The Monuments of Shikaqar Qaraglukh: Surb Astvatsatsin Church of Khramort

It is about 1 kilometer southwest of Khramort village, on the hill of the rock mass southeast of Shikaqar fortress, on the eastern edge of Old Khramort village (Figs. 1, 2). It is a single-nave hall with a rectangular architectural plan. The semi-circular tabernacle is on the eastern side, with the two sacristies on the right and left sides. On the northern wall, the baptismal font has been preserved. The cylindrical vault is supported by the longitudinal and transverse arches that rise from the pillars (Fig. 3). The roof is pitched and earth-covered. It is built with semi-polished limestone from the area and lime mortar. The curbstones of the windows, the entrance, the arches, and the bema are made of polished stones. The only entrance is from the south (Fig. 4), and it is lit by seven windows. The church measures 16.9 meters in length and 6.73 meters in width. The date of the church’s construction, 1800, is preserved on the entrance facade. The presence of an earlier structure, however, is indicated by the khachkar typical of the 12th-13th centuries built on the south wall. The cemetery surrounds the church and contains 19th-century tombstones, some of which are distinguished by beautifully carved ornaments (Fig. 5). The monument was damaged during the first Artsakh war, and there are traces of firearm on the khachkar enchased on the southern wall.

Verin Sznek village’s Surb Hakob church, sanctuary, and khachkars

Location Verin Sznek village is located in the Republic of Artsakh’s Askeran region. Surb Hakob Church is located on the village’s western outskirts (Fig. 1). Historical overview There is no information available about the church’s history. Makar Barkhutareanats only mentions the village’s Surb Astvatsatsin church: “The church is Surb Astvatsatsin, and it is made of stones”(Barkhutareants 1895, 101). Architectural-compositional examination The church is a rectangular single-nave hall. It is made of rough and small stones, and lime mortar, and only the entrance stones, church cornerstones, and window frames are lined with polished stones (Fig. 2). The church’s only entrance is on the south facade. The church is situated on a steep hillside on the west side. The windows on the other facades are small, except for one large and wide window near the entrance. The latter is supported by the prayer hall’s longitudinal walls. It is worth noting that the door’s facade inscription stone is located on the entrance’s left wall (Fig. 3). The interior of the church is vaulted. The inscription on the lintel says, “The church’s construction began in 1882. It was built with the financial means and honest earnings of Avetis Aghabek, or Sargis Yakobian Dovlateans, a Verin Sznek villager. Bishop Grigor consecrated the church in 1885”. According to the inscription, construction began in 1882 and was completed in 1885. Since the current entrance is different and does not correspond to the lintel, the lintel inscription may refer to the older building of the Surb Hakob church, which was rebuilt. Such reconstruction could have been carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century, before the establishment of Soviet rule (Fig. 4).

