A photograph of Gandzasar Monastery. According to Armenian myths, the monastery was built on a treasure mountain. (Photo courtesy of Armen Mkrtchyan)


Opinion: Not just a border dispute. Armenians lose their ethnic lands and treasures amid conflict

Thousands of ethnic Armenians have been forced to flee their homes, leaving behind cultural monuments and historic sites in the hands of Azerbaijani forces executing ethnic cleansing.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/anushmkr/" target="_self">Anush Mkrtchyan</a>

Anush Mkrtchyan

October 16, 2023

Life has ended in Artsakh as countless families are forced to abandon their homes, leaving behind cherished memories and tokens of their existence. The Azerbaijan offensive in Artsakh is a direct attack on innocent children, families, and the cherished lands and sites they hold dear. Armenian families, facing starvation, are being forcefully displaced and left homeless after enduring a year-long blockade imposed by Azerbaijan’s military. 

As an Armenian residing in the United States, I felt overwhelming fear and despair for my family in Artsakh after hearing of the bombing in their city, Stepanakert. As a human rights advocate, I deeply mourned the global ignorance surrounding this tragedy. 

The war is taking place in Artsakh (also called Nagorno-Karabakh), a region with an ethnic connection to Armenia but falsely claimed by Azerbaijan.

Armenia, a historic nation with roots dating back thousands of years, rests in the mountainous regions of the Caucasus. However, the Armenian community extends beyond this region, with a prominent diaspora in Los Angeles. 

For decades Armenia has experienced numerous land disputes, a modern one emerging in the 1920s when Joseph Stalin signed Artsakh over to Soviet Azerbaijan’s border. 

Since then, multiple wars have erupted in the region. From 1988-1994, the First Nagorno-Karabakh War took place, resulting in the occupied lands being victoriously returned to Armenia. In the war of 2020, a ceasefire was signed. However, up until a few weeks ago, Artsakh had been under a deadly siege since December of 2022, cutting off all necessary supplies from entering Artsakh. In mid-September, after a bombing attack by Azerbaijan, Armenian forces surrendered in hopes of preserving peace, and nearly 100,000 Armenians fled the region of Artsakh.

Among those fleeing is a professor from the Artsakh State University who describes the situation with honest concern, stating, “This is the end, this is the end of the world, a big tragedy. Life had ended.”

The forceful removal of Armenians from their ethnic lands is a step in the process of erasing Armenian history in the region to develop Azerbaijani propaganda regarding the occupation by Armenians. It’s absurd that the UN fails to hold Azerbaijan accountable for its war crimes. Therefore, it’s up to Armenian Americans and those who care about human rights to pressure and demand action from the United States government. 

It is inaccurate to identify motivations other than ethnic cleansing as a reason Azerbaijan has taken over this land since Artsakh has been recognized as a part of Armenia long before the Turkic group migrated from Central Asia. 

Here is a comparison between the map of the Kingdom of Armenia and the map of Armenia today.

During the past conflicts, the Azerbaijani offensive destroyed historically valuable buildings and churches that date back thousands of years. These heritage sites are essential not only to Armenians but to the world because they serve as a window into the evolving cultures of the past and provide valuable lessons and connections for future generations to learn from.  

The Armenian people have lost their homes and the right to own and preserve their cultural heritage. Here’s what has been lost:

Amaras monastery, dating back to the 4th Century. This is one of the world’s oldest Christian monuments and a significant religious site for Armenians. This monastery played an essential role in the spread of Christianity in Armenia. The sacred site is also the place where St. Mesrob Mashots, the inventor of the Armenian Alphabet, opened his very first school in 406 AD.

Gandzasar monastery, which is a very important regional cathedral, founded in the 13th century.

Tigranakert of Artsakh is an Armenian city dating back to 323 BC-32 BC. It is a historic site and the ruins are reminiscent of the once vast city founded by Tigranes the Great, one of the most significant kings in Armenian history. 

As a manifestation of Armenian civilization, these sites belong under Armenian control. Armenians possess a deep reverence for them, and will maintain the sites. 

This is beyond just a war. Armenians lost their loved ones, homes, and the right to live on their ethnic lands. As an Armenian living in Los Angeles, I feel deep sadness and regret for not visiting Artsakh and admiring its beautiful sites and lands. 

It is an ominous reality that these sacred treasures have fallen into the hands of the aggressor, and it is heartbreaking that they hold the same fate as other heritage sites.  

It’s important to be educated on this issue and comprehend the significance of this land and its historic value. Through acknowledgment and awareness, we can preserve and hold on to these historic sites and appreciate the beauty of this historic culture. In support of human rights and peace, we must take action now by spreading awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Artsakh and urging politicians to take measures against Azerbaijan’s invasion.