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Armenia's Christian Heritage Under Threat

Christianity has been an official state religion in Armenia for the best part of two millennia. (file photo)

Christianity has been an official state religion in Armenia for the best part of two millennia. (file photo)

As the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion, it's not surprising that many Armenians are proud of their religious heritage.

With a national church that dates back to A.D. 301, as well as thousands of ancient churches and monastic sites across the country, it's fair to say that religion looms large over Armenia's physical and psychological landscape.

That's one of the reasons why Yerevan has in the past been quick to criticize Georgia and other neighboring countries for apparently neglecting their Armenian Christian heritage.

Now, however, the conservation of Armenia's own religious monuments has come under scrutiny.

According to a recent report by, nearly 50 percent of the country's 24,000 Christian sites are in dire need of repair and almost one-third are on the verge of collapse.

The main reason for this situation is a lack of funds for preserving churches, but the Armenian public has also been blamed for not respecting these precious monuments.

"It’s not the Turks or Georgians or Azerbaijanis who are [to blame for this]," historian Samvel Karapetian told reporter Gayane Abrahamyan. "We are the ones littering, polluting, destroying."

The Culture Ministry has also been criticized for misspending some of its budget on dodgy reconstruction work.

It insists that the process for allocating conservation contracts has since been tightened up.

Nonetheless, given its limited resources, the ministry maintains that ordinary Armenians will also have to do their bit to ensure that Armenia's proud Christian heritage is not destroyed.

"Attitudes have to change.... Society has to become aware of the value of [historical] monuments," says Deputy Culture Minister Arev Samuelian. "The ministry is not almighty."

PHOTO GALLERY: Armenia's Ancient Christian Monuments

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