We have no other Way and Truth

Primate of the Artsakh Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, His Grace Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan, spoke with Yerkir.am.

- Your Holiness, more than a year ago, Azerbaijani missiles twice attacked the Cathedral of the Holy All-Savior Kazanchetsots in Shushi. What feelings did you experience then and how would you rate this act today?

- Our assessment is a deep heartache that constantly accompanies us. This pain has a twofold meaning: first, we have lost a significant part of our homeland, lost our sons, our centuries-old sanctuaries have been destroyed and desecrated, and secondly, we have an enemy that lacks human values such as humanity and respect for holiness.

- A few days after the tripartite statement of November 9, the same church was vandalized. In parallel with the physical transformation and disfigurement of the Main Cathedral of Shushi under the pretext of renovation, Azerbaijan does not stop trying to distort the Armenian identity of the church. I would like to hear the assessment of the Mother See about all this.

- Unfortunately, this behavior is not new to us. For centuries, the Turks have destroyed and distorted our historical monuments, especially monasteries and churches, with the same handwriting. A people, a nation, or even an individual, when it does not represent anything of itself and cannot create stable values, begins to steal and present itself as others. The roots of this behavior are very deep. I think this comes from their nomadic nature - they used to live by owning what someone else created. What to expect from a nation where a father teaches his son to steal from childhood and is proud of his son's success in this area? This is a problem of a serious civilized level.

The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin has always taken active steps to preserve the endangered heritage of Artsakh. Under the leadership of His Holiness, the Catholicos of All Armenians, a special bureau for the cultural heritage of the occupied territories of Artsakh was opened in Echmiadzin, and recently a conference was held in Echmiadzin with the participation of high-ranking clergymen of various churches of the world and international organizations on the above issues. The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin presents these issues at various international platforms, from UNESCO to the Pope, urging not to allow the destruction of universal Christian values in Artsakh.

— Doesn't this attitude testify to the policy of Azerbaijan aimed at eliminating the Armenian trace on the territory of Artsakh?

- Of course, it is obvious to the naked eye that this is a clearly developed strategy of Azerbaijan, even their president himself crossed out Armenian inscriptions from the Church of Holy Mother of God in the village of Tsakuri in Hadrut. But, as I said, this is their inherent behavior - to erase all Armenian and Christian traces.

You know, I think they are afraid of our Armenian churches and Armenian prayers, and they are trying to remake our sanctuaries with such cheap actions in order to overcome their inner complexes. But no matter how many inscriptions they erased, no matter how many changes they make, the spirit of the church will remain Armenian. At the same time, I believe that a nation that does not respect such values will not live long.

— Do you consider it a coincidence that Azerbaijan continues to block the entry of the UNESCO expert mission to the endangered Armenian cultural heritage sites?

- This is not at all accidental, but this is a logical continuation of their behavior, because the traces of their vandalism are still fresh, and there are also churches that they did not have time to desecrate, to erase the shouting Armenian testimonies, so the presence of an international cultural organization in these areas is not beneficial for them ...

— Does the authorities support the activities of the Armenian Church to include the spiritual and cultural heritage of Artsakh in the historical and cultural heritage of UNESCO?

- As for the Artsakh authorities, I can assure you that they are doing everything possible in this matter, they are always with us, especially the ministries of foreign affairs, education, science and culture. An extensive inventory of the cultural heritage of the occupied territories was carried out. A lot of work was also done to inform international organizations, but all this is not much enough when Azerbaijan blocks access to these territories. Secondly, it should be noted that, unfortunately, the world knows very well what is happening, but everyone is guided by their own interests, no one wants to spoil relations with Azerbaijan for the sake of justice or preserving Christian values. This is a harsh reality.

— The Church of the Holy Theotokos in Mekhakavan was subjected to acts of vandalism, did the authorities take measures for the international community to condemn this act?

- It was a very painful event for us, especially since I was the one who consecrated this temple, and it was very expected for that region. The authorities, among other things, documented this case and presented it in as much detail as possible to the relevant international bodies.

 — How do the Artsakh authorities help the Mother See in restoring the pilgrimage to Dadivank and to the Khazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi because these two churches are under the direct control of the President of Russia.

- Yes, all the necessary steps have been taken, but, unfortunately, the cart does not move, because everything depends on the "kindness" of Azerbaijan. Let's not forget that we have lost, this is the biggest obstacle in all our steps. God willing, we hope that in the near future everything will change for the better.

— Your Holiness, it is no secret that the Azerbaijani propaganda machine is trying to take possession of the historical and cultural heritage of Artsakh through the Udis. We would like to hear the assessment of the Mother See about all this.

- Azerbaijan has now turned its Udi Christians into an instrument of speculation, because they are the only point of dispute with the Catholicosate of Artsakh from Aghvan, but the historical truth is that the Catholicosate of Aghvan was Armenian and subordinated to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The Udins have been converted to Christianity by the Armenians since the time of Patriarch Grigoris. And to declare that they are the founders and legitimate heirs of the Aghvan Catholicosate, to put it mildly, is ignorance that distorts history.

The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, on the basis of historical truths, declares that the former Catholicosate of Aghvan in Artsakh, on the territory of modern Azerbaijan, was an integral part of the Armenian Church, presenting all this on various international platforms.

— How did you manage to save Dadivank, and is it possible to save the Shushi Cathedral of the Holy All- Savior in the same way?

- The Cathedral of Shushi was not saved, because by the time of the signing of the truce, Shushi was captured, but Dadivank was not. Shushi has always been considered the most desirable object for Azerbaijan; by this logic, the likelihood that we will be allowed to attend our church is low. And the question of Dadivank was controversial, because it is actually located in the Martakert region. There was even an opportunity not to take Dadivank, but, unfortunately, what happened happened. In such circumstances, the decision of the President of the Russian Federation, made on the basis of the unshakable statements and mediation of His Holiness the Catholicos, played a large role in keeping Dadivank Armenian. But the situation has worsened and now the entry of Armenian pilgrims is prohibited, and the monks who remained there live in very dangerous, difficult psychological conditions, they really carry out their service with great dedication.

I think until we fully realize what happened to us, until we repent and shake off our national disunity, it is pointless to expect good, but I believe that we can accept the hand of Christ our God stretched out to us and walk with Him this difficult path because we have no other way and truth.

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