Surb Hambardzum Church of Berdzor

Location Surb Hambardzum Church is located on the rocky slope of the Hakari River’s left bank, 150 meters above the river and 960 meters above sea level, on Berdzor’s southwestern outskirts, near the M-12 highway (Figs. 1, 2). Historical overview Aleksan Hakobyan, the first head of the Kashatagh district administration, initiated the establishment of the Surb Hambardzum Church in Berdzor. Construction was completed in 1998, and the dome cross was consecrated on May 31, 1998. Hrachya Gasparyan is the church’s architect. Georgi Arakelyan oversaw the construction. The church’s artistic decoration was created by sculptor Artashes Hovsepyan, painter Karo Mkrtchyan, woodworker Vano Dadoyan, and others. Priest Athanas has served as the region’s spiritual pastor since the church’s founding, and Ter Beniamin Tsaturyan has served as the region’s spiritual pastor since 2019. Architectural-compositional examination The church is a cross-shaped, central-domed structure with sacristies on both sides of the tabernacle. The dome has 12 facet drums and completes with a fan-shaped spire. On the roof of the western facade, there is a small bell tower. The interior of the church is decorated with mural art, and the exterior is decorated with bas-reliefs. The image of the Virgin Mary with the child at the entrance and the eagle breaking the yataghan of the structure’s eastern facade is particularly significant. This sculptural composition is authored by G. Artashes Hovsepyan and displays an inscription quote “Let us be buried, but not surrender” by G. Narekatsi (Figs. 3, 4). He also created three of the rosettes on the dome drum’s 12 facets, as well as other sculptures. The four donation khachkars and the sundial on the southern wall are part of the structure’s exterior decoration. The 6-line inscription is carved on the western side of the church’s northern wall. “The newly settled Kashatagh people built the Surb Hambardzum Church hoping in God (in memory of thousands of our martyred brothers). Surb Hambardzum Church was established in the Berdzor settlement in 1996 and consecrated by the will of the Holy Spirit (during the reign of Ter Garegin, Catholicos of all Armenians) with the presence of Ter Pargev bishop of Artsakh and Ter Atanas priest of the province in the year of 1998. All praise to our gracious Lord Jesus Christ. Amen”. A second large inscription, carved on the eastern upper part of the south wall, lists the names of thirty-two builders, ranging from architects to laborers. Hovhannes Mkrtchyan, a sculptor, is also one of the authors of the church ornaments. Karo Mkrtchyan painted the Holy Table’s first icon of Mary. Vano Dodoyan, a master woodworker, designed the entrance and storage room doors. Other artists also contributed to the church’s artistic decoration. Two khachkars by the sculptor H. Mkrtchyan are intact in the churchyard. The khachkar dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide (Fig. 5) was on the south side, and the khachkar dedicated to the memory of the Spitak earthquake martyrs was on the north side (Fig. 6). A small khachkar with a spring could be found on the eastern side. The Armenian community of Lebanon donated the two bells for Berdzor’s Surb Hambardzum Church.

Surb Astvatsatsin Church of Tsovategh

Location It is located in the center of Tsovategh village in the Martuni region of the Artsakh Republic (Fig. 1). Historical overview According to an inscription on the southern wall of Surb Astvatsatsin Church, above the porch, the church was renovated in 1895. It says, “This church was built in memory of Margare Bek Pashayeants’ late father. Margare Bek Pashayeants used his financial resources to renovate the church’s tin roof, gavit, and windows in the year 1895” (Fig. 2). The church is a 19th-century structure based on its dimensional and spatial solutions, as well as the sculptural decoration of the southern porch. Architectural-compositional examination The church is a rectangular single-nave hall with a semi-circular tabernacle on the eastern side and two windows on the northern and southern walls (Fig. 3). On the northern wall, the baptismal font has been preserved (Fig. 4). A metal sheet covers the pitched roof on the outside. Inwardly, the vaulted roof is supported by arches derived from the wall pilasters of the prayer hall’s longitudinal walls (Figs. 5, 6).

Surb Hovhannes church of Taghot

                                                   Location Taghot village is located in the Republic of Artsakh’s Hadrut region and is currently occupied by Azerbaijan (Fig. 1). Historical sites and monuments abound in the village and its surroundings. Surb Hovhannes church is preserved on the village’s northern outskirts and is fully intact (Fig. 2).

The Church of Janbar

Location The church of Janbar is located in the Republic of Artsakh’s Kashatagh region, in the rural settlement of Janbar, not far from the city of Kovsakan on its western outskirts. It is currently occupied by Azerbaijan. Historical overview There is no historical information about the church. Janbar village was once incorporated into the Syunik region’s Kovsakan province. By the end of the 18th century, a substantial percentage of the latter had been evacuated of Armenians (Karapetyan 1999, 207). Architectural-compositional examination The church is made of medium and small stones that are rough and unpolished, as well as lime mortar (Figs. 1, 2). By architectural plan, it is a single-nave vaulted hall with only one entrance from the south (Fig. 3). The only window has been preserved on the eastern facade. They used the window cornice of an older church and polished stones to construct it (Figs. 4, 5). The only eye-catching decoration in this church is the window on the east facade. The exact date of the church’s construction is unknown. Based on its architectural and structural data, as well as its external and internal appearance, it can be classified among the 17th–18th century single-nave churches of Syunik and Artsakh. The church’s name is also unknown. The church is mentioned on the website of the Artsakh Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church as Ohanaeghtsi and dates back to the 17th century

The Church of Berdavank

Location Berdavank is located in the Hadrut area, in the village of Ghuchilar (Figs. 1, 2).

