| ST. SARGIS MONASTERY OF GAG CASTLE:
THE NEXT VICTIM OF THE WIDE-SPREAD ANNIHILATION
OF "ALBANIAN" MONUMENTS
Years ago the Azerbaijani researchers made every possible endeavour to present the Armenian historical monuments located on the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan as Albanian ones: between the 1970s and 80's, Buniatov, Geyushev, Akhundov, Neymatova, Mammadova and other "scholars" published a great number of books and articles ascribing the inseparable parts of Armenian culture such as Gandzasar, Dadivank, Amaras, the monasteries of St. Yeghishe the Apostle, Targmanchats (of the Holy Translators), Khachakap District, Northern Artsakh, Jugha Cemetery with its several thousands of cross-stones and even St. Sargis of Gag Castle to the Albanian people.
Indeed, the Armenians are well-aware of the fact that these scientific falsifications pursue a purely political objective: by attributing the Christian monuments that can hardly be anyhow connected with the Azeris' stock-breeding nomadic forefathers to the Albanians, i.e. their alleged ancestors, the aforementioned scholars aim at declaring the Azerbaijani people heir to this cultural legacy. Thus, with a single stroke of the pen, a good number of Armenian churches and tens of thousands of cross-stones turned into Albanian kilises' ('churches' in Turkish) and "khachdashes" ('cross-stones' in Turkish). Nowadays the Azeris have adopted another policy: they no longer make any attempts to attribute the Armenian cultural monuments to the Albanians: instead, they are busy with annihilating the very monuments once declared Albanian.
With the outbreak of Artsakh's Liberation Struggle, the Azerbaijani authorities drastically changed their policy on the Armenian historical monuments: disguising their nature of vandals and barbarians, they commenced demolishing the centuries-old monuments of Armenian culture throughout the Republic of Azerbaijan. We are, unfortunately, unable to determine the actual extent of destruction: we get information only about those monuments that are somehow seen from the Armenian side of the border due to their position, while the fate of all those located far from the frontier zones remains uncertain.
In the recent few years, the Armenian press has periodically written about the continual demolition of the historical cemetery of Jugha that began in 1998. Despite the repeated appeals, however, the annihilation of the necropolis with its over 3,000 standing cross-stones was not prevented: moreover, it was consigned to final obliteration in 2002.
Within a few years, the unique monument complex the Armenians had created with the sweat of their brow in their historical homeland was actually levelled with the ground, that being perpetrated in broad daylight, before the entire civilized world. We learnt about what had been committed only thanks to the fact that the cemetery was situated on the left bank of the river Araks, thus being clearly seen from the opposite, i.e. Iranian bank of the river.
Yes, the famous cemetery of Jugha was totally annihilated, but the Azeri vandals who are armed with bulldozers still have too much "work" to do since the Armenian land where they once penetrated abounds in other monuments built throughout many centuries.
In fact, at present we are doomed to witness the destruction of our own culture since the Azeri Turks are diligently performing the only role they have had ever since they made themselves comfortable in our historical homeland, i.e. demolition... Faithful to their mission, the Turks are at present "working" in St. Sargis Monastery of Gag Castle in the same spirit.
Gag's St. Sargis Monastery
Location. One of the most famous mediaeval Armenian monasteries, St. Sargis is situated at the top of Mount Gag dominating the environment, Ghazakh District, Republic of Azerbaijan, hardly half a kilometre east of the border of the Republic of Armenia, at an altitude of 922 metres above sea level and 420 metres from the foot of the mountain.
A Historical Introduction. The foundation of St. Sargis Monastery is traditionally associated with Mesrop Mashtots' (the creator of the Armenian alphabet) activity:
...the history of the church ascribes its establishment to St. Mesrop who interred part of St. Sargis' skull there: this is also attested by a church song which is as follows, " At the top of Mount Gag, stands a church blessed by St. Mesrop, the Holy Pastor..." (A sharakan (an Armenian motet) on St. Sargis, "Ardzagank," 1886, N 12, p. 161, in Armenian).
The monastery is also mentioned in connection with the events of 1163:
In the year 1163, Yeltkuz Atabak (a title conferred upon governors and commanders in the Seljuk Emirates) came to Gag Field with a large army and wanted to set ablaze Gag's St. Sargis through the divine power of which, however, a poisonous stinging snake appeared in their army... (A Collection of Historiographical Works by Priest Samuel Anetsi, Vagharshapat, 1893, p. 138, in Armenian).
