Europe is one of the largest continents on the planet, filled with a myriad of different countries that have their own unique histories, cultures, and traditions. While many of these counties are well-known, there are quite a few that have extreme historical significance, but very few people have ever heard of.
One such country being Armenia.
This small country shares borders with Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, and it is full to the brim with amazing sights, a community of happy people, and an interesting culture that has developed over the course of centuries.
One of the reasons Armenia has such an important history comes down to the fact that it was of the earliest Christian civilisations in the world. Consequently, the entire country is littered with unbelievable religious sites that should be revered across the globe.
But instead, they are facing a sort of genocide.
The history of Armenia and its amazing people is full of bloodshed.
This small country faced numerous invasions, before eventually succumbing to the Soviet Union in the 1900s. It finally gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, only to be drawn into a horrible civil war with Azerbaijan.
As a result, its incredible Christian history, and many of the historical sites that comprise it, are facing certain destruction.
Including the incredible Varazgom Church.
A Brief History of Artsakh
To first gain an understanding of the Christian Wonder that is the Varazgom Church, we first need to dive into the history of the Artsakh.
Artsakh was the tenth province of the Kingdom of Armenia between the years of 189 and until 387 AD. After this time, it was made a part of the Caucasian Albanian satrapy of Sasanid until 700 AD, before falling under Arab control between 700 and 900 AD.
Then, around the year 1000, it was retaken by the Armenian people and proclaimed the Kingdom of Artsakh – one of the last medieval eastern Armenian kingdoms to maintain its autonomy following the Turkic invasions of the 11th to 14th centuries.
But why is this important?
The Churches of Artsakh
During the early-middle ages, various areas of Armenia became the targets of missionary activities from of prominent religious leaders from mainland – the most distinguished of which was Saint Gregory the Illuminator.
Saint Gregory was known as the man who baptized Armenia into the first Christian state in 301 AD.
During this time, a multitude of Christian monuments were built, solidifying Armenia as one of the world’s oldest places of Christian worship.
Now it is important to note that between the years of 300 AD and 1500 AD, thousands of religious monuments were built all over Artsakh. While many of these churches are world renown on an individual level, as a collective they are often known simply as the “Churches of Artsakh”.
And as I am sure you have already guessed, Varazgom was one of them.
Whilst there were a number of Artsakh monuments built over the span of 1200 years, very few were built between 900 and 1000 AD.
This is of particular interest, because this time very much coincided with the rise of Armenian kingdoms after a period of heavy Arabic influence – a time that was an extremely productive artistic era in other Armenian provinces.
However, one Artsakh structure that was built during that time was the Varazgom church.
As a church, Varazgom was somewhat remarkable.
Armenian churches typically have a single eastern apse, where the liturgy is performed. However, Varazgom has two apses, one at the east and another at the north. It has been hypothesised that the northern apse would have housed a choir, or perhaps a tomb – as the space is just large enough to fit a sarcophagus.
As beautiful as this may be, it does raise some questions about structural stability – a question that can be answered when you look at the remains of the church in modern day.
The Church of Varazgom once formed part of a small complex that included a cemetery and housing. It was first and foremost a place of worship for local Christian people in the area. It was also where weddings and funerals were held.
In this manner it served as a pillar of the local Christian community – a pillar, that unfortunately did not last.
The Fall of Varazgom
After facing numerous invasions over its long and bloody history, Armenia was again invaded by the Azerbaijani Population in 1920 – an invasion that resulted the destruction of numerous Armenian religious monuments.
And Varazgom was one of them.
Whilst it was not destroyed in its entirety, its remains were left to rot over the next 70 years, while Armenia faced further invasion and habitation from the Soviet Union.
If you were to visit the Varazgom church today, you would see the remains of the building. You would see four stone walls and a small apse, surrounded by crumbling headstones laying face down in the grass.
Sitting on top of a grassy hillock, the remains seem to belong. There is a sense of finality that comes with the building. A belief that it has served its people well in the little time it had to do so – a sense that should be preserved.
But unfortunately, this preservation is in danger.
The Remains of Varazgom: A modern Threat
After all they have faced, the rich Christian history of Armenia is again under threat.
After separating from the Soviet Union in 1991, it looked as if the Armenian people would finally get a chance at peace. A chance to rebuild their incredible religious monuments and return their vibrant culture to its former glory.
But this was not to be the case.
Much of Armenia have 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, Church Varazgom will finally meet its doom.
Although we hope that Armenia will hold strong like they have many times before, the threat is larger than any that has come before it – and if they are forced to go it alone, their survival is not guaranteed.
To survive they need the faith and help of the world.
They need your help, and your faith.