Meghretsots St. Astvatsatsin Church

Location The Meghretsots St. Astvatsatsin Church is located in Shushi City’s upper district, approximately 600 meters south-west of the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral (Holy Savior Cathedral). Historical overview In 1838, immigrants from Meghri built the church in the district of the same name. According to the building inscription, it is known as St. Meghretsots Holy Savior Church, and was built with the financial help of Mahtesi Hakhumyants (Barkhutaryans 1895, 132). The church was demolished, renovated, and functioned as an outdoor movie theater in the 1960s (Fig. 1). Witnesses claim that it was nearly impossible to destroy the church’s strong and thick walls. During the Soviet period, the majority of the walls were demolished by explosions as a result of the Azerbaijani authorities’ extortion of Armenian cultural heritage, and the main walls were incorporated into the asphalt (Mkrtchyan 1980, 159). The excavations in the area were carried out in 2017 by the Artsakh Republic’s “State Service for the protection of historical environment” SNCO. As a result of the excavations, the asphalt layer was removed, and the church’s base was exposed (Figs. 2, 3). The territory was completely covered in asphalt prior to the excavations. Only the tabernacle and sacristies were visible on the site (Fig. 4).   The condition before, during, and after the war Prior to the war, only the eastern wall was standing, with the foundations of the other walls reaching up to 1 meter in height. There is no information available regarding the monument during or after the war. The monument is currently under Azerbaijani occupation. Bibliographic examination Makar Barkhudaryants (Barkhutaryants 1895) provides detailed information about the church. Mkrtchyan’s work on Artsakh’s historical and architectural monuments provided us with information about the monument’s condition throughout the Soviet era (Mkrtchyan 1985). Architectural-compositional examination  According to Makar Barkhudaryants, the church was constructed on the same principles as the Aguletsots church: the chapel had a rectangular spatial composition. The vaulted arches were supported by four pillars raised in the hall’s center and three pairs of columns on the hall’s longitudinal walls. It had two south-west entrances and ten windows. The bell tower was a three-story building made of polished stones. A small bell tower, similar to an octagonal rotunda, was also in the middle of the church roof, as is common in Artsakh’s contemporary churches. According to Makar Barkhudaryants, the following inscription was discovered on the front stone of the south door: “In 1838, Mahtesi Hakhumeants didn’t have an offspring to continue his lineage, so he built this holy church as a testament to letting the human race fly on high for the sake of the immortal name of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The earthly body is buried here, in this glorious tomb of a temple, in commemoration of the passing soul’s journey in the transient world, before the fulfillment of a new destiny.” (Barkhutaryants 1895, 132-133). The location of the slab, mentioned by the lintel, is currently unknown. According to the Karabakh Ecclesiastical Court’s verdict on the renovation of Meghretsots Church on May 13, 1839 (RA HSCA, p. 56, l. 1, c. 415, sht. 2-3, original manuscript), there was formerly a wooden church on the site. The document clearly states that the church was to be built only after 1839. The inscription on the facade’s stone most likely contains the construction date of the church’s initial wooden structure. The church is 24.75 x 12.77 meters in size, with walls up to 1.6 meters thick. It had two entrances, one on the south and one on the west; the adjacent parts of them were paved (Fig. 5). The Meghretsots Church, with its spatial-architectural solutions, is reminiscent of the historic churches of Artsakh from the 17th to the 19th centuries (Fig. 6).

