Armenian exploits desecrated religious sites for propaganda

This church was reported damaged in the shelling of Ganja. "File:Alexander Nevsky church in Ganja 2018.jpg" by Sefer azeri is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

By | Rachel Brooks

October 18, 2020


Armenia has taken advantage of the fact that its national public holds a professing Christian majority since antiquity. The Armenian state is able to do this by taking advantage of its status as the first self-proclaimed Christian nation,see Deseret News,  as well as a nation with a heavy Christian population.  Armenia currently launches offensives into the city of Ganja and civilian territories of Azerbaijan that are far outside the conflict lines. Attacks have been made against ancient churches that are used as schools and community centers. 

Spinning incidents for the convenience of narrative 

On the recent newscasts, the Armenian political majority has spun the narrative to create the perception that Azerbaijan attacked the churches in their nations to religiously target beliefs. Armenia alleges a genocidal act on the Apostolic churches of Shusha, a city in the Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia had made the claims that Azerbaijan waged deadly shellings on the Holy Savior Cathedral to deliberately target it, but there was sporadic alleged documentation of Azerbaijani deliberate action against the church. Some reports of Armenia-leaning journals suggest that the incident happened in the crossfire, as Armenia shot projectiles in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and was documented as the aggressor. Azerbaijan denies that any incident in Shusha was intentional, and reported investigating further.

Stories, however, appear throughout western media which state that all the damages are new and deliberate. Due to the uncertainty, and the continuous exploitation of such sites in Armenian propaganda schemes, the scene is being investigated.

Exploiting incidents for the sake of narrative

Armenia chose to exploit the incident with the Shusha cathedral to draw the most virtue of convenience without hard proof of a deliberate onslaught. Multiple news outlets published a video of a cellist playing in a destroyed cathedral. The media exploited the situation to extract a response, which is often the case with propaganda revolving around this conflict. Azerbaijan counterargued the outrage over the incident with the church, that Armenia has repeatedly accused Azerbaijan of exploiting religious sites while themselves exploiting religious site in the course of the last 30 years of paused and resumed conflict in the region. Yet, Azerbaijan is documented on record as being a culturally and religious diverse region, and so, the deliberate attack on a Christian site would not have been in logical line with its pattern of documented behavior.

Further analysis of the images that circled on social media, suggested that some of the Shusha damages of the current conflict were affected for the narrative.

However, Benjamin Minick, military and defense expert, noted a discrepancy in the images the Armenian media outlets have circulated. 

“The damages were made from the inside,” said Minick, observing the destruction pattern from evidence photos that Armenian media circulated of the Shusha incident. This would be strong evidence to support that Armenia was directly responsible for the damages to Christian relics in the region that are the result of the Greater Armenia nationalism campaign the state wages against its counterpart regions. This also falls in line with a pattern of behavior in Armenian rhetoric in which the nation will create diversions of real damage to suit the narrative.

Shusha, being part of Nagorno-Karabakh, is legally Azerbaijani territory and would therefore not have been an Azerbaijani target.

Azerbaijan reported bombings of the St. Alexander Nevsky Church in Ganja, which is far outside the line of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The church was reported damaged by its clerics durnig the attacks. Glass was broken from the cathedral windows, and wall integrity was compromised during the shelling events.

Armenian alleges holy relics and gravesites desecrations for the narrative

Armenia uses the geopolitics of regional disputes, both current and historical, to exploit the narrative of holy relics desecration in the western media. In 2018, The Guardian posted a story promoting the Armenian rhetoric of the Nakhichevan graveyard desecration. The Guardian argued that Azerbaijan had attempted a complete culture erasure of ancient Armenian sites, but failed to specify the fact that the Nakhichevan enclave is within the sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and is one of the many areas disputed, and exploited by Armenia due to its ties to Caucasian Albanian era Christianity.  