Reconstruction Carried out in the Sanctuary. According to some lapidary inscriptions and archive documents, Gag's St. Sargis Monastery, which was also a famous place of pilgrimage (believers used to visit it at Easter and on New Sunday), periodically underwent renovation. In 1851 mason Yesayi Nuriniants from Tiflis completed the overhaul undertaken by Agha (a title used with reference to wealthy, influential people) Sargis Varshamian:
...despite the great hardships, in 1851 the church was thoroughly reconstructed, being neatly built of finely-finished stone and surrounded by ramparts, with a small dome as well as a vaulted covering inside and a gable roof outside. The difficult road leading to the sanctuary was paved and expanded so that people could visit it safely, without any inconveniences. (National Archives of Armenia, fund 56, list 1, file 3735, p. 1, in Armenian).
The renovation expenses came up to 2,210 rubles 23 kopecks, 736 rubles having been donated by pilgrims.
The Lapidary Inscriptions of the Monastery. The lapidary inscriptions of the monastery which date back to the period between the 13th and 19th centuries are of great historical value and importance. In spite of this, however, all the well-known Armenian specialists engaged in collecting the Armenian lapidary inscriptions of the region ignored this fact, never even bothering to copy, decipher and publish them. It was only the "Ardzagank" correspondent who published 5 inscriptions in that atmosphere of indifference: during our visit to the monastery in 1986, only one of them could be seen together with some letters constituting the only remnants of another deliberately scraped off.
1. Carved on the vestibule facade added later and completely scraped off in 1986:
Under the reign of Georgian king Georgi...
2. Incised on the entrance facade of the large chapel (although obliterated by 1986, it had, fortunately, been previously deciphered):
This sanctuary, which stands in perpetual memory of all our nation, should be treasured forever by the coming generations. I was all by myself while carrying out the reconstruction of the church that had been lying in a dilapidated state for a long time. Without anybody's support, I had a magnificent gilded cross erected on top of its dome in memory of my parents, children and me. On Saturday and Sunday a divine service was held in commemoration of my family. After I consign my soul to God, my own memory should be perpetuated within the walls of this sanctuary. May those who hinder this be cursed by the Lord and share Judas' fate. Amen.
Note: Presumably, the inscription dates back to the period between the 13th and 14th centuries.
3. Engraved on the left side of the small chapel (obliterated by 1986):In the year 1332, I, Jvansher, built an apse and erected a cross in memory of... May those who ruin it atone for my own sins and may they stand before the Divine Judgement on the Doomsday.
4. Carved on the north-eastern facade of the vestibule (obliterated by 1986):By the Lord's will in the year 1338, Grigor, Hakob and I, Khacheres, erected the Holy Cross in perpetuation of our parents' and our memory. May believers remember us in their prayers.
Note: The publisher made certain minor errors while deciphering the inscription.
5. The tympanum of the church entrance was engraved with a 7-line inscription, part of its last line written in Georgian (though it had been deliberately scraped off by the time we visited the monastery in 1986, the stone bearing it was still in its original place):
St. Sargis Church was built in the year 1838 through the efforts and means of Arzuman Khachaturian Ter-Sahakiants, an inhabitant of Kot Village, Ghazakh District, in perpetuation of his parents' and children's memory...
Note: Unfortunately, the "Ardzagank" correspondent issued only the initial 5 lines of the inscription which we found completely scraped off in 1986. As to the last 2 lines, they are irreversibly lost for history since they were never published.
6. Only two lines of a large Armenian inscription have been preserved on a fragment fixed in one of the church walls:
...the Holy Cross ... my parents ... and me. May the believers...
Note: : A considerable part of the first line was deliberately scraped off.
7. Carved inside one of the caves in the crevices of Mount Gag:
...under... in the year 1208, according to the Armenian calendar...
Note: "Numerous caves, once parts of a large castle which used to provide shelter for troops, or vast multitudes, can be seen all over this huge mountain. Inside the two of them, the rocks were engraved with inscriptions which we were unable to read due to their old age: besides, some bigoted Turkish stock breeders generally spending winters there had damaged them out of spite. The only surviving part is the first line which reads..." ("Ardzagank," 1886, N 12, p. 162, in Armenian).
The fact that the lapidary inscriptions of Gag's St. Sargis Monastery were deliberately obliterated was also attested in 1886 when the "Ardzagank" wrote:
There are some other inscriptions near and to the right of the aforementioned one: they, however, are impossible to read either due to their old age or distortion by the enemy... ("Ardzagank," 1886, N 12, p. 162, in Armenian)..
P. S.This article was written after some soldiers doing their military service in the border area near Kot Village, Tavush Marz (an administrative division in the Republic of Armenia), RA, had informed us about what had been committed. At present Gag's St. Sargis, a most precious Armenian sanctuary, is being annihilated before the frontier guards' very eyes, within hardly a kilometre of our positions.
by Samvel Karapetian
Research on Armenian Architecture (RAA) NGO