The Armenian cross symbolizes Life and Salvation

Armenian master Cross Stone (Khachkar Խաչքար) sculptor Attack Hampardzunyan (Արտակ Համբարձումյան) material is Basalt stone. Dimensions by meters 3.20×4.60×50 centimeters.

In the city of Kavar, Hatsarad district, In the Gegharkunik province, Armenia. Տեղադրված է գավառի Հացառատ թաղամասում։

The town contains a small domed church built in 898. A Khachkar, a cross-stone, is a carved, memorial stele bearing a cross, and often with additional motifs such as rosettes, interlaces, and botanical motifs.

Khachkars are created usually using local stone and carved using a chisel, die, sharp pens, and hammers. The carvings are then ground using fine sand. Small breaks and rough surfaces are eliminated by plaster of clay or lime and then painted. Once finished, the Khachkar is erected during a small religious ceremony.

The Armenian cross symbolizes Life and Salvation. For Armenians, the cross is the instrument on which Jesus sacrificed himself to save mankind from its sins. Therefore, it’s a symbol that shows the power of life over death. In Armenian Christianity, it was combined with the Christian cross and this design was often used for high crosses (Khachkar) – a free-standing cross made of stone and often richly decorated.

Most early Khachkars were erected for the salvation of the soul of either a living or a deceased person. Otherwise, they were intended to commemorate a military victory, the construction of a church, or as a form of protection from natural disasters.

The most common location for early khachkars was a graveyard. However, Armenian gravestones take many other forms, and only a minority are khachkars.

The first true khachkars appeared in the 9th century, during the time of Armenian revival after liberation from Arab rule. The oldest khachkar with a known date was carved in 879 (though earlier, cruder, examples exist). Erected in Garni, it is dedicated to queen Katranide I, the wife of King Ashot I Bagratuni.

The peak of the Khachkar carving art was between the 12th and 14th centuries. Art declined during the Mongol invasion at the end of the 14th century.

It revived in the 16th and 17th centuries, but the artistic heights of the 14th century were never achieved again.

About 40,000 khachkars survive today. Most of them are free-standing, though those recording donations are usually built into monastery walls. The following three khachkars are believed to be the finest examples of the art form:

  • In Geghard, carved in 1213, probably by master Timot and master Mkhitar
  • The Holy Redeemer khachkar in Haghpat (see gallery), carved in 1273 by master Vahram
  • In Goshavank, carved in 1291 by master Poghos.

The art of carving khachkars has witnessed a rebirth as a symbol of Armenian culture in the 20th century.

Today, the tradition remains, and one can still see khachkar carvers in some parts of Yerevan.
Endangered Khachkars:

A large portion of khachkars, which were created in historic Armenia and surrounding regions, in modern times are now located in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iran. As a result of the systematic eradication of khachkars in Turkey since the Armenian Genocide, today only a few examples survive.

One documented example of such destruction took place in the Armenian Cemetery in Jugha, in occupied Nakhchivan Armenian province. The government of Azerbaijan has denied claims that members of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces smashed the khachkars with sledgehammers in December 2005.

The destruction of khachkars was despite a 2000 UNESCO order demanding their protection, in what has been termed “the worst cultural genocide of the 21st century.”

Prepared by Kegham Papazian

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