The reports by The Guardian used language like “damning” to describe the destruction of the historic graveyard. A massive wave of propaganda emerged regarding the famous medieval graveyard in Djulfa city, which was believed to be the repatriated home of Armenian remains. Armenian think tanks claim, without definite proof, that the gravesites have been erased and that Azerbaijan will not allow anyone to investigate the medieval site. Alleged blurry photographic evidence and satellite images emerged, but allegations made left out convenient facts. The alleged destruction of the graveyard was stated by the Djulfa project to have happened in 1998-2002 era, with a final destruction said to have happened in 2005. Yet, there are no photos of the site that are clear or verifiable. There is no obvious UNESCO record of any Old Djulfa cemetery of great fame in the area. There is a UNESCO record of an Armenian monastery in New Julfa, but it is across the line of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  

Despite the massive outcry of Armenian outlets, the history of Julfa is a bit more complex than it would appear. Britannica notes the dispute of Nakhichevan has gone back to the 1500 BCE, as the land locked area, surrounded by Armenia, Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan has been disputed since antiquity. Russia took control of it when it seized control in the region in 1828. 

Citing Britannica, Azerbaijanis compose the population majority in the Nakhichevan zone. Armenians and Russians compose a small number of the population. Besides its capital, it’s major cities are Ordubad and Djulfa, also spelled Culfa (pronounced Julfa). Djulfa is on the Iranian frontier. There is no mention of a cemetery at this site by the UNESCO documentation.The New Julfa, Iran region monastery is known as Vank Cathedral and opened up in 1664. The Vank Church is itself a World Heritage site, but there is no association mentioned with the Old Julfa sites alleged to have been destroyed by Azerbaijan. The National Association for Armenian Studies and Research alleged that UNESCO had this supposed site under cultural protection, but took no action against the supposed destruction. UNESCO does not have any apparent record of a protected site besides in the Vank Church in this general vicinity. 

The Hin Jugha, as the think tanks called it, was said to be in the Yerndjak Province Records of the cemetery vary. Some sites say that burial ceased here in the 17th century. Some say there were 3,000 graves here, while others say that there were 10,000. Some records argue that the burial began in the 6th century and others that it began in the 8th. 

What they all share in common, however, is that there does not appear to be any record of an Armenian graveyard in this region of that large size between the 6th-8th century, and there are no writings older than 1992 about the Old Julfa site. All Armenian relics that are famous and well-documented appear after the Safavid-Ottoman era in the 17th century and over the Iranian line. The Azerbaijani government argued, at the time that the Armenian protests and propaganda about this Christian burial site’s destruction took place, that the burial site that was photographed in 1915 and has been circulated with the reports about Azerbaijani destruction of the site was a Caucasian Albanian site, and that the region has no record of Armenians living in mass population in Old Julfa. Armenian presence in Old Julfa, during antiquity, would have been the extreme ethnic minority.  

Likewise, the many articles allege that the graveyard that was destroyed was in Old Julfa. However, Old Julfa was destroyed by Shah Abbas I during the Safavid-Ottoman War of 1603-1605. The book of Khachkars Old Julfa Cemetery states that the cemetery would have continued to have been buried in until the 19th century, which would mean that it would have had to have survived the Safavid attack on the city. The book, which claims that the “famous” Old Julfa Cemetery was created in the 8th century. Despite the record beginning in 1992, all of the available photos of the gravestones are in black and white, as if they were taken of other khachkars in undisclosed locations and added to the collection. 

In recent events, Hurriyet News reported that Armenia has attacked Nakhichevan once again. Armenia has launched repeat rocket offensives in the area that is supposedly indigenously sacred to them. 

Armenian rhetoric is self-defeating 

The Armenian rhetoric betrays itself afresh in the targeting of civilian funerals and residential neighborhoods. This occurred in recent news in Tartar, at the funeral service of an elderly woman. There were also local broadcast reports of the desecration of graves in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Should Armenian policy be shaped by Christianity’s influence, it is worthy of note that Christianity holds funeral ceremonies and the resting place of the dead with extreme sacredness.

Desecration of graves is a high offense of the Christian religion. It is for this reason that Armenia, as a nation that is defined by Christianity, should hold the burial sites sacred. The teachings of Jesus Christ also dictate mercy toward neighbors, which would allow for wartime concession against even those outside of the Christian faith,especially regarding burial services or the place where the enemy cares for the young, mothers, and the elderly. 

Funeral service of an elderly lady in Tartar post destruction

 Yet, the Armenian military has shelled funeral services in Tartar in recent news. EHA News documented these events on October 15. Due to shelling activity from Armenia, graveyards have been desecrated. Video footage captures white marble monuments broken in pieces in the wake of recent peppering. Whole tombs have been destroyed, as even the dead may not remain in Azerbaijan in peaceful repose. However, those who attended the funeral likewise joined the number of the dead in Azerbaijan, as the attacks of Tartar funeral services left many dead and wounded, see the footage. 

