Azerbaijan Appropriates the Armenian Fortress of Yernjak in Nakhichevan

Azerbaijan Appropriates the Armenian FortressBack in 2016, Azerbaijani media spread the message that Alinja fortress located on the territory of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic near Old Jugha is being restored. In particular, it was reported that the wide-scale restoration works which had begun in 2014 were close to completion, and that the official opening of the restored fortress and the adjacent museum would be held in the upcoming spring.

Azerbaijani websites modestly kept silent about the founders of the Alinja fortress located on the top of the mountain of the same name. They only mentioned that the fortress used to belong to the Seljuks and Tamerlane. In reality, the history of the fortress goes way back to the times when it was named Yernjak (Armenian: Երնջակ).

The fortress was built on the right bank of the left tributary of the Araks River called Yernjak. According to ancient sources and archaeological data, the fortress was originally built in the 8th-7th centuries BC. In the 5th-8th centuries, it was rebuilt by Syunik princes.

According to one legend, the name of the fortress “Yernjak” or “Yerinjo” was connected with the name of one of the princes of Syunik named Yernjik. The fortress was a significant stronghold of the county of the same name. It also was used to safeguard the treasury of the senior representatives of the Syuni dynasty. Historian Stepanos Orbelyan called the fortress “the impregnable Yernjak”.

Yernjak fortress and its county came under the authority of the Arabs in 698. Armenian King Smbat Bagratuni (reigned in 895-914 AD) managed to retake the fortress from the Arabs. But in 913, after a year-long siege, Emir of Atropatene Yusuf seized the fortress.

After the liberation of the mountainous regions of Nakhichevan from the Seljuks at the beginning of the 13th century, the fortress became a part of the possessions of the Zakarid dynasty. Later, it would become a part of the hereditary possessions of the Orbelians.

In subsequent periods, the fortress would be owned by Tamerlane, Turkmen tribes, and Safavid Iran. In fact, before being conquered by Tamerlane, its small garrison had resisted his troops for 14 weeks.

Yernjak fortress is not the only victim of the Azerbaijani vandalism of Armenian architectural monuments. The best known similar case is the complete destruction of the Old Jugha cemetery located not far from Yernjak fortress.

The mass demolition of khachkars (cross-stones) in Nakhichevan began in 1998. Many khachkars were razed while some were shattered and thrown into the Araks River. As a result of international criticism, these actions were suspended until 2003.

In 2005-2006, an Armenian cemetery with unique khachkars was completely destroyed. The Permanent Mission of Armenia to the UN together with the All-Armenian Educational and Cultural Association of the US west coast presented a document with evidence of the demolition of some 5.000 cross-stones. According to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the demolition of khachkars was organized by the authorities of Azerbaijan.

JULFA History of destruction of Old Jugha khachkars by Azerbaijan

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