Echmiadzin's snuffbox and the abandoned Albanian monastery of the ‘Three Younglings’ - a silent witness to the crime

05.03.24 16:00

The Azerbaijani army liberated the ancient Albanian shrines of Karabakh, including the monastery of 'Three Babies' (or 'Three Younglings' in reference to the three sprouts who were thrown into the furnace by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar for refusing to worship an idol, but were miraculously saved by an angel). In the armenian language, it is known as 'Yerek Mankunk'. This monastery was the residence of the Albanian Catholicos for a significant period. The Albanian Catholicos at Gandzasar monastery also claimed spiritual power over all Christians of the ancient Albanian Catholicosate. The conflict between the two opposing Albanian Catholicosates facilitated Echmiadzin's misappropriation of the Albanian Church's heritage.


However, for many Albanian Christians, 'Erek Mankunk' held the position of spiritual capital. This was true for both those who maintained their Albanian identity (Udin) and those who were subjected to 'Armenisation', including Karabakh Christians, particularly in the Agdera region. It is therefore surprising that the separatists of the self-proclaimed 'Artsakh' deliberately allowed the monastery of 'Yerek Mankunk' to fall into a state of disrepair. Although they restored the Gandzasar monastery, they did so with falsifications and new models, still referring to it as a 'Armenian' monastery.


During their illegal control over the 'Three younglings' monastery, the occupiers, separatists and Echmiadzin neglected to clean the dome and roof of the monastery from bushes and trees, which are destroying the ancient Albanian shrine. Similarly, the roof and dome of the Georgian Khujabi monastery, illegally seized by the Hayyas, is being destroyed by the same bushes and trees.


Many of the Karabakh Armenians left Karabakh despite Azerbaijan's offer to stay and accept its citizenship. Among them are assimilated descendants of Albanian Christians who may not even be aware of the monastery of 'Three Younglings'. Currently, Armenian nationalists are raising hysteria around the alleged 'threat of destruction' by Azerbaijan of allegedly 'Armenian', and in fact, once appropriated by Echmiadzin Albanian holy places. The Gandzasar and Khudaveng monasteries are mentioned, but there is no reference to the monastery of 'Three Younglings' or 'Yerek Mankunk'. This is not surprising, as it was these groups who caused the destruction of the monastery.


The reason for this attitude towards the monastery of 'Three Younglings' becomes clear upon reading Raffi's 'Melikstvo Khamsa', a work by the armenian writer and historian. In the book, Raffi describes the resettlement of the Armenians and the Christians of Karabakh (whom Raffi also refers to as 'Armenians') to Georgia during the final years of the independent Georgian kingdom under the last king, George XII.

It should be noted that Echmiadzin aimed to gain complete control over the Albanian Catholicosate and its parishioners, including those who had migrated to Georgia. The existence of two competing Albanian Catholicos (from Gandzasar and Erek Mankunka) facilitated this objective. However, in order to eliminate the 'more unruly' Albanian Catholicosate with its headquarters in 'Yerek Mankunka', Echmiadzin resorted to a heinous and treacherous act by assassinating the last Catholicos.


The following are direct quotes:


When King George proposed appointing Catholicos Sargis as the shepherd of the Karabakh refugees, Catholicos Ghukas categorically rejected the request. This caused a long disagreement between the Georgian king and Echmiadzin.


Upset by Echmiadzin's refusal, George announced that if his request was not fulfilled, he would not allow any representative of Echmiadzin to cross the border of Georgia and collect church tax from the local Armenians.


In order to prevent the complete isolation of the Armenians living in Georgia from Echmiadzin, Catholicos Ghukas was compelled to make concessions. He agreed to fulfil the king's request, but only on the condition that Catholicos Sargis would personally come to Echmiadzin to receive his position.


Catholicos Sargis travelled to Echmiadzin with his nephew Vardapet Baghdasar. Despite receiving a cold reception, Catholicos Ghukas appointed Sargis as the abbot of the Akhpat monastery and the shepherd of the Karabakh refugees in an effort to end the dispute with the Georgian king. Tsar Georgi confirmed this appointment with two letters, one addressed to the Karabakh refugees and the other to Sargis himself.


