Illegal reconstruction of the Surb Ghazanchetsots church in Shushi

A screenshot from a video on TikTok which shows that the Surb Ghazanchetsots church and the bell tower are covered with scaffolding has recently become widespread in the Internet. The scaffolding and its location give us a hint to assume that the obvious reason for construction is not only the desecration of the inscriptions (the main building inscriptions are located above the southern entrance, and on the eastern wall of the bell tower; it is enough to have a ladder to erase these), but more global plans are being implemented here - the destruction of the Christian monument, its rebuilding or "reconstruction".

Later, the Azerbaijani side distributed photos, showing that crosses were removed from the gates overlooking the courtyard of Ghazanchetsots, and the sculptures of angels were removed from the stone pillars on both sides of the gates. This manifestation of cultural vandalism is approved by the fact that Azerbaijanis are destroying the church, and the symbols of Armenian identity. Moreover, it was also noted that there had been an ancient Zoroastrian temple in place of Ghazanchetsots.

The official propaganda of Azerbaijan declared the Armenian Christian Church of Surb Ghazanchetsots in Shushi to be a Russian Orthodox Church, allegedly built in 1805 for the Russian military based in Shushi. They say the Armenians destroyed the old dome and built another one, several meters higher. A number of groundless comments are supplemented by statements that the architectural style of the church does not correspond with the Armenian Apostolic style, that the activity of the Armenian Church in Nagorno-Karabakh began only in 1989, that the head of the Armenian Church Vazgen II appointed Pargev Martirosyan as archbishop of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The head of the Information and Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan, Maryam Gafarzadeh, notes that “Like all other historical and cultural monuments of Azerbaijan, the Church will be restored in accordance with its original artistic and aesthetic appearance. The restoration project will allow the monument to be returned to its original appearance”.

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Modification of cultural heritage, removal of its components, partial destruction

According to the Second Protocol to The Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1999), Article 2, point C  “any alteration to, or change of use of, cultural property which is intended to conceal or destroy cultural, historical or scientific evidence” is prohibited.

According to the UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the safeguarding of cultural heritage means guaranteeing the existence of the heritage. The preservation of the heritage means guaranteeing its safety and wholeness (including the community), providing standards of authenticity, significance, integrity and exclusivity of heritage. These principles emanate from the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO, ICOMOS and statements of other international organizations.