6 Christian Sites Armenia Fears It Has Lost to Azerbaijan

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Photo gallery captures cultural heritage that concerns Armenians most after ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh.

In less than seven weeks of war last fall, fighting over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, known to Armenians as Artsakh, cost thousands of lives and created tens of thousands of refugees.

It also left a wealth of Christian monuments in the balance.

Below, a photo slideshow of the six sites most at risk as their final status and access is still being negotiated. But first, a summary of why Armenians fear the fate of their heritage.

The mountainous region, smaller than the state of Delaware, has historically been home to a majority Armenian population. During the Soviet Union, it had been given special status as an “autonomous oblast”—a semi-independent region—placed within the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan.

Putting an Armenian Christian region within the borders of an Azeri Muslim country was no accident. It was part of Josef Stalin’s “divide and conquer” strategy in the 1920s, deliberately drawing Soviet borders that would foment ethnic tension and make smaller republics easier to control. The Armenians, who were the first to declare Christianity as their national religion in 301 A.D., had a heritage of ancient churches, monasteries, and cross-stones dotting the landscape of Nagorno-Karabakh.

In 1991, just before the Soviet Union collapsed, the majority Armenian population of the region voted for independence and declared their own independent state. It accelerated violent tensions with their Azeri neighbors, resulting in an all-out war from 1992 to 1994. Scores were killed on both sides. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis were displaced from their homes in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. The two peoples, many of them longtime neighbors and friends, no longer trusted each other enough …

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