St. Vardan’s church in Togh Anapat

Location The church is located on a steep slope in Artsakh’s Hadrut region, near the western part of Togh village (Fig. 1). Azerbaijan has occupied the Togh village since October 2020. Historical overview The information about the church’s construction is based on a local legend that “a man descended from nobles converted to Islam, then repented, and built the churches of St. Stephanos and St. Vardan as a symbol of sincere devotion” (Jalaliants 1858, 260). The church was also known as St. Vardan, according to Sedrak Barkhudaryan (CAE 5, 174). Architectural-compositional examination   It is a single-nave rectangle hall. The tabernacle and two sacristies attached to the tabernacle from the south, crown the hall from the east. Two bow-shaped arches extend from the prayer hall’s longitudinal wall pilasters and support the vaulted roof. . The western wall of the church is completely buried in earth, whereas the northern side is only partly buried (Fig. 2). The entrance is on the south side. Four small windows, three of which open to the east and one to the north, provide light. On a khachkar at the entry lintel, the only inscription from the church, “Khachs Vardan” (Barkhutaryan 1895, 51), has been preserved. Several tombstones, most of which are buried in the earth, have been preserved inside the church (Fig. 3). Melik Bakhtam’s tombstone is one of them. According to the inscription on his tombstone, he died in 1787 after being poisoned by Ibrahim Khan (CAE 5, 178). The cemetery surrounds the church, with the majority of the tombstones dating from the 19th and 20th centuries (Fig. 4).

The rock-hewn church of Tandzut

Location Tandzut is a village located in the Kashatagh region, in the western part of the Hakari River, in the left tributary of the Aghavno. During the Soviet era, the village was also known as Garygyshlag. Many caves that have been inhabited for over a thousand years can be found here, on high-altitude rocks. The watermill ruins, road traces, remote caves and hermitages, as well as the medieval rock-hewn church, all point to the existence of a cave dwelling on the canyon’s left side during the middle Ages. The village is located at an elevation of 1300 meters above sea level. Historical overview There is no information about this church in historical sources. Architectural-compositional examination The church is hewn in stone, and its facade is built into the southern cliffs. (Fig․ 1)։ The church is built on a single-nave basilica architectural plan. The prayer hall is 5.8–2.5 m in length and 4.4 m in height. The church’s entrance is on the south side, with two inward-widening windows. On the east side of the tabernacle, four rock stairs lead to a rock-hewn stage (Fig. 2). The tabernacle has two window niches carved into it. The stone was removed from the Holy Tabernacle’s table, and its location is visible. The only separately made component in the church’s structural system is this stone. The church’s interior decoration is simple and restrained. The walls are well-designed, but there are no inscriptions on them (Fig. 3). A natural arch has been preserved on the west side of the church, through which the road leading to the sanctuary once passed. On a large rock in the center of the arch and the church, there is a hole resembling a khachkar in shape. There was undoubtedly a khachkar-monument here, which was destroyed by the Muslim inhabitants.

St. Hovhannes church of Qaraglukh (Hadrut)

Location The church is located in an elevated area of the village Qaraglukh in Hadrut region (Fig. 1). Historical overview It was consecrated in 2013 and is a newly built church. Architectural-compositional examination In terms of structure, it’s a tetraconch church. It has a tetragon shape from the layout and is cross-shaped from the inside. The presence of sacristies in each of the four corners emphasizes the cross-shaped structure. The squinch system creates a transition between the cupola volume and the drum. The church is built of polished tufa (Fig. 2). The building is supported by a three-degree anchor. On the west, south, and north sides, there are three windows. The entrance is on the west side, and the door has an inscription on it (Fig. 3). On the eastern wall, there are two St. Hripsime-type niches and one window (Fig. 4).  The condition before, during, and after the war Before the war, the church was fully steadfast. There is no information about the monument during or after the war.    

The Monuments of Shikaqar Qaraglukh: St. Astvatsatsin Church of Qaraglukh

The church is located in the Askeran region, near Parukh village (Figs. 1, 2). It has a 19th-century architectural construction, but tombstones and khachkars from older periods used in the lining of the walls prove that the current church was built on the foundations of the old church here.

