The church of Tzitzernavank in the province of Berdzor/Lachin is one of the oldest Armenian Christian sanctuaries and an extraordinary example of an intact early Christian basilica. It is likely that the church was built in several stages between the fifth and seventh centuries.
Above: Listen to journalist Zohrab Urkoyan share his memories of living and worshipping at Tzitzernavank, up to the day before the 2020 war began.
A tribune, or upper gallery, still remains above its sanctuary. Such an eastern gallery is extraordinarily rare in ecclesiastical architecture. Who would be permitted to stand above the holiest area of the church? While the answer remains for scholars to explore, the gallery itself testifies to the distinctive character of the architecture in Karabakh.
Located near the top of a rocky hill, Tzitzernavank also offers evidence of continued settlement from the ancient to the early modern period. Additional structures and khachkars surround the basilica. The ruins of the Armenian cemetery are situated northwest of the church, on the northern slope of a hill.
The tombstones tell the story of the communities that lived and worshipped there, as do the inscriptions on the khachkars around the site. Bearing the names of parents, children, and other individuals, these inscriptions and the monuments on which they appear form a veritable history book of Armenian life in the region. A khachkar from before the tenth century has an Armenian inscription asking Christ to “Remember the Prayers of Your Servant, the Undeserving Grigor, for His Beloved Brother Azat.” Another khachkar, fastened into the wall of the vaulted refectory, reads: “The Holy Cross. Remember Guzal in Christ. In Year 1605.”