Former Norwegian ambassador to Azerbaijan Steinar Gil has made a post on his Facebook page where he sharply criticizes the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture and Tourism which had deliberately turned a 19th-century Armenian church into an “ancient Albanian shrine”.
The church in question is the church of St. George in Zaqatala, Azerbaijan, built in 1851.
“Once, I visited a magnificent church located near the fortress in Zaqatala, Azerbaijan. The church has been and still is in an abandoned state, but it is a popular attraction among tourists and is included in many tours.
Professional Azerbaijani tourist guide Yahya Bayramov writes about the church on his website:
‘Not far from the plane-tree alley, there is an abandoned church dated to the 19th century. The church was built in 1803, shortly before the Albanian Catholicosate ceased to exist. Therefore, the church didn’t operate for long. During the time of the Soviets, it performed various functions, including serving as a residential building. Now, it is overgrown with grass and small trees.’
I can add that the Albanian church has been part of the Armenian Apostolic Church for centuries. Formally, the Albanian church was dissolved by an imperial decree in 1836.
In 2015, Russian tourists Kirill Yanochkin and Anya Yanochkina visited the church. Here is what they write about it on their website kirill-anya.ru: ‘A broken church stands in the courtyard of a residential building. It was built by the Armenian community of the city in the 19th century. Azerbaijanis, of course, call it Albanian.’
According to Wikimedia, the church was built in 1830. However, on the wall of the church, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism put up a sign that reads: ‘Albanian Temple, IV-V century’. This statement is absurd.”
Read also: Norwegian Ambassador under attack – Human Rights House