Surb Vanes Church

Location The Ghrali rural settlement is located on a plateau, south of the confluence of the Varanda River’s tributaries Navtakhan and Kichintap, 1.9 kilometers north-east of Jraghatsner Village. The church of St. Vanes is located in the area of the settlement, in half-ruined condition, and nearby, the cemetery and ruins of other adjacent buildings are also preserved. The current Jraghatsner village was formed by the residents of the Ghrali rural settlement at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Historical Overview There are no historical facts about the settlement or monument group. There is also no historical information available about the construction of Vanes Church. It was most likely reconstructed in the second half of the 17th century in the location of the old sanctuary. The khachkars and records enchased in the wall, which date back to the 16th century, attest to this (Figs. 2, 3). The oldest monument at the ancient site is a khachkar enchased in the western facade, which dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. (Figs. 4). The cemetery is located around the church, and the existing tombstones primarily date from the 18th and 19th centuries (Figs. 5, 6). St. Vanes Church remained a sanctuary for the people of the surrounding settlements even after they had left the village.

St. Astvatsatsin Church of Karintak

Location The church is located in Karin Tak village in the upper district of the Artsakh Republic’s Shushi region. The church is currently occupied by Azerbaijan as a result of the 44-day war in Artsakh. Historical overview According to the inscription engraved on the right side of the central window of the south façade, the church was built in 1841. (Fig. 1).

The “Kkven buyn” church

Location The church, known as “Kkven buyn” (Kkvi buyn, or the cuckoo’s nest), is located 1.5 kilometers north-west of Avetaranots village in Artsakh’s Askeran region. It is situated on the top of a forested hill on the eastern edge of the old rural settlement. Historical overview     The Avetaranots settlement has a rich cultural- historical heritage and served as the center of Varanda province as well as Varanda’s rule. The “Kkven buyn” church is one of the village’s many cultural-historical monuments (Fig. 1). Traces of medieval rural settlements can be seen in the church’s western-eastern foothills. There is no historical data regarding the church or the dwellings. The architectural features, as well as the khachkars and rock crosses on the site, allow the ancient monument to be dated to the 12th–14th centuries. For centuries, the chapel served as a place of pilgrimage for residents of neighboring settlements. Architectural- compositional examination The church is a single-nave vaulted hall with a 5.5×4.5-meter rectangular layout. It is built from local split stones and lime mortar (Fig. 2). The vault of the church has crumbled (Fig. 3). The entrance is on the east side. The entrance lintel and curbstones are missing. A small east-facing window provided lighting. The church does not have an accentuated tabernacle. It is divided from the main hall by small niches in the wall that run from north to south and are used to store church objects. The medieval cemetery surrounds the church and contains many khachkars and tombstones (Fig. 4). The majority of cemetery monuments are weather-beaten or fragmented. On the flat surface of one of the rocks in the area, two cross sculptures have been preserved (Fig. 5).

The St. Astvatsatsin church of Kyuratagh

Location The St. Astvatsin Church is located in the village of Kyuratagh in the Republic of Artsakh’s Hadrut region. The village is currently occupied by Azerbaijan. Historical overview There is no historical information available about the church. While describing the village, Barkhudaryan mentions the church (Barkhutaryants 1895, 72-73). Architectural-compositional examination  The architectural plan of St. Astvatsatsin’s church is rectangular (Fig. 1). On the inside, it is a vaulted hall. The church is made of rough and polished stones (Fig. 2). The only entrance is from the south. The rich decorative ornamental patterns capture the eye (Fig. 3). The church was built in 1683, according to the inscription on the lintel (the inscription is engraved in a left-right direction from the cross in the central section of the lintel) (Fig. 4). The following inscription is engraved on the left side of the cross sculpture: “This church was built in the year 1683 during the reign of Suleiman and Catholicos Jeremiah.”

