Lachin corridor, Armenian civilians, end of 185 years of longing - REPORTAGE
- 12 February 2021
APA employees toured the territories liberated from the occupation by the Azerbaijani army under the leadership of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief Ilham Aliyev. Our employees have prepared a series of reports from these territories under the heading "In the wake of victory". We present another reportage from this series:
You may read previous reportages:
It is already morning, freshly sprouted blue grass shines like an emerald in the sunlight. Our car is passing by some ruined town, the village of Gubadli. Imagine that you stayed awake at night, you snooze in the car in the morning to relieve the pain in your eyes, and when you wake up in the middle of a landscape of ruined houses and ruined villages. You frighten as if you have a nightmare.
We have difficulties regarding guessing the villages which we are passing by because of not knowing well the area, even if there are no new signs in our own language at the entrances to the liberated villages from occupation we will not be able to distinguish the villages. There is not time to stop, to get out of the car and take pictures, to find out which village we passed by. I am sure about one thing that we ascend the mountains, where the silver waters of Hakari, which flow from afar and meet the Araz in the plains. Our road is long. We are going to visit the ancient Albanian temple Aghoghlan in Agoglan village of Lachin region.
Representatives of the Albanian-Udi Community of Nij village of Gabala district are also with us. They came here to visit such sacred places, hold religious ceremonies, pray after long years of occupation. As Deputy Chairman of the Community will say a while after, the visit has great importance. After 185 years, namely, after Albania Apostolic Church was canceled and given to the management of the Armenian-Grigorian church in 1836 by Emperor Nikolay I, successors of the ancient Albanians gained a chance of visiting the native church for the first time. So, they are excited.
We finally arrived in the territory of Lachin district coming through rough paths in the chest severe rocks, mountains with sharp points. It is impossible to believe that we arrived in the amazing land, on which I have read many writings, of which beauty, fascinating nature – green forests, snowy mountains, icy springs my friends were speaking with great admiration, to which I listened with wonder and regretted whether “Will we return to these territories?” after these endless conversations, we burn with the longing of the mysterious lands day and night for 28 years. As if, we are in a dream.
But it is believable. Both forests with high trees, which passing through the chest of mountains, inner of valleys, which put off its green clothing in Autumn and looking forward to days, on which spring will prepare new clothing for them and evergreen trees, which place in the chest of granite rocks, overcoming any caprice of nature rooted between these harsh rocks, say it. I was thinking where my friends from Lachin got their pride from; from these mountains with sharp points, granite rocks, and evergreen trees. As you look, mountains, granite rocks of here teach a person to overcome any difficulty of life.
Suddenly we come across completely different mountains, view. It is not like other mountains, rocks. Stone, rock fragments, not in the form of a cube, not square, not rectangular, not curved, notched, protruding, resembling various figures, human, animal, wooden figures. Just as quacks melted the lead and poured it into a bowl full of water over their heads to remove the fear of the sick man, so the stones of these mountains were melted and poured out in the same way. Could someone understand the fears, shocks that Lachin experienced during 28 years if someone “reads” these “melted stones”?
Looking at his marvelous nature I remember the song of Azer Garachenli “Ay Laçın”. I feel as if I am going through that writing: “There were a region at the end of western borders of Azerbaijan…”
Lachin corridor… In those years, when our childhood coincided with the most difficult period of the Karabakh war, in those evenings when adults gathered together and had intense discussions, we often heard this expression from their cigarette smelling mouth. Each time when they said Lachin corridor although their eyebrows raised, we smiled. We would shrug our shoulders and surprised, look at this, there is a corridor of Lachin, Baki, Shaki. We were children at this time, and do not know we will experience such problems.
Our car stops in the post where are Russian peacekeepers. Here we will join the cars waiting in front of us and cross the Lachin corridor in the form of a caravan. We will be accompanied by a special car of Russian peacekeepers along the corridor.
And caravan moves.
We enter the Corridor. There are residential houses on our way. There are cars in the yard of some of these houses, and clothes hung from clothes-line in others, cattle graze in others. Someone says these belong to our soldiers. The other does not agree, these belong to “Armenians”, the third one tries to add a little cheer to our conversation: “Maybe, we should ask from the cows? Cow, whom do you belong to?
We start to see civilian Armenians, as we approach the Lachin center. A man and a woman stand and watch our cars in silence on the balcony of one of the houses in the chest of mountains. The concern is seen obviously from their standing.
