Letter of support for the nomination of Dadivank Monastery and the Armenian cultural heritage in Artsakh-Nagorno Karabakh for Europa Nostra’s “Europe’s 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites” program

October 3, 2023

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the Center for Religious Studies of Central European University, we are sending to you this letter in support of ICOMOS Armenia for their nomination of Dadivank Monastery and of the Armenian cultural heritage in Nagorno Karabakh to be inserted in the “Europe’s 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites 2024” program of Europa Nostra and the Euro- pean Investment Bank.

The Center for Religious Studies of Central European University is an interdepart- mental Center, with the participation of the Deparments of History, Medieval Studies, Sociol- ogy and Social Anthropology, Legal Studies, Political Studies and Gender Studies. It works in close collaboration with the Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies and the Cultural Heritage Program. The Center’s aim is to trigger tought on the religious phenomena in new ways, un- derstood simultaneously as individual sentiment, collective representations, scriptural texts, theologies, institutional, social and political forces. Due to our interest both in diverse religious traditions and the politics of religion, we are following with keen interest the developments in the world, and so also the present crisis in Artsakh-Nagorno Karabakh.

Dadivank Monastery, named after Saint Dadi, a disciple of the Apostle Thaddeus, was built between the 9th and 13th centuries and is one of the main monastic complexes of medieval Armenia, being also an important pilgrimage destination. It was richly decorated in the interior with frescoes and at the exterior with numerous inscriptions carved in stone. Its significance as a major cultural monument is outstanding.

Together with other cultural heritage sites in the region of Artsakh-Nagorno Karabakh, Dadivank is under severe threat of either destruction or damage and deformation. Azerbaijan has taken control of the region and there are good reasons to fear that the Armenian cultural heritage will be targeted and destroyed, as it has happened in Nakhichevan, where Azerbaijan had systematically destroyed 98% of the Armenian cultural heritage sites, thus committing, according to the Guardian, the “worst cultural genocide of the 21st century” (Monumental loss: Azerbaijan and 'the worst cultural genocide of the 21st century' | Art and design | The Guardian)

We request Europa Nostra to intervene in support of the preservation of this valuable heritage site and of all the Armenian heritage at risk in the region, such as the Monastery of Gandzasar, built in the 13th century, and Amaras Monastery, which had housed, in the fifth century, the school of Mesrop Mashtots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet.

A satellite monitoring (Caucasus Heritage Watch – Heritage monitoring and research in the Caucasus (cornell.edu)) organized by Cornell University is showing that threats to the Armenian monuments which are now under the control of Azerbaijan are increasing. To this day, the international community has remained silent and the report of Luis Moreno Ocampo (Armeni- ans Face Genocide in Azerbaijan, Former International Criminal Court Prosecutor Warns | International Center for Transitional Justice (ictj.org)) who warned of an ongoing genocide against the people of Nagorno Karabakh, went unheard. The lack of international presence in the region of Artsakh-Nagorno Karabakh, a blatant omission on the part of the international community, has greatly contributed to the present tragic situation.

The inclusion in the list of “Europe’s 7 Most Endangered Heritage Sites in 2024” will raise awareness about the rich cultural heritage of Karabakh and about the threats it is facing, thus reducing the risks of deliberate destruction. The eventual dispatching of an expert mission by Europa Nostra will test the declared openness of the Azeri regime, which to date has im- peded any international mission for the assessment of the damages on cultural heritage.

Even if the cultural heritage sites of Karabakh might escape sharing the fate of the Na- khichevan cultural heritage, another threat consists in Azerbaijan’s declared will to erase the Armenian inscriptions (Azerbaijan announces plans to erase Armenian traces from churches | Eura- sianet) from all the churches and monasteries in the territory under its control. In fact, official Azeri historiography claims that the Armenians had never lived in the Caucasus before they were brought there from Turkey by the Russian Empire, and that all the medieval Armenian monuments had been built by the Caucasian Albanians, whose descendents they claim to be. This removal has already happened at all the old churches in that part of Artsakh-Karabakh, which was conquered by Azerbaijan in the 44-day war in 2020.

Certainly, the inclusion of Dadivank Monastery in the list of “Europe’s 7 Most Endan- gered Heritage Sites in 2024” will not avoid the complete ethnic cleansing of Karabakh, which is irreversible at this stage. However, it might help avoiding, or at least mitigating, the accom- panying cultural genocide which has been planned, publicly announced, and is ongoing.

Yours sincerely,

Prof. István Perczel, Director of CEU’s Center for Religious Studies

Prof. Nadia al-Baghdadi,

Prof. Zsolt Enyedi,

Prof. Carsten Wilke

Members of the Executive Committee of CEU’s Center for Religious Studies


Members of the Executive Com- mittee of CEU’s Center for Reli- gious Studies