Armenian Church, Baku

Coordinates: 40°22′18″N 49°50′11″E / 40.371623°N 49.836466°E / 40.371623; 49.836466
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Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral
The church in April 2013
AffiliationArmenian Apostolic Church
Ecclesiastical or organizational statusNot functioning, book depository (library)[1]
Year consecrated1863-1869
Location38 Nizami Street, Baku, Azerbaijan[2]
Geographic coordinates40°22′18″N 49°50′11″E / 40.371623°N 49.836466°E / 40.371623; 49.836466
Architect(s)Karl Hippius
StyleArmenian architecture

Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church,[a] commonly referred to as the Armenian Church of Baku (Armenian: Բաքվի հայկական եկեղեցի, Bak’vi haykakan yekeghetsi; Azerbaijani: Bakı erməni kilsəsi), is a former Armenian Apostolic church near Fountains Square in central Baku, Azerbaijan. Completed in 1869, it was one of the two Armenian churches in Baku to survive the Soviet anti-religious campaign and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the 1990 pogrom and exodus of Baku Armenians when it was looted. It is now the only standing Armenian monument in Baku.[4]

Early history[edit]

The church was built between 1863 and 1869 by the design of Karl Hippius, a Baltic German architect.[5] The cornerstone was consecrated by vardapet Daniel Shahnazariants, the bishop of the diocese of Shamakhi, in June 1863. The construction was funded by Javad Melikiants (Melikov), a Baku-based Armenian philanthropist and founder of the city's first paraffin plant. The church was consecrated on May 4, 1869, by archbishop Andreas Andreasian. The Armenian Philanthropic Society of Baku founded a girls' school in 1866 and a library in 1870 next to the church.[3]

In 1903 the Russian government's decision to confiscate the properties of the Armenian church were widely opposed by Armenians. The church was the site of a clash between Russian Cossack soldiers and Armenian nationalist activists on September 2, 1903. A group of armed activists affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaks), led by Nikol Duman defended the church. The confrontation turned violent by night and resulted in 11 deaths and 45 injuries on the Armenian side.[6]

On September 15, 1918, the church was attacked and looted by the invading Ottoman forces in the aftermath of the Battle of Baku. On June 11, 1919, Ottoman-Azerbaijani forces sieged the church and conducted a search. After not finding any arms inside, the soldiers shot at the walls of the church.[7]

In 1920 it became the cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Diocese of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.[8] It survived through the Soviet state atheist policies of the 1920s and 1930s when all but two Armenian churches in Baku were destroyed.[8] The church was reopened in 1945 and became the seat of the diocese of Azerbaijan.[8] In the 1950s, the church underwest restoration and by 1956 five priests and ministers served at the cathedral. It had a choir,[9] which was composed of 25 people in 1970, when they visited Etchmiadzin.[10]

1990 pogrom and aftermath[edit]

The large Armenian population of Baku, over 200,000 people, begaing fleeing their homes following the Sumgait pogrom in February 1988 during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. They were targeted in a January 1990 pogrom.[4] Prior to the pogrom, serious damage to the church was caused by an arson attack on December 25, 1989, but it remained standing.[11] Catholicos Vazgen I, head of the Armenian Church, wrote to Yuri Khristoradnov [ru], the chairman of the Soviet Council for Religious Affairs, that "extremist Azeri nationalists" set fire to the church, which destroyed "valuable ecclesiastical books, holy paintings, and all ecclesiastical clothing."[12] Bill Keller described the church February 1990 as a "charred ruin." He quoted a local resident as saying that "firefighters and the police watched without intervening as vandals destroyed the building."[13] Human Rights Watch noted in 1995 that "Armenians have vanished from the streets of Baku" and the "Armenian church in Baku stand[s] empty."[14]

Current state[edit]

In August 2001 the cabinet of Azerbaijan listed the church as a historical and cultural monument of national importance.[15]

