Azeri Military Activity At 7th Century Vankasar Armenian Church Under Azeri Occupation Raises Concern.

Satellite imagery has some fearing that an ancient monument faces “erasure” after its occupation by Azerbaijan, according to Azatutyun.

The Twitter account for Caucasus Heritage Watch on April 19 shared satellite images apparently showing several vehicles parked next to the Vankasar Church in near Aghdam. The region is now occupied by Azeri forces after last year’s conflict over Artsakh.

The images are hard to discern but were widely shared on Twitter amid fears they may show a first step in the “erasure” of the ancient Christian monument.

Lori Khatchadourian, an associate professor at Cornell University who is one of the researchers of Caucasus Heritage Watch, told RFE/RL by e-mail that there appears to be one truck “approximately 8.6 meters long” — far larger than a regular car, truck, or van — in the photo, alongside other undefined vehicles and “a temporary rectangular structure” nearby measuring 18-by-8 meters that she believes may be a tent or some other type of shelter.

Made of stone, Vankasar Church was built in the 7th century atop a hilltop near the archaeological site of Tigranakert.

There is no evidence yet that Vankasar Church has been targeted for destruction since coming under Azerbaijan’s control, but some fear it could be demolished after a recent news report highlighted the erasure of another church on recaptured Azerbaijani territory.

In March, a BBC camera crew went looking for a church in the town of Jebrayil. The small church, which was built in 2017, became known during the 2020 conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenian forces after video emerged of a fighter standing atop its damaged cross and shouting Islamic slogans.

Satellite images released by Caucasus Heritage Watch show the erasure of the Zoravor Holy Mother of God Church in Jebrayil.

Instead of a church, the BBC journalists found smoothed-out rubble at the site.

Simon Maghakyan, an American-Armenian researcher, told RFE/RL he hopes the objects seen in the satellite imagery alongside Vankasar Church are simply military vehicles manning an outpost. But a recent statement about the nearby archaeological site of Tigranakert by Azerbaijani officials has him worried for the wider site around Vankasar Church.

Armenians also remember the total destruction in 2005 of the special Armenian “khachkar” tombstones at the cemetery in Julfa, Azerbaijan.

Khatchadourian says of the images her organization released on April 19: “Our hope is that there is no risk at all and the vehicles are merely passing by. But deterrence only works if we make potential threats visible to the wider public and to responsible authorities in order to seek clarification. Unlike most research teams, we are most pleased when we are wrong.”