Europe is full of countries that have unique histories, cultures, and traditions. While a number of these are very well known, there quite a few that very few people have ever heard of – irrespective of the fact that they hold significant historical significance.
Countries like Armenia, for example.
Armenia is a very small country shares its borders with Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Despite being influenced by numerous cultures over its lifetime, it is a country that has a culture and sprit unique to its own.
And when you combine that with an abundance of amazing sights, a community of happy people, and a rich history, and you have a recipe for success.
But one thing many people remain unaware of is the fact that Armenia was one of earliest Christian civilisations in the world. Consequently, it is full to the brim with unbelievable religious sites that should be recognised by people across the globe.
But instead, they are facing genocide.
Armenia’s history is full of bloodshed. Over its long history it faced numerous invasions, before eventually succumbing to the Soviet Union in the 1900s. Then, after a hundred years of oppression, it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, only to be drawn into civil war with Azerbaijan.
Now both its incredible Christian history and its many historical sites are facing destruction.
Including the incredible Katarovank Monastery.
The Amazing Katarovank Monastery
Katarovank is an Armenian Structure that was built in early 300 AD, before becoming a fully-fledged Apostolic monastery in the 4th century.
Located high in the mountains of southern Karabakh, near the villages of Khtsaberd, Hin Tagher and Tumi, this amazing structure sits at the peak of the Dizapayt Mountain. It is a large square building with a semi-domed roof and four gigantic walls.
It looks over the landscape, providing views for miles around. And for those at the base of the mountain, it appears an insurmountable object that scrapes the heavens above.
However, history would indicate that this sense of insurmountably may have been misguided.
The first written record of this amazing monastery was created by the 5th century Armenian historian “Pavstos Buzand” – who was famously known for his extremely detailed six-volume book series, titled the “History of Armenia”.
In this rich text, he describes Katarovank as a large monastery built on top of the Dizapayt Mountain.
He goes on to state that the monastery was first designed as a stronghold against various invaders of Armenia, which was reinforced in response to the invasion of Armenia by the Massagetae and Huns all the way back in the year 335 AD.
In that year, a large army led by King Sanesan invaded Armenia’s eastern provinces as a reaction to a mission of Saint Grigoris—the grandson of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, and the bishop of the eastern lands of Armenia.
Saint Grigoris led an Armenian mission to convert the Massagetae tribesmen into Christianity. It is believed that the mission gained true success when the missionaries turned three of Sanesan’s own sons onto Christianity.
Suspicious of Saint Grigoris and his actions, Sanesan executed him by tying him to a wild horse. However, in response, his children fled the royal palace with the missionaries, carrying Saint Grigoris’ body with them.
It is believed that his children decided to hide in the mountaintop Katarovank Monastery, which was home to over 3000 pilgrims. But not to be made a mockery of, Sanesan pursued his children to the monastery, killing all who inhabited Katarovank in the process (including his children).
The monastery was destroyed, and the corpses of those who were killed were burnt to ash.
The Rebuild of Katarovank
Over the next thousand years, the Katarovank monastery was little more than a memory.
It was a place of remembrance. A location favored by pilgrims and historians alike, rich with information of days long past. Many people visited the site to show their care for those Armenians who lost their lives in that tragic event.
In fact, it stayed like this until the 17th century, until the people of Armenia returned the Katarovank monastery to its former glory during a full restoration.
The modern-day structure is a single nave basilica constructed from the blocks of local coarse-cut sandstone. Interestingly, one side of the chapel sits below the ground, while the other is built on bare rock. Additionally, there are several Armenian cross stones near the chapel, providing a notable addition to the location.
As it did in centuries past, the monastery offers a unique panoramic view of the surrounding plains and the beautiful River Aras. It has once again become a pillar of the Armenian Christian community.
A place of worship, a place of strength, and a place of hope.
And unfortunately, it is again in danger.
The Modern Threat
One would have hope that after all they have faced, the Armenian people would be granted to the opportunity to restore their culture to its former glory – but it appears this hope was misled.
After separating from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Armenian people had a small window of peace.
But this was, unfortunately, short lived.
Armenia has recently been forced into the “care” of the Republic of Azerbaijan. A country that looks to wipe out Armenian Christian culture through brute force and oppression.
If this goes unnoticed, it is likely the Katarovank monastery will again be destroyed.
While Armenia has constantly surprised the world with is stoicism and strength in the face of death and destruction, this time we do not want it to go it alone. We want it to be supported by the help and faith of the world.
More specifically, your help, and your faith.