If you were to think of Europe and the many countries that it consists of, Armenia would probably not be the first to come to mind.
Which is a shame – because it is one of historical significance.
A small country that shares borders with Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, it is full to the brim with glorious scenery, lovely people, and a unique culture that has developed over the course of thousands of years.
Interestingly, Armenia is also one of the earliest Christian civilisations in the world. As a result, it is full to the brim beautiful religious sites that must be seen to be believed.
Religious sites that are facing spiritual genocide.
Armenia faced several invasions in its long history, before eventually succumbing to the Soviet Union in the 1900s. Then, after finally gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia was drawn into a bloody civil war with Azerbaijan.
It is now facing the destruction of its amazing Christian history, and many of the beautiful historical sites that comprise it.
Including the amazing Surb Sarkis and Surb Grigor.
What are the churches of Surb Sarkis and Surb Grigor?
Tzar is a region within Armenia, and within it lies a large fortress.
Known as the “Fortress of Tzar”, this gigantic structure was a stronghold of the region. Over time, it evolved into more of a village than a fortress, developing within it four churches, multiple cemeteries, and two monasteries.
And then, from the 1300s onwards, it became a hub of culture.
It was a haven for locals, an area to trade imported goods and services, and importantly, a place where the Christian community of Armenia could share its beliefs with one another with a sense of safety and oneness that was seen in very few parts of the world.
Of the four churches within the Tzar, two become the most famous – Surb Sarkis to the north, and Surb Grigor to the south.
Over time, the two churches become the cornerstones of the fortress.
Easily recognised by their large rectangle bodies with a single domed end, the duo was the centrepiece of the local Christian community. Used for mass, weddings, and to celebrate loved ones recently passed, they become one of the most important places in Tzar and its surrounding regions.
But, as things tended to go in Amrenia, it did not last.
The Decline of Tzar
After facing numerous invasions over the course of a few centuries, Tzar and its amazing churches were left to rot. Due to its proximity to the border, the Armenian locals were forced to eave their home in hope of friendlier pastures.
For a time, the place became home to a nomadic tribe known as the “Parakhkanlu”. They first used as it as refuge – a place to rest and recuperate after long stints on the road. In this manner, they were much like many of the Christian pilgrims that came before them.
However, in the early 1800s, the Parakhkanlu decided to settle down in the fortress – which was followed by the destruction of many stone monuments, so their components could be used for the building of more shelter.
In fact, up until the early-1900s, Tzar was the most densely populated town of the entire province. A state that appeared to continue well into the mid-1900s before the Soviet Union took over Armenia and the remains of Tzar and its churches.
The soviet locals destroyed much of the town and many of its surrounding buildings.
Interestingly, the Church of Surb Grigor remained in a state of near perfect preservation, as did its brother, the Church of Surb Sarkis.
It appeared that they were used regularly throughout the 1800 and 1900s as a place for storage, an ad-hoc farmhouse, and even a home for a Soviet family. Recent inspections have shown that these buildings have had numerous repairs over their lifetime – something that thankfully contributed to their preservation.
The fact that these two churches remain after years of hardship is a testament to their original architecture. And it should fill you with hope that there are still some Armenian Christian monuments that have stood the test of time.
But unfortunately, we are not done yet.
Surb Sarkis and Surb Grigor: A modern Threat
After all they have been through, the Armenian people and their rich Christian history are again under threat.
Since separating from the Soviet Union in 1991, it appeared that the Areminan people would get a chance at piece. A chance to rebuild their historical sites, and in the process, return their rich and vibrant culture to its former glory.
Should we be so lucky.
Armenia have recently been forced into the “care” of the Republic of Azerbaijan. A country that intends to wipe out Armenian culture through the selective destruction of many of its historical sites and the oppression of its people.
If this goes unnoticed, it is very likely that Surb Sarkis and Surb Grigor and will finally meet their doom.
While we hope that they will again surprise us with their stoicism, their strength, and their indestructability, the threat is larger than any before – and if they are forced to go it alone, their survival is not guaranteed.
To survive – and thrive – Surb Sarkis and Surb Grigor needs the faith and help of the world.
They need your help, and your faith.