Armenia is a small country that boats one the richest histories in Europe. With Turkey to its west, Georgia to its north, and Azerbaijan to its east, Armenia was once known as focal point of spirituality, a hub for trade, and an embodiment of community.
However, in modern day, Armenian history is facing a form of genocide.
One of the primary reasons for Armenia’s historical significance is because it was one of the earliest Christian civilizations on the planet. In fact, the first Armenian churches were established sometime around 400 AD – which were soon followed by some of the most beautiful religious sites in the world.
But since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia was rapidly drawn into a bloody civil war with Azerbaijan, and many of these amazing historical sites are now at risk.
What is Vankasar?
Vankasar itself is a cliff.
Situated a short 8.5km northwest of the town Aghdam and a mere 1.5km west if the Shahbulagh village, Vankasar is somewhat of an oddity. On a flat plain, there sits an isolated rock that towers above everything for miles around.
Sitting a whopping 290 metres from the base of the ground, Vankasar is unique and godly.
And at the top of this unbelievable rise sits Vankasar church.
Built early in the seventh century, Vankasar church is as much of an oddity as the towering piece of rock it stands on. Built of cream coloured stone and visible for miles around, this unique church was designed as a large dome and three alter apses – something that was very uncommon in that day and age.
After you make the hour trek up the mountain from Shahbulagh, you might first be taken by the structure itself. While small, it sits stoically on top of its platform. The background views are breathtaking, and it becomes apparent as to why this church was of such spiritual importance.
At that height, and with that sense of isolation, one could not get closer to god.
Then, upon entry, the many inscriptions on every single piece of stone in the building become more visible. This quirk is unique to Vankasar, where it is thought that monks who built it made a mark on every piece of material used in its construction.
Vankasar: A Modern History
Vankasar church is somewhat of an anomaly – and consequently, little is known about how it came to be.
Research has indicated that its constructions date back to 700 AD. However, how, and why it was constructed remains unclear. There is some reason to believe that the church was built by the dethroned Armenian prince “Prince Cache the Second” in penance for past crimes – but this is just conjecture.
In fact, the first reported text related to this structure came from Armenian Christian Archbishop Sarkis-Jalaliants, who described it as the “damaged church on top of the cliff that acts as the ‘see’ of this province”.
While the term see might seem out of place in this scripture, it most likely refers to the fact that it is the eye of the area – giving the ability to see for miles to anyone at the top.
From 1000 AD onwards it was well known that Vankasar served as a hub of Christianity for all around. The sound of the breeze at the top of the cliff was often likened to the voice of god, and that alone drew people from all around Armenia.
However, once Armenia was invaded and populated by the USSR, its role changed, and it was shut down and left to rot.
Like many Armenian historical monuments, the Vankasar church has faced an improbable battle for survival – in fact, its biggest strength has been its lack of size and position of isolation.
While it suffered from a lack of maintenance throughout the latter parts of the second millennium, it was never a site of deliberate destruction. It was recognised as an Armenian Church, but not one worth pursuing as a stronghold.
While it did provide some amazing views, its position was not one of power or trade.
Despite its lack of use over centuries, its spirit eventually prevailed, where it was restored to its former glory in 1986. After undergoing a full reconstruction, this broken down church once again became a hub of faith to the Armenian locals in the area.
But it is not over yet.
Armenia is a country that has been invaded many times by its neighbouring countries. Its people and its history have faced death, destruction, and complete annihilation on more occasions that one can count.
And unfortunately, it is happening again.
The Armenian people are currently entering the “care” of the Republic of Azerbaijan. A country that intends to wipe out Armenian culture through brute force and the selective destruction of many of its historical sites.
Many Armenian cultural monuments are at risk of destruction, and its religious sects at risk of genocide – with Vankasar being one of them.
We hope that like it has done countless times before, it surprises us with its resilience and strength in the face of danger. However, this time, we want to ensure it does not have to do so alone.
To survive and rebuild once more, Vankasar church needs the help and faith of those around the world.
Your help, and your faith.