Report shows near-total erasure of Armenian heritage sites

St. Hovhannes Church of Chahuk (built in the 12th or 13th century and renovated in the 17th and 19th centuries) was destroyed between 1997 and 2009, as documented in a new report from Caucasus Heritage Watch.

A new report from the Cornell-led Caucasus Heritage Watch (CHW) has compiled decades of high-resolution satellite imagery to document the complete destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan beginning in the late 1990s.

Moreover, the latest finding of CHW’s heritage monitoring project suggests that the same policy of cultural erasure now threatens Armenian monuments in the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. CHW has recently discovered the destruction of an historic church in Karabakh, one of hundreds of Armenian monuments in territories ceded to Azerbaijan under the terms of a 2020 ceasefire to a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The destruction of St. Sargis church in the village of Mokhrenes between March and July 2022 provides evidence of the first major violation of a ruling by the International Court of Justice, which ordered Azerbaijan in December 2021 to prevent such acts.

Satellite images show St. Karapet Monastery of Abrakunis (founded in 1381), its destruction (between 1997 and 2001) and the reuse of the monastery grounds for a mosque built in 2013.

According to CHW’s report on Nakhchivan, of the 110 medieval and early modern Armenian monasteries, churches and cemeteries that CHW identified from archival sources, 108 were destroyed between 1997 and 2011 in what the authors describe as “a systematic, state-sponsored program of cultural erasure.”

CHW was founded in 2020 by Lori Khatchadourian, associate professor of Near Eastern Studies, and Adam T. Smith, Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences in Anthropology, both in the College of Arts and Sciences, along with Ian Lindsay, associate professor of Anthropology at Purdue University.

“Cultural heritage faces more significant threats right now than ever before, from economic development to climate change. But the most serious threat to heritage comes from autocratic governments ready to reshape the past into a fiction that legitimates their domination,” Smith said. “Luckily, there are also new tools for researchers to uncover the facts that counter these fictions.”