In his 2003 book Black Garden, Thomas de Waal wrote the church "remains a gutted shell", its "cross has been removed from the belfry" and that it was "used as a pool [billiard] hall." He noted that it remains the only visible Armenian monument in Baku.[4] Jason Thomson wrote in 2005 that it was "transformed into a billiard hall and tea house."[16] According to Azerbaijani sources, its library, consisting of 5,000 books and manuscripts, has been preserved.[17][18]

In 2002 the church was transferred to the Presidential Library,[19] which is located nearby, and now houses its archive.[1][2] In 2006 Azerbaijani Minister of Culture Abulfas Garayev stated that converting the church into a library is purposeful because there are not many Armenian Christians in Azerbaijan.[20] Emil Sanamyan, fellow at the USC Institute of Armenian Studies, argued that it is a depository and not a library, as there is no public access. According to Samir Huseynov, it is open to PhD students and other researchers upon request.[21][22]

Despite the aggressive state-sponsored anti-Armenian sentiment in Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijani authorities have presented the church as proof of their tolerance of minorities, especially the Armenians.[23] In a 2021 interview, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev claimed the church was repaired. "It is in the center of the city, and if anyone goes there, they will see that there are about 5,000 Armenian books there," he told CNN Türk.[24]

Visits by Armenians[edit]

In April 2010 Catholicos Karekin II, the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, visited the church and prayed and sang medieval hymns there. He expressed hope that the church will eventually "reopen its doors to believers."[25][26] It was the first time since 1990 that prayer was heard at the church.[27]