Posts of peacekeepers have been set in several places on the road. Although our team decreases speed in the posts a little, it does not stop. One of the posts is in Lachin city. We delay this post for a few minutes. All immediate approach to the car windows, sights with anger spread around from open windows like a spark. Peacekeepers, standing in the post, also notice it, one of them scolds the owner of the open store which is a little far: “Go in and close the door, you will out after they go”. Armenian driver of the car standing by our car froze and looked straight ahead, do not move his head. Residential houses, buildings, different administrative buildings...
I wonder which of them also existed before occupation, which were built afterward?
I wonder where is Yukhari Lachin, Postal circle, head of City, upper of Market, Shalva road, Daghdaghan spring, front of Pharmacy, Firing club.
I wonder whether this post is the same post. What about pharmacy in distance? A direction called “head of City” is not that place?
We keep in mind the mysterious feelings of standing in the center of Lachin after 28 years by making our eyes a photograph. We try to see more (as well as to shoot). As more as possible (although it is not allowed). I think that I look at those territories with not only my eyes but with eyes of Lachin people, burning with the longing of these territories for years – my childhood close friends Sabuhi, Sharif Aghayar, and numerous persons, I do not mention here. I want to get off the car, kiss Lachin soil, hug these mountains, streets, buildings, houses, cry my eyes out, and say “How were your days without us, mountains, roads, streets, houses, buildings” heartily.
At last, our cars move. We pass by these scenes, we saw, with the same speed. Houses with red roofs, which look like each-other” are seen in the distance. Here is Zabukh village. These houses were built by Armenians after occupation, Armenians, coming from Lebanon, were settled. Those Armenians also fought against us during the Patriotic War.
Accompanying car of Russian peacekeepers is in front of us, we leave behind Zabukh village too by passing fast. Here we pass by the bridge on our way.
It is Aghoghlan Monastery.
This ancient Albanian temple is located on a hill in the village of Aghoghlan. One of Hakari's arms, the Aghoghlan River flows through a nearby valley. The river Minkand in the upper flow and the river Zabukh in the lower flow joins the Hakari in the south of the city of Lachin.
I do not know whether it is really so or just I think so, but I have always considered Albanian monuments – church, monasteries with a red roof, settled between mountains, within forests more attractive. I thought that these monuments were not built by a human, but by nature mystery, make up a part of it. Aghoghlan temple is seen so magnificent among mountains that as if it gets power from mountains, paired up, became a brother, a mountain by looking at these mountains over centuries thanks to its age over a millennium.
Aghoghlan or Tsitsernavank monasteries are important ancient Albanian monuments. Monument a basilica belonging to 5-6th centuries.
An employee of the Institute of Science History of the ANAS, Ph.D. on history Bayram Guliyev says the full name of the monument is Aghoghlanchay. According to him, the name of the monument is related to the anthropological view of Albanian local people: “Syrians, spreading Christianity in Albania, were swarthy, but it can not be said on Albanians. Strabon describes Albanians white-faces, tall and colored eyes.”
Monument, which is about 15 centuries old has importance for Armenians too. Although roads leading to the village are difficult to arrive and Armenians did not settle here massively after occupation, repair works were conducted in the ancient monument during occupation years, in fact, they made changes to the monument in order to prove its belonging to the Armenian Church.
There are 2-3 houses in front of the hill, where the monument is located, which look like to be built recently. There is probably no need to say who did it.
We enter the yard of the monastery passing through the general door. A face plastered stone pedestal has been put on the left. Crusaders, brought by Armenians from Yerevan, were installed on the pedestal. Now two there are two armatures like a horn in their places. It becomes clear that Armenians took crusaders with themselves while handing over Lachin like other relics of the church.
Community representatives enter the church and start praying. Parts of the holy book are read, prays are sounded to God, candles are lit. Alter of the church is lighted with candles of its real owners again after longing of many years.
As monuments were built in sacred and geographically-favorable places historically, Christian temples were started to be built in places of many polytheist monuments, existing earlier, after the spread of Christianity in Caucasian Albania. The Church of Saint Elisha in Kish village of Shaki can be shown as the most obvious example for it. At the same time, the Aghoghlan monastery is supposed to be constructed in the place of a pagan temple. However, I should note a point that although there were several buildings in the territory of the monument, just the current basilica survived until today. That is why this basilica is called both a church and a monastery.
