Armenian Church Demolished in Nagorno-Karabakh

Country: Other

Date of incident: April 4, 2024

Between December 28, 2023 and April 4, 2024, St. John the Baptist Church (S. Hovhannes Mkrtich) in Nagorno-Karabakh was destroyed, according to Caucasus Heritage Watch, referring to satellite pictures. The church was built in 1818 had been a landmark in Shusha/Shushi.

The church demolishment happened before the background of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, when Azerbaijan regained control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which was largely inhabited by an ethnic Armenian population. Shusha has been the late capital of the ethnically Armenian Republic of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabak Republic, which was dissolved on January 1, 2024. With the defeat of the pro-Armenian forces the Armenian population fled the region. The EU Parliament condemned this ethnic cleansing in a resolution. 

The Armenian population identifies largely as Christian within the Armenian Apostolic Church. With some of the oldest churches in the world, the cultural and religious heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh is of high international concern. In the light of the Armenian exodus, the International Court of Justice has obliged Azerbaijan to “take all necessary measures to prevent and punish acts of vandalism and desecration affecting Armenian cultural heritage, including but not limited to churches and other places of worship, monuments, landmarks, cemeteries and artefacts" in its order of December 2021. 

Under international law, the Nagorno-Karabakh region is considered Azerbaijanian territory. During Soviet times, Nagorno-Karabakh was an autonomous oblast within the Azerbaijan SSR. With the USSR’s dissolution in 1988, the region had requested to be transferred to the Armenian SSR, which was contested by Azerbaijan. Political tension and border conflicts keep unfolding until today. The EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia, Toivo Klaar, mediates supporting the agreement on delimitation reached between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  

Sources on the legal/political dimension: ICJ Court Order, EU Parliamentarmradio.amX (Toivo Klaar)

Sources: OC Mediaarmenews.comDomradioChristianity TodayWikipediaBerner Zeitung

Image: Caucasus Heritage Watch (Facebook)