The splendid Armenian treasures of Artsakh include (clockwise from top left) Katarovank, Dadivank, and countless khachkars. The magnificent Armenian monastery of Dadivank—built in the 9th to 13th centuries, with foundations in the Apostolic Age—has become an international symbol of the way Artsakh’s Armenian heritage is endangered in the aftermath of the war. Following the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the region in late 2020, international concerns were raised that Dadivank would be subjected to vandalism, desecration, or even utter destruction. It continues to exist, precariously, under the protection of Russian peacekeepers. (Photos by Hawk Khatcherian) 

Eastern Armenian Diocese Creates New Group to Focus on Protecting Artsakh’s Armenian Heritage

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NEW YORK – The New York-based Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America has created a special committee to protect the endangered Armenian heritage sites of Artsakh. The group composed of academic researchers and clergy was formed in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh war, with the blessing of Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan.

With the surrender of territories in Artsakh containing numerous Armenian monasteries, churches, cultural sites, and monuments, the working group aims to advocate for the preservation of these Armenian treasures, while informing the public of their historical importance.

Led by Dr. Rachel Goshgarian, assistant professor of history at Lafayette College and a former director of the Eastern Diocese’s Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center, the Artsakh Preservation Working Group met on December 29 and January 14 to discuss measures that intellectuals, academics, and clergy could take to complement the preservation efforts already set in motion by the Mother See of Echmiadzin.

Participating in the meetings were Archbishop Vicken Aykazian (Diocesan Legate and Ecumenical Director); Fr. Garegin Hambardzumyan (Mother See of Echmiadzin), Fr. Simeon Odabashian (Diocesan Vicar); Dr. Christina Maranci (Arthur H. Dadian and Ara Oztemel Professor of Armenian Art and Architecture at Tufts University), Dr. Nicole Vartanian (Executive Director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University), and Dn. Armen Terjimanian.

Bishop Hovakim Manukyan (Primate of the Armenian Diocese of the United Kingdom) and Fr. Pakrad Berjekian (Vicar General of the Western Diocese of the United States) also participated in individual meetings.

Combatting Disinformation and Destruction 

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Group members discussed the most effective steps to educate the Armenian and non-Armenian public about the cultural and religious sites that remain in the Artsakh territories that were handed over to Azerbaijan at the end of the Artsakh war. They agreed to focus on goals of protection, information, advocacy, and celebration, working in collaboration with the Mother See of Echmiadzin’s newly created office for this purpose, as well as the efforts coming from the Western Diocese and the Diocese of Great Britain.

The office at the Mother See, headed by Fr. Hambardzumyan, aims to establish ties with international organizations to lobby for and assist with the preservation of Armenian monuments in Artsakh; disseminate information globally about the religious and cultural monuments at risk; and compile a database of academic research and publications topical to Artsakh and its ancient Armenian heritage.

Since the ceasefire, Azerbaijan continues to push out a multi-pronged disinformation and revisionist history campaign designed to de-Armenianize the monasteries and churches that exist in Artsakh. It persists, too, in destroying numerous khachkars and obstructing international cultural and aid groups from inspecting monuments and monasteries now under Azeri control.

Armenian intellectuals around the world have also signed numerous open letters to various global cultural groups, including UNESCO, condemning Azerbaijan for its attempt at revising the cultural history of the region.

As the danger looms over Artsakh’s Armenian heritage sites, the Diocesan committee aims to contribute to documenting and monitoring the Armenian monuments in the region; bring together existing research while supporting new research on Artsakh, in Armenia and the diaspora, to combat Azerbaijan’s disinformation campaign; and reach out to diasporan Armenians and non-Armenian friends and allies regarding the importance and historical significance of the endangered sites.

—1/21/21

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