Ghazanchetsots Cathedral: An Emblem of Artsakh’s Spirit and a Light in the Darkness

Copyright: Jenna Guidi

“And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.”

–Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

The first time I read this quote from The Goldfinch, I cried because of how viscerally I understood the idea behind it. Today, I feel it. That visceral feeling that was once emotive from the mere power of words is now visceral because I fully understand an emotion with my entire being. Beautiful things are a reflection of beautiful people. They are the blood, sweat, and tears of architects. It’s just a building. It can be rebuilt–a sentiment I grasp fully. I’ve walked through Ground Zero and felt the haunting absence of every soul whose life was tragically taken that September morning.

But with Shushi’s Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, it’s personal. It’s unexplainable because it’s all in me. It is all in my soul. It feels personal because this idea of beautiful things is transcendent through its effect on humanity. The Ghazanchetsos Cathedral wasn’t just where I was Baptized, but those who’ve come before, those who’ve come after. It’s millions of prayers. It’s the spirit and love of every soul who’s entered it leaving behind a piece of themselves to our history. God isn’t the church, it’s the people, but where there’s immaculate history and grace, God is at its forefront. When a church is attacked, its people are, too–every single one who’s ever loved it, near or far.

Every single attack from Azerbaijan has been personal. Every single innocent soul that was lost in battle cut through our bones. It’s an attack on all of us, our souls, and our hearts. But we are a nation that’s learned how to stand up again and again–a nation who’ll always take care of beautiful things.

There’s not a lot I remember about my emotions as a 10-year-old, but I can tell you about the moment I stepped foot into this Cathedral, and the moment I understood that something was bigger than I could comprehend even while I didn’t realize this was happening. I think about my Baptism/Christening often, old enough to understand but young enough not to truly carry the weight. But I knew of her stories. I knew I’d walked in to a newly renovated Cathedral that had seen darkness and destruction and pain and heartache. And though I’m miles away, that pain is in me. This is my favorite church in the entire world. This is the first church with a rich history I got to visit. It’s special. It’s personal.

Azerbaijan deliberately targeting this Cathedral then claiming that they didn’t, feels inexpressibly personal. I’ve passed the state of anger straight to numbness because I can’t comprehend the level of darkness that’s taken root in such vile leaders. There’s a tremendous dose of misinformation circulating around these “clashes” right now. Here’s a useful Instagram post, fairly simplified in context that could help. I’m here to get personal because that’s the only way I know how to heal.

We all grieve differently, but I’ve noticed something utterly sensational about the Armenian community–the resilient hope and determination, as bold as our mountains and as beautiful as our cathedrals. When Shakespeare wrote “though she be but little, she is fierce,” he was talking about Armenia.

Ghazanchetsots Cathedral was built sometime between 1868-1869 and it is one of our beautiful things. It’s something we’ll protect, something we’ll rebuild, something we’ll look after. Some are already starting.

This is Armenia. This is Artsakh. This is who we are. The people who preserve things, save things, and pull them out of the fires. We do this because it’s in our bones. Because the people of Artsakh have preserved their gardens, they’ve dusted the libraries, they’ve kept our mountains. Because we are our mountains. Human beings romanticize things–there’s a tendency to glorify tragedies and martyr victims. We love. We grieve. We get angry. We move forward. And in almost every area of our lives, we tend to look back longingly. We find ourselves in an endless struggle of longing, of wanting to belong, and we find these means through beautiful things. The world mourned Notre Dame collectively, Armenians at this very moment mourn alone. Our soldiers are our beautiful things. Our Cathedral is our beautiful thing. We look towards, we look ahead, and we connect.

We belong to a community that’s fixed broken things because we never want to let go. We mourn because it’s part of who we are. It will always be because Astkhashen, Shushi, Stepanakert, Gandzasar, every living corner of Artsakh–they’re all in us. They are in me. We are our mountains, our monuments, our streets, our trees, we are all of it. Artsakh is my mother’s home, it was her mother’s home before that, and my home today. It will always be. How we love, how we fight, how we preserve, how we will rebuild, and how I’ll personally ensure this is the first church my children remember, too.

We are the people we’ve lost. We are the stories we tell, we are the beautiful things we love and we are the embers that ignite us. We are the decisions to continue fighting. We are the ones who’ll forgive. We are connected through a larger, inexpressible beauty that shields us in the darkness and fuels us with the type of love that is infinite.

To help the Armenian community specifically right now, there are a few petitions available that can be signed. This should have never been a political debate.

If you have the means are willing to donate, these are some of the most reliable places right now.

If you are willing to share anything on social media, please use the

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