Friday, August 26, 2016


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
  • The Marmashen Monastery from the 10th-13th century near the city of Gyumri
  • The 13th-century Argatsin Monastery outside the city of Dilizhan
  • T Khor-Virap Monastery with Mount Ararat in the background
  • The ancient Tatev Monastery in Armenia's southern mountains, close to the border with Iran
  • The Gegard Monastery inside the Azat River Canyon
  • The famous Sanahin medieval monastery complex, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site
  • The cathedral in Echmiadzin, the traditional center of the Armenian Church
  • The Kecharis Monastery in the town of Tsakhkadzor
  • An Armenian Orthodox church in Odzun
  • Two thousand-year-old churches overlook Lake Sevan, which is Armenia's largest freshwater lake
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Alex from: LA
October 15, 2012 22:22
Forgot to mention Georgia doesn't recognize other religions, so Armenian CHurch has to set up NGO's, they do it so we don't get our lands with our churches on it, and what suck they were part of Armenian Apostolic Church, until Byzantine empire converted them to Pravaslavie, 'the only true' Christian the rest go to hell, according to them. Turks destroying or have destroyed thousands of churches not only in Western Armenia but everywhere else in Asia Minor. Not mention the Azeri barbarians.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
October 16, 2012 12:04
Alex, more rubbish. The Georgians were never part of the Armenian Apostolic Church, they were part of the Apostolic See of Antioch, before being made autocephalous.
Armenia became officially Christian in 301AD, Georgia in 326AD, though the history of Christianity in Georgia is older because of the preaching in west Georgian by the Apostles St. Andrew, St. Simeon, and St. Matthias

Furthermore, the Orthodox Catechism specifically rejects the idea that non-Orthodox Christians "go to hell" and the Orthodox Communion hopes all good people will be saved.

BTW, there are plenty of Georgian Churches on land given to Armenia by Stalin as a punishment for the Georgians resisting Bolshevism. The issue of Georgian Churches in Armenia and Armenian Churches in Georgia does need to be resolved amicably, though this was undermined by the Armenian patriarch refusing a swap of Churches a couple of years ago offered by Patriarch Illia II of Georgia.

The Georgian Church does recognize other religions, and the Georgian constitution separates Church and State and guarantees the rights of minority religions in Georgia, including Catholics, Armenian Apostolic, Jews and Moslems. There is distrust however of Protestants and Jehovas witnesses.
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
October 16, 2012 17:42
Dearest Dandrew,more than 75% of armenian lands lie in neighboring Georgia,Cold turkey and azeristan.The `soviets` gave away most of these lands,resulting in a genocides and ethnic cleansing of more than 90% of the armenian population there.Now you are talking about lands being given to armenians by Stalin???Can you specify where exactly are the lands Stalin gave the armenians???We all know your penchant for georgian wine,but the georgians are responsible for many armenian churches and monasteries being turned georgian,left in neglect or destroyed.The georgians have also burned and bombed armenian theatres and cultural centers and the word armenian is an insult in Georgia-and georgians are one of the most racist tribes in the region.And we all know your WASP slants are not an excuse for talking turkey on the subject.And we,as Orthodox know that all good people will be saved,but sadly,the NZ anglicans will be not!!!
In Response

by: Alex from: LA
October 16, 2012 23:13
Ya thats what the Byzantines, wrote which is the other truth, meaning the lie. Why did the Byzantine Emperors use Seljuk Turks against Armenians? For us to drop our church, and join theirs. Georgians drop it and married one of the royals to Trapezous Duchy, the reason Turkish mercenaries were not used against them. What I said above is the untrue version of history that Georgians want to hear so they write it. In those days Armenians and Georgians were in their closest relationship ever because of common threat from Islamic invasion and raids. The Church swaps you are talking about were not agree to because Georgians could not prove the Georgian past, and If Armenian Church has been running a so called Georgian built church for 100's years than it's Armenian. The Churches that Armenians have in Georgia, mostly are not open and are deliberately being destroyed by the state, Azeri's, or Georgians that hate Armenians. And officially there is only one religious organization in Georgia the Georgian Orthodox Church. That is not democracy, it's a half-a**ed one. Pick and chose what suits you and is most advantageous. And they claim about 4 churches. I was born in Georgia and I know their envy of Armenians, that's why my family had to flee the Wars to USA (civil and separatist (in Tbilisi we saw the inflow of Megrels and others that walked through winter to Tbilisi)). Armenian wealthy families were targeted and murdered including infants. One of those crimes was solved last year after almost 20 years, that was my dad friends family. My dads business were set on fire, only Armenian churches bombed (on Sundays, those were obviously Azeri's or Turks, Georgians would not go to that extreme measures, plus there is no money in bombing, just death.)
And on Russian Orthodox Churches priest always tell the Armenian we are going to hell because we don't believe in their version. If officially they don't say something and unofficially they do, is because of the power of the top seat that says that's counter-diplomatic. Georgia has changed a lot under Misha S. but only for economical reasons and very little in human rights, minority, etc. Just for business.
In Response

