected or vandalized during the years of Armenian occupation. In one case, Aliyev promised to restore a 19th century mosque which Armenians had presented as Persian rather than Azerbaijani.
But the announcement of the working group is the first concrete step that the government has taken overtly promising to erase Armenian traces on the churches now under their control….