In Echmiadzin, Sargis was required to use the title and seal of archbishop and head of the diocese, rather than that of Catholicos, which he agreed to. However, his contradictions with the representatives of Echmiadzin in Tiflis were not fully resolved.


As soon as Sargis had settled his affairs, a new Catholicos arrived from Karabakh. This is Catholicos Simon the Younger from the Erek Mankunk monastery, who fled to Tiflis to escape the oppression of Ibrahim Khan.


However, the representatives of Echmiadzin in Tiflis did not treat him ceremoniously. Vardapet Hovhannes 'Shahagedan' had a tobacco box with two compartments: one for his personal use and the other for offering to those who were to be sent to the world of spirits. Catholicos Simon was predestined to use the snuff from this compartment. The following morning, he departed Tiflis and journeyed to Gandzak (Ganja - ed.). During his journey, the Catholicos lost his hair and unfortunately passed away upon his arrival in Gandzak. He was the final Catholicos of the Yerek Mankunk monastery.


The behaviour and policies of the spiritual leaders in Echmiadzin during this time could be seen as biased towards Christianity. It has been revealed that the last Albanian Catholicos was killed in a cruel manner. It is important to note that this information was not reported by a 'Turkish agent', but rather an armenian nationalist.


Incidentally, it is unfortunate that the last Georgian king did not keep his promise 'not to allow any representative of Etchmiadzin to cross the border of Georgia'. After his death, at the suggestion of the Russian authorities, representatives of Echmiadzin literally filled Georgian land, bringing with them Caucasian migrants from Iran and Turkey and appropriating many Georgian temples. They even now illegally but officially claim 442 Georgian churches.


Raffi's information also explains why Echmiadzin was able to subjugate the Albanian Catholicosate based in Gandzasar. They would have tried to disobey! Murder and poisoning, it seems, were a "favourite" method of "solving theological problems" of the Armenian hierarchs, just like their "elder brothers" in the Vatican.


It should be noted that the snuff-box responsible for poisoning the Albanian Catholicos of the 'Three Younglings' Simon was put into action before the arrival of the Russians in the South Caucasus. At that time, Echmiadzin had no influence in Georgia, and its representatives were at risk of being expelled from the country. However, this did not prevent the demise of the last Catholicos who visited Tbilisi.


After the Russian Empire annexed Georgia and Northern Azerbaijan, Echmiadzin was granted significant rights. Subsequently, the 'most ancient Christians' who adopted terrorist methods of struggle against their opponents became unavoidable. The only option left was to submit to Echmiadzin in the hope that the 'Christians' would spare their lives. This is what the surviving part of the clergy of the Albanian Catholicosate did after the 'encounter with the snuff-boxes'. Subsequently, the Albanian Catholicosate was unlawfully abolished by the Tsarist government at the recommendation of Echmiadzin, and all of its churches were transferred to Echmiadzin.


Therefore, it is unsurprising that Armenian nationalists and separatists did not rebuild the Albanian monastery of the 'Three Younglings' during their occupation of Karabakh. They also refused to take pilgrims to the site as a matter of principle. Additionally, Armenian falsifiers have been known to falsely attribute other Armenian or foreign churches to an earlier time period, but in the case of the 'Three Younglings' monastery, they have correctly identified its construction in the 17th century. They stated that the item was 'almost new' and did not hold any significant value, therefore it was to be destroyed.


But this monastery was a mute witness to the insidious and despicable crime of Echmiadzin. The last Albanian Catholicos, Simon, once left the monastery alive, but did not return because he "smelled the snuff box of Echmiadzin". If this monastery had been as active as Gandzasar during the occupation, pilgrims would have asked a natural but very awkward question - "and tell me, please, what became of the last Catholicos?".


After the de-occupation of Karabakh Azerbaijan will restore the ancient Albanian monastery ‘Three Younglings’ and undoubtedly the monastery will become one of the holy places for the Christians of Azerbaijan and a pearl of the cultural heritage of the country.




Alexandre Zakariadze

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