Cellist plays to mourn cathedral shelled in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

13 October 2020, 15:13 | Updated: 16 October 2020, 09:21

Symbolic concert hall shelled amid Azerbaijan conflict
Symbolic concert hall shelled amid Azerbaijan conflict. Picture: Facebook/Music of Armenia/Sevak Avanesyan

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Amid the rubble of a devastated cathedral, once alive with music, a solo cellist plays.

A historic cathedral has been shelled amid the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh, region, where hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands displaced after two weeks of new fighting.

On the evening of Thursday 8 October, the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral’s dome was struck by a shell, which also severely damaged the building’s interior.

Also known as the Holy Saviour Cathedral, the historic music hall was being used to shelter women and children. Media reports say some children were inside at the time, with none wounded but many now suffering stress from the attack.

Hours later the cathedral, in the city of Shushi, was shelled once more, injuring two Russian journalists. One was hospitalised and is undergoing surgery.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry has accused Azerbaijan of the attack and denounced it as a “war crime”, calling it “a monstrous crime and a challenge to the civilised humankind”.

Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry denied shelling the cathedral, saying its army “doesn’t target historical, cultural and, especially, religious buildings and monuments.”

The cathedral has been severely damaged inside
The cathedral has been severely damaged inside. Picture: Getty

Since Thursday, images and video of the destruction have been circulating on social media.

American pianist and composer Daniel Decker, sharing shots of the ruined building on Facebook, wrote: “Shushi’s newly built culture and youth center before and after an Azerbaijani rocket attack. I gave a concert in this hall in Shushi, Artsakh in 2017. This breaks my heart!”

Read more: Crowd sings ‘Ave Maria’ outside burning Notre-Dame Cathedral >

Priest mourns devastated cathedral
Priest mourns devastated cathedral. Picture: Getty

In the aftermath of the explosion, Armenian-born cellist Sevak Avanesyan sat amid the rubble and played music to mourn the devastated building.

A poignant video of Avanesyan playing ‘Krunk’ by Armenian composing giant, Komitas, has been shared by more than 5,000 people on the platform.

Komitas "Krunk"

Sevak Avanesyan performs "Krunk" by Komitas in the ruined Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi, Artsakh Sevak Avanesyan - cellist

Posted by Music of Armenia on Monday, 12 October 2020

One of the cathedral’s priests, Father Andreas, told media of the anguish he felt at seeing the images. “I feel the pain that the walls of our beautiful cathedral are destroyed. I feel the pain that today the world does not react to what’s happening here and that our boys are dying defending our Motherland.”

Ghazanchetsots, which stands at 115 feet tall, was built in 1888 and already suffered damage during violence in 1920.

Artsakh Archbishop, Pargev Martirosyan, told ArmenPress: “They are bombarding our spiritual values.”

Shushi, known to Azeris as Shusha, was captured by Armenia in 1992 during the Nagorno-Karabakh war. On the day of Armenian victory, many Azeris mourned the loss of a town celebrated as the birthplace of Azeri composers, poets and musicians.