Among the monuments of the village of Chanakhchi (Avetaranots) in Shusha district, the Kusanots (Kusanats-anapat) monastery is of particular interest. It is located southwest of the village on a steep cape.
The monument from the west was fortified with a massive fence, from which only a few sections of dilapidated towers remain. From the inscription above the entrance to the monastery, it is clear that it was built in 1616.
In ancient times, this monastery was a cultural and religious center, as evidenced by written sources and preserved traces of buildings of the monastic complex of the 5th-7th centuries. On these ruins were founded monasteries that served as the tribal tombs of Melik-Shahnazaryans and the princes of Varanda (a historical region in Artsakh).
By the way, Valerian Madatov (Rostom Madatyan-Mehrabents) was born in the village of Avetaranots in 1782. He was a Prince, Lieutenant-General of the Russian Army, and an awardee of the Military Order of St. George of the third and fourth degrees.
“The Kusanats-Anapat (‘The Devil’s Monastery’) monastery is located in the village of Chanakhchi. It is built on the very edge of the village, on a separately rising rock, at the bottom of which a river flows, forming in its course several insignificant waterfalls used by people for their simple mills.
On the south side, this rock descends completely vertically to the river. Its eastern side is divided by cracks into several parts that threaten to fall, while the western side rests on ancient fortress gates ending in a ‘kashatun’ (that is, the house of devils).
The village is connected to the monastery by a fairly accessible road.”
We have taken these lines from the article “The Antiquities of the Village of Chanakhchi” by Ephraim Melik-Shakhnazarov (“Collection of Materials for Describing Localities and Tribes of the Caucasus”, Issue 19, Tiflis, 1894).
It is unknown for sure who or what this monastery has been dedicated to. The year of its foundation is also unknown, but the builder of the monastery is considered to have been the Aghvan king Vachagan III the Pious (after 510) who built the monastery and spent the rest of his life reading the Gospel in it. Since then, the village was called Avetaranots, that is, the area where the Gospel is stored.
For a long time, the monastery has served as a haven for sisters-nuns who spent their quiet time reading the Gospel. But this quiet life was interrupted by the invasion of the Persian Agha-Magomet Shah in 1797.
According to Armenian tradition, when the Persian soldiers invaded the village, the nuns managed to escape to the nearby forest. However, one of them returned for some of the things she had left in a hurry.
As soon as she left the monastery on her way back to the forest, a Persian sword flashed above her head. The nun ran towards the edge of the cliff, calling the Holy Trinity and the Virgin Mary for help. She rushed down and, with the help of an invisible force, without harm, descended from the terrible height to the ground and hid in the forest.
Another legend says that on Sundays, a deer appeared voluntarily near the monastery and, as a sacrifice sent from above, yielded its neck to the knife…
The monastery has one vestibule in its southwestern part built of local ashlar. In a few places, it features continuous masonry with lime fill (Picture 1). The building has the shape of a basilica (a rectangular religious building divided inside by rows of columns or pillars) with a simple roof overgrown with moss, grass, and wild rose bushes.
On the eastern corner of the roof, there is a rectangular stone with a cross on it. In the 19th century, the whole monastery was redone, and the stone slab above the entrance door was replaced (Picture 2).
Southwest of the village of Chanakhchi is an ancient cemetery. It occupies a huge area, over which a multitude of simple stone blocks is scattered. Among these blocks are tombstones with beautiful ornaments.
Here is how the inspector of the Artsvanik normal school (Zangezur district) Ephraim Melik-Shakhnazarov, a native of Shusha district, describes these monuments:
“The tombstone depicted in Picture 3 is located in the vestibule of the Kusanats-Anapat monastery. Some say that under it, the daughter of King Vachagan, the builder of the monastery, is buried. She was the first nun of Kusanats-anapat”.
The remaining stones are in other areas of the cemetery intended for commoners. They do not indicate the years of burial, nor the names of the buried…
Picture 7 shows a man on a horse and with a crown on his head. He holds a cross in his right hand; a shashka (sword type) is hanging from the side; under the horse’s front legs is a snake; the horse is in full harness; the crown resembles a royal one.
This man (maybe a king) was obviously a Christian, brave and successful in many battles, as indicated by the serpent’s head crushed by horse’s hoofs. At the same time, he loved hunting and fun, as evidenced by the wine and balalaika.
In the middle is most likely depicted one of the king’s courtiers, who holds an earthenware jug with wine in one hand and a goblet in the other.
The tombstone shown in Picture 9 reads “… Ays khachs Toros…”, i.e. “… this cross (monument) Toros…”
Picture 10 depicts field plowing. Three pairs of bulls are seen in a plow harness. Near the plow is a jug of water.
On the gravestone shown in Picture 11, a wedding scene or, more generally, a feast is depicted. A table is set on one side of the picture, with colorful plates on it. Salt shakers are visible at each end of the table.
People are depicted dancing to the sounds of balalaika. They are seemingly dancing a dance called “Yally”, which has been popular among locals. One of the dancers holds a falcon on his left hand, and two grooms hold the bridles of two saddled horses.
There are many other interesting gravestones in the cemetery of the village of Chanakhchi, but they belong to a later era, having been placed 200-250 years ago. Some of the gravestones stand on the graves of meliks and former rulers of Varanda. Among them, the grace and grandeur of the gravestones of Melik-Shahnazar and his father Melik-Huseyn particularly stand out.
Marina and Hamlet Mirzoyans
ՄԵՆՔ ԵՆՔ, ՄԵՐ ՍԱՐԵՐԸ. ԱՎԵՏԱՐԱՆՈՑ /MENQ ENQ, MER SARER@. AVETARANOC/ With English subtitles