by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA, USA
October 16, 2012 23:21
The Georgian Church indeed was not part of the Armenian Church but the Georgians were receiving investiture from the Armenian Patriarch for a long time. The idea that the history of Christianity in Georgia is older is highly controversial. There are indeed churches in Armenia belonging to Armenian Chalkedonites (Orthodox Armenians) - which, in turn, were under the jurisdiction of the Georgian Church in 12-14th centuries - Akhtala, Khuchapi Vank, etc. but there were no Georgians living in Armenia and praying in these churches.
In Response

by: George from: US
October 17, 2012 05:28
My friend are you a joke? which lands were given to Armenians by Stalin? You learned the history wrong brother. I got nothing against Georgian people.They lived and will live next to each other very peacefully but please do not spread falls information. Armenia is ten time smaller than it used to be.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Auckland
October 18, 2012 14:53
Really Camel, I know you are a queer chap, but really.
The province of Lori was given to Armenia by Stalin, areas of eastern Georgia to Azerbaijan, and areas of SW Georgia to Turkey. Actually Camel, the Armenians are THE most racist tribe in the region. What other former SSR proudly proclaims that it is 98% "Ethnically pure" like the Armenians do?

John, the border areas between Georgia and Armenia were ethnically very mixed, there were both Georgians and Armenians living there for the last several hundred years.

However the Armenian SSR conducted a long term ethnic cleansing beginning in the 1920's to remove all non Armenians from the territory of the Armenian SSR

Alex, more rubbish. The Armenian patriarch only claims 5 churches in Georgia, as for Georgians hating Armenians, well I guess you have not been to Avlabari recently. Furthermore, there is only one Church in Armenia, and Armenia is a far more repressive and undemocratic state than Georgian ever has been.

Also Alex, have you heard of the Bagramyan battalion? The one that committed some of the worst crimes of the ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia? They were Armenians, might explain the attitude of Mingrelians towards Armenians in Tbilisi, the refugees from Abkhaza were wrong of course, the Armenians in Abkhazia were the descendants of refugees from the genocide in Turkey that were welcomed by Georgians during the first world war, while the Armenians in Tbilisi had been living there since the late medieval period.

One further point, the President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, has urged Armenians living in Georgia to have the decency to learn Georgian, which he considers would be a better way for them to contribute to their country of citizenship.

Also note, there are Armenian Churches operating in Tbilisi, particularly in Avlabari.

In Response

by: Paul from: DC
October 16, 2012 12:39
Situation in Georgia is different under July 2011 law on religion.

by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA, USA
October 16, 2012 01:23
The situation with preserving cultural legacy is the same across the former USSR - Armenia is not an isolated case by far. They just care more, and there are too many monuments in Armenia. Interesting detail: some pictures presented are very old - from the 90s or even 80s, and show Armenian churches before restoration. Examples: Haghartsin (misspelled as "Argatsin"), and Kecharis.
In Response

by: Alex from: LA
October 16, 2012 23:19
Armenians care about it more because of your ancient history and past, that was very tough, always between empires.

by: Ara from: LA
October 16, 2012 19:59
Am I the only one to notice that the picture accompanying this article was not taken in Armenia? It is a picture of the Armenian monastery in Bethlehem, and the priest in the foreground is not Armenian; he is Greek Orthodox.
In Response

by: John Harduny from: Reston, VA, USA
October 16, 2012 23:14
I noticed that too: the headline picture indeed shows the Armenian Quarter in the Old Town Jerusalem! By the way, Armenian (and not only Armenian) monuments there need urgent care as well.

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