Church of the Holy Virgin in the Village Jraghatsner

  Location The Church of the Holy Virgin is located in Jraghatsner village of Askeran region of the Artsakh Republic. The village is now occupied by Azerbaijan. Historical Overview There is no historical information about the Church. Makar Barkhudariants, describing the village, mentions the newly built Church of the Holy Virgin in the village (Barkhudariants 1895, 95). Architectural-Compositional Description The Church of the Holy Virgin is located in the center of the village (fig. 1). It is a single-nave vaulted hall, the vault is slender and bi-centered in the section (fig. 2). The church has a high altar, an almost rectangular apse and two sacristies; the inner walls are plastered (fig. 3). The Church of the Holy Virgin is built of rough stones, only the cornerstones, the stones of the entrances and windows are polished. In terms of its architectural style, the church is close to the urban architecture of Shushi; the builders were probably from Shushi. The church has two entrances, one from the west and one from the south. There are three large windows on the south façade (fig. 4). The construction inscription is engraved on the western entrance door (In memory of this Church of the H[oly] Virgin, /which was built in the village of Jraghatsner in 1882/ at the expense of the whole society of believers (fig. 5).  The State Before and After the War During the Soviet years, the church was turned into a warehouse, and an annex was added on its western side. The church has been renovated. It was not destroyed after the 2020 war and the occupation of the village, but there is a video where the Azerbaijani militaries are saying a Muslim prayer right inside the church. For more details see %d5%a6%d5%ab%d5%b6%d5%be%d5%b8%d6%80%d5%a1%d5%af%d5%a1%d5%b6%d5 %b6%d5%a5%d6%80%d5%a8- %d5%b4%d5%a1%d5%b0%d5%b4%d5%a5%d5%a4%d5%a1%d5%af%d5%a1%d5%b6/.

The Church of Yeghtsi (Kilisa) village

Location Yeghtsi village is located in Nor Shahumyan (Karvachar) region of Artsakh, in the valley located in the middle of the gorge on left side of the middle stream of the Trtu River, at an average altitude of 1620 above sea level, in the central part of the rural area (Fig. 1). Historical overview There are no available historical data on the village, its historical name is not known, too. The toponym was named Yeghtsi after the re-liberation of Karvachar. Apparently, the Kurds who settled in the village at the end of the 19th century, based on the existence of a preserved standing church, named the village Kilisa. Judging by the architectural and construction solutions of the church, it was probably built at the beginning of the 17th century.   Architectural-compositional description The church was built of local rough stones and lime mortar (Fig. 2). It is a single-nave basilica with a vaulted roof (external dimensions: 14.15×7.80 m). The semi-circular vault is supported by two pairs of pillars and an arcature (Fig. 3). The semicircular altar on the eastern side has vestries from the north and south (Fig. 4). Inside, the baptismal font is placed in the northern wall. The vestries have a rectangular plan and lack any windows. The illumination of the church hall was provided through four small windows opening from the east, south and west. The only entrance is from the south (Fig. 5). The most emphasized part of the church is the portal, for whose frame three khachkars belonging to the 11th (left) and 13th (upper and right) centuries have been used (Fig. 6). The two side khachkars bear inscriptions. On the pedestal of the left side khachkar we read: “I, axman Hasan, erected this holy sign as an intercessor to me and my departed” (Karapetyan 2019, 382). At the bottom of the other khachkar is the dated inscription, where we read: “In the year of 1246 of Armenians, I – smith Grigor, erected this cross for me and my spouse” (Karapetyan, 2019, 380). Holistic and fragmented khachkars were used on the upper parts and sides of the windows. There used to be a cemetery around the church, of which almost nothing has been preserved, except for one gravestone in the southern courtyard. Fragments of other gravestones and khachkars are visible in the walls of village houses built in the second half of the 20th century and in their vicinities. Dozens of engraved crosses have been preserved on a rock mass about 20 m north of the church (Karapetyan 2019, 380-384). The northern wall of the church is covered with soil and merged with the slant slope. The western part of the roof is partially destroyed.