At Risk: The Medieval Armenian Churches and Monasteries of Artsakh, Dr Christina Maranci

“You can destroy the church but you cannot destroy the memory”

Yesterday, 14th April 2021, Dr Christina Maranci, Professor and Chair of the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara Oztemel Department of Armenian Art and Architectural History at Tufts University, Massachusetts shared her extensive and invaluable research into the medieval Armenian churches and monasteries of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh). Explaining various images and detailed architectural diagrams, Dr Maranci’s inspiring talk showed us the huge importance of academic and scientific research in the preservation of the almost countless historical monuments in Artsakh. Dr Maranci argues that further study is required to promote awareness of these centuries-old Armenian buildings and so secure them for future generations. They are ‘contemporary testimonies to historic individuals’.

Dr Maranci began her lecture by drawing a comparison between the devastating fire in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris in 2019 and the deliberate  bombing on two separate occasions of the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi by Azerbaijan in October 2020. Both are invaluable sites of historical, architectural and religious importance, and yet only the former grabbed the attention of the world’s media.

Artsakh has a ‘tremendous inventory of monuments’ but they have been neglected for study. Dr Maranci demonstrated the rich historical beauty of these monuments by sharing images of Dadivank monastery and Tsitsernavank. She explained that Dadivank has a vast archive of inscriptions and emphasised the need to document and research these quickly, to avoid losing the firsthand records of the site.

Dr Maranci who has worked on issues of Armenian cultural heritage for almost three decades  centres her research on the study of Armenian cathedrals, monuments and khachkars in Armenia, Artsakh, Georgia and eastern Turkey (western Armenia). When investigating the remains of the 7th century Armenian cathedral at Mren, near Ani, (now Eastern Turkey), Dr Maranci was denied access by Turkish authorities and was unable to visit the site personally. Dr Maranci did not let this obstacle impede her research and her campaign for the Cathedral resulted in its inclusion in the World Monuments Watch List for 2015-17.

Dr Maranci drew our attention to the Research of Armenian Architecture (RAA) and the World Monument Fund, which seem to be moving forward at a faster pace than other organisations such as UNESCO on the protection of Armenian sites. Interestingly, our previous guest speaker in this lecture series, Simon Maghakyan, (International Relations, University of Colorado) highlighted the fact that Azerbaijan had only allowed UNESCO to enter territories of Artsakh ceded to Azerbaijan to investigate Armenian damage to Islamic structures. Any destruction, desecration or defacement of Armenian monuments by Azerbaijan was not permitted to be seen by UNESCO.

The Q&A session at the end was filled with audience members’ questions and observations, showing how inspirational Dr Maranci’s lecture had been. A difficult and at times, disturbing, subject was made eminently accessible by Dr Maranci.  The session was closed with thanks to the guest speaker by Bishop Hovakim and prayers for Artsakh and for Armenia by Father Christopher, Bishop of Coventry.

Dr Christina Maranci is the author of three books and over ninety articles and essays on early and medieval Armenian art and architecture, including most recently: An Introduction to Armenian Art (Oxford UP, 2018). Dr Maranci’s monograph ‘Vigilant Powers: Three Churches of Early Medieval Armenia’ won both the Sona Aronian Prize for Best Armenian Studies monograph from the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) and the Karen Gould Prize for Art History from the Medieval Academy of America.

Dr Christina Maranci’s lecture At Risk: The Medieval Churches and Monasteries of Artsakh is available on YouTube: Please click here.

Armenian Culture and Heritage lecture series:

This lecture is the second in a series of lectures intended to increase awareness and to provide unbiased, accurate and reliable information on Armenian cultural heritage. The lectures are organised by the Artsakh Cultural and Spiritual Heritage protection Committee of the Diocese of the Armenian Church in The United Kingdom.

Future events:

  • 12th May 2021 Christianity in Karabakh: The rich religious heritage in Artsakh from 4th to 21st century, Dr Hratch Tchilingirian, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford.
  • 26th May 2021: The Language of Karabakh, Dr Jasim Dum Tragut, Department of Armenian Studies, University of Salzburg.