Armenia’s behavior is also contrary to a nation defined by Christian principle due to the manner in which Armenia has targeted and desecrated churches. In the Christian religion, the only act that is perhaps equally profane as the desecration of the final resting place, is the desecration of the sanctuary. Cathedrals, dating back to the Caucasian Albanian era, were the subject of a direct barrage of shelling, endangering young children. 

The fact that Armenia’s onslaught against Azerbaijani faiths sacred relics is anti-Christian is perhaps sufficient proof that the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not a religious conflict in which Armenia is the victim. 

Influences of Christianity in Azerbaijan detract from Armenian narrative 

 While there is a large population of Shi’a Muslims in Azerbaijan, there is an even mix of Christians, Jews, and other faiths such as Hare Krishna. Azerbaijan, being a crossroads of culture for centuries, is as religiously diverse as it has traditionally been ethnically diverse and culturally diverse. Azerbaiajni diversity and intellectualism is the primary reason it will not align itself with the Islamic republic, despite being a next door neighbor. 

The influences of Christianity in Azerbaijan stretch back to the 4th Century AD, when the Caucasian Albanian state was in power. The Caucasian Albanian state continued to have Christian influence until the end of its existence. This state constructed Christian structures, now relics, in the Nagorno-

The host of Counterbalance, Michael Doran, likewise made observations about the intellectual fallacy of framing the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict as a religious one. 

“Armenia is the ally of Russia, Iran & Assad, who are US adversaries. Any lens, including the religious lens, that blurs that fact misses the essential point,” said Doran via his Twitter, sharing a post by ANCA that appeared on the GBN network. 

The network shared news from CBN President and CEO Gordon Peterson, who called Christians of the United States to be concerned about what is happening in Armenia today. The broadcast supported the Armenian National Committee of America, abbreviated ANCA, and called westerners to take action on behalf of their “persecuted” brothers and sisters in Armenia. Unbeknownst to them, the well-meaning pursuit of this action will put weapons into the hands of the political and military officials who in turn use them to drive Azerbaijani Christians to extinction. This is an example of the fertility of the Armenian propaganda arm in the west, driving even a mainly peaceful religious affiliation to unwittingly enable foreign warfare. 

Armenia’s pursuit of driving the nation’s so-called religious brethren to sin against their belief system’s moral principles is also evidence that Armenia is not, by default, a Christian nation, and counters the argument that Azerbaijan is an antagonist of Christians. Yet, the betrayal of the fundamental beliefs of Christians does not stop with the “shedding of innocent blood” as the religious system refers to warmongering and murder. Armenia also has a complex relationship with Israel, a nation that a Christian state would consider sacred due to the religious ties that Christians and Jews share in the region. 

Armenia, via the ANCA, has positioned itself as an opponent of Israeli foreign policy as of late . On October 5, and as part of a long running condemnation of sending foreign aid to Azerbaijan, ANCA lobbied against Israel’s alliance with Azerbaijan, demanding that Israel cease all sale of weapons to Azerbaijan. ANCA used the shared connection between Jews and Christians in its arguments, and pointed out that Israel should not tolerate “the genocide” of Armenians by Azerbaijani because it is itself a post-genocidal state. This is another example of Armenia exploiting religious ties and historical events for its current rhetoric. 

Yet, on October 15, ANCA retweeted a post by Michael Rubin calling on America to “no longer ignore” Israel’s support for U.S. competitors.

Now, if the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan was one of religious defense, Armenia may be tempted to avoid speaking out against Israeli foreign policy, for fear of endangering the Jewish state. However, if the war is territorial, and Armenia recognizes that Israel is a security ally of Azerbaijan in the Azerbaijani territory concerned with the mutually assured destruction of Iranian conquest, then one recognizes a fact pattern. Armenia cannot tote religious persecution at the same time as abrasively eroding the public image of all things near and dear to Christian thought. 

Despite these glaring facts, the Christian world continues to vigorously back Armenia’s “fight for its ancient homeland” as was documented by this post in Christianity Today. 

The spin of narratives that take advantage of Armenia’s archaic Christian roots, and exploits the ties of Armenia to Christian while neglecting the Christian influence of its neighbors, repeats in a specific cycle.