The elongated volume of the basilica is divided into 3 naves with 4 pairs of columns. The middle nave is completed with a horseshoe-shaped apse (a semicircular protrusion connecting the main structure of the building - M.A.) in the altar part, and the side naves extending along the edges of the building are completed with side rooms at the altar edges. According to Bayram Guliyev, it is not a coincidence that the center of the temple is completed by a horseshoe-shaped apse: “As it is known, the Albanian Turks, who have been engaged in equestrianism since ancient times, have included their ethnographic features in their new religion. Even the altar in the temple is bordered by a horseshoe-shaped arch. Horseshoe-shaped features have been applied to almost the entire architectural structure of the temple”.
The rectangular monument is about 25 meters long and 12 meters wide. The temple does not have a building inscription. However, based on the architectural features, it can be said that three construction stages have taken place.
Naves have arched cover: the cover of side naves is semicircular, and the cover of the central; nave is arrow-shaped. The lower part of the building near the altar and apse is made of well-cut basalt, the upper part of the walls, as well as arched roofs, are made of tuff. There are different construction works on the monument. It is felt from the stones of the building which has changed its shades. Firstly, the monument has been built in the form of a basilica, then in the form of the apse, and then bell tower has been included.
There are different stories among people about the creation of the Agoglan temple. According to one of them, once upon a time, a traveler who passed from these places has fallen in love with the nature of places in the mountain and decided to build a castle on the top of the mountain. Because the traveler was a white man, local people gave the “Agoglan” name to the castle.
According to another myth, during the construction of the temple, a swallow began to circle the pot of food cooked for the masters, and later threw himself into the dish and overturned the pot. Although the masters were initially angry with the swallow, when they saw that the dogs that ate the food that had fallen to the ground were dead, they realized that the food had been poisoned by a snake. The swallow flew over the boiling pot to warn the people, and when the masters did not understand its sign, he sacrificed himself to save them from death. After this event, this temple has been also called a “Swallow Temple”. As the Armenian (ancient Grabar) language means "swallow", "Sisernak", another name for the temple, Sisernak, is derived from here.
Although the Agoglan temple has not been used as a temple in the Soviet period, local people looked at this place always as a place of belief, visited here, intended and made a vow. Generally, most of the Albanian temples in Karabakh lost their functionality as a Christian monument when the majority of the population accepted Islam, but it has always remained a place of faith.
Alongside distortions on the walls of the temple (There have been drawn lots of Armenian crosses), some of the stones inside has been reconstructed, removed, and put new ones. Near the altar, in one of the columns of the left nave, cut marks are visible. Although the stones of the cut marks are in good condition, it seems as if someone purposefully wanted to change it. There is a question. Why? And the fact that the stones of this section, not the other parts of the column, were polished with a polishing machine, gives reason to think that there was some sign belonging to the Albanians. It seems that they first wanted to cut the stone and remove it, then, they have been satisfied with just polishing. Of course, this is my own thought, certainly the last word, of course, belongs to the experts.
It may be said that the monument has been damaged from the sidewall. One part of the crosses on the wall has been cleared through scraping off. Because Armenian crosses differentiate from Armenian crosses with their view, it seems that the wall has been scraped off in order to clear these crosses from the wall.
According to Rafik Danakari, deputy chairman of the Albanian-Udi community, the altar of the temple was also changed. The height of the altar in Albanian churches is usually three, and in Armenian churches it is six steps or one meter.
It is difficult to say all of these changes have been made after the occupation of Lachin by Armenians in 1992, or before. Because here has been used by the population of Zeyva village in XIX. Maybe the first changes have been launched only in XIX?
Our visit to the monastery ends. We prepare to return back. By the way, we would like to visit Agoglan, neighbor villages, and Minkend. But…Because all of these territories have not been yet cleared from the mines, it is dangerous to deviate from a predetermined route. As well as, in a moment, we have to again pass Lachin Corridor through joining the returning car caravan. If we did not catch them, we have to wait about 3 days, until the next days when the caravan will leave.
I'm not saying that when we reach the Russian post we will see that the caravan has already left, and after an hour of hustle and bustle, we will finally be sent an escort car from the other end of the corridor, only then we will be able to return back.
Before we leave, we go down to Agoglan river. There are people who pour this sacred water to the bottles and take to people of Lachin as a present in order to sprinkle water on the longing that has been in their hearts for 28 years, and there are also those who wash his hands and face with this water and gets freshed.
The water of Agoglan river roars fortunately. Drops are shining as a kind of precious stone, and the sweet murmur of water spreads as good news, and breaks happy news to the mountains.
This means “Welcome Home” in the river language.
Photo Ilkin Nabiyev© APA GROUP