In April 2012 the Armenian delegation participating at a Euronest Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Baku visited the church.[28] In their visit in September 2017 the Armenian delegates found the church and its grounds closed.[29][30]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Armenian: Բաքվի Սուրբ Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ եկեղեցի, Bak’vi Surb Grigor Lusavorich yekeghetsi; Azerbaijani: Müqəddəs Maarifləndirici Qriqori Kilsəsi
  1. ^ a b Gamidov, Gamid (1 August 2011). "Толерантный Баку — часть IV: армянская церковь [Tolerant Baku - Part 4: Armenian Church]" (in Russian). Echo of Moscow. Archived from the original on 7 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b Musayeva, Günay (5 August 2011). "Erməni̇ Ki̇lsəsi̇ İbadətə Açilacaqmi?". Yeni Müsavat (in Azerbaijani). Musavat. Archived from the original on 6 April 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Stepanyan 2009, p. 47.
  4. ^ a b c de Waal 2003, p. 103.
  5. ^ Harutyunyan, Lilit (8 April 2018). "Судьба армянской церкви в Баку, или Зачем азербайджанки посещали Сурб Григор Лусаворич". Yerkramas (in Russian). Archived from the original on 14 April 2018.
  6. ^ Stepanyan 2009, p. 53.
  7. ^ Stepanyan 2009, pp. 53–54.
  8. ^ a b c Stepanyan 2009, p. 54.
  9. ^ Ter-Karapetyan, N. (1956). "Ադրբեջանի թեմն այսօր [The Diocese of Azerbaijan Today]". Etchmiadzin (in Armenian). 13 (11–12): 100-103. Archived from the original on 2022-12-11.
  10. ^ "Բաքվի հայոց Ս. Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ եկեղեցու երգչախումբը Մայր Աթոռում [The Choir of Baku's Armenian St. Grigor Lusavorich Church at the Mother See]". Etchmiadzin (in Armenian). 25 (5): 52–53. 1970. Archived from the original on 2022-12-11.
  11. ^ Stepanyan 2009, p. 55.
  12. ^ "Azeris Said Destroying Armenian Monuments". Daily Report: Soviet Union. Foreign Broadcast Information Service (via Armenpress): 79–80. 12 January 1990. (archived)
  13. ^ Keller, Bill (18 February 1990). "Soviet Union; A Once-Docile Azerbaijani City Bridles Under the Kremlin's Grip". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 10 July 2015.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  14. ^ "Armenia-Azerbaijan". Playing the "Communal Card": Communal Violence and Human Rights. New York: Human Rights Watch. 1995. p. 143.
  15. ^ "Dünya əhəmiyyətli daşınmaz tarix və mədəniyyət abidələrinin siyahısı" (PDF). (in Azerbaijani). Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-07-06. 3272. Müqəddəs Qriqori kilsəsi 1863-cu il N.Rəfibəyli küçəsi, 27
  16. ^ Thomson, Jason (2005). In the Shadow of Aliyev: Travels in Azerbaijan. Bennett & Bloom. p. 60. ISBN 9781898948728. ...the Armenian church of Gregory the Illuminator, built in the 1860s as the centre of worship for the Armenian Diocese of Baku, but closed and transformed into a billiard hall and tea house after being damaged by arsonists during the violence against Armenians of January 1990.
  17. ^ Loshak, Viktor; Gyulieva, Emilia (15 July 2007). "Большой прорыв [Big breath-thru]". Ogoniok (in Russian). Kommersant. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Мы же были поражены и тронуты, когда в бакинской библиотеке, которая расположена сейчас в бывшей армянской церкви, обнаружили хранящимися 5 тысяч томов на армянском языке.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  18. ^ Huseynov, Rizvan (6 July 2016). "В Баку предлагают открыть для богослужения армянскую церковь св. Григориса Лусаворича". (in Russian). В репортаже на телеканале ATV также выдвинута идея открыть для богослужения армянскую церковь св.Григориса Лусаворича в Баку, которая отреставрирована засчет государства и в ней хранятся сотни армянских книг и рукописей.
  19. ^ "Армянская церковь в Баку, возможно, станет библиотекой". (in Russian). Agency of Religious Information «Blagovest-Info». 19 April 2006. Archived from the original on 8 March 2017.
  20. ^ "Armenian Church in Baku May Be Converted to Library". Asbarez. (via Armenpress). 20 April 2006.
  21. ^ Sanamyan, Emil (September 23, 2017). "I think depository is more correct than library". Twitter. Archived from the original on 28 July 2021.
  22. ^ Huseynov, Samir (September 23, 2017). "yes, you are right, it is open only to Phds and professionals". Twitter. Archived from the original on 28 July 2021.
  23. ^ Maghakyan, Simon; Pickman, Sarah (February 18, 2019). "A Regime Conceals Its Erasure of Indigenous Armenian Culture". Hyperallergic. Archived from the original on 28 July 2021.
  24. ^ "The CNN Turk TV channel has interviewed Ilham Aliyev". Official web-site of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan. 14 August 2021. Archived from the original on 29 September 2022.
  25. ^ "Armenia Church Leader Meets Azerbaijani President". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 27 April 2010. Archived from the original on 1 December 2020.
  26. ^ "Catholicos of All Armenians meets Azerbaijan's president, visits Armenian church in Baku". ArmeniaNow. 28 April 2010. Archived from the original on 3 May 2010.
  27. ^ "After decades Armenian prayer and Armenian church psalm was heard in the Baku St. Grigor Lusavorich Armenian Church". Armenpress. 27 April 2010. Archived from the original on 16 May 2020.
  28. ^ "Հայկական պատվիրակությունը Բաքվում այցելել է Սուրբ Գրիգոր Լուսավորիչ եկեղեցի [Armenian delegation visited Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church in Baku]". (in Armenian). Armenian Ministry of Diaspora (via Armenpress). 5 April 2012. Archived from the original on 7 March 2017.
  29. ^ "Yerevan delegates banned from entering Armenian Church in Baku, territory closed". Armenpress. 23 September 2017. Archived from the original on 16 May 2020.
  30. ^ "Armenia MPs not permitted to enter Armenian church in Baku". 23 September 2017. Archived from the original on 3 November 2019.