Poland discovers the Christian heritage of Caucasian Albania...

31.05.24 22:10

On the initiative of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Poland, with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, the International Development Assistance Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan State Information Agency and the Baku International Centre for Multiculturalism, a photo exhibition entitled "Christian Heritage in the Multicultural Identity of Azerbaijan" was held in front of the Church of St. John the Baptist on Warsaw's Main Street.


The opening of the exhibition was attended by Ambassador Nargiza Gurbanova, Chairman of the Albano-Udi Christian Community Robert Mobili, Chairman of the Christian Community 'Bible Society of Azerbaijan' Rasim Khalilov, Archpriest Methodius Efendiyev, Representative of the Catholic Community of Azerbaijan Kamalakannan Selvakumar, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Warsaw Michal Janocha, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland Pawel Kowal, representatives of various Polish institutions, as well as members of the Azerbaijani diaspora and students.


Ambassador Nargiza Gurbanova, who opened the event, spoke about the traditions of multiculturalism in Azerbaijan and said that historically, representatives of different religions and peoples have lived side by side in peace and harmony in the country. The diplomat added that Christianity began to spread in Azerbaijan when followers of Jesus Christ and the apostles travelled to Caucasian Albania, an ancient Azerbaijani state. According to them, Christianity here is linked to the names of the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus, as well as Elisha, a disciple of Thaddeus.


The ministry of the apostle Elisha in the village of Kish in the Sheki district gave birth to the first Christian church in the Caucasus, which became known as the mother of the Eastern churches," the diplomat said. Later, Christian communities appeared in other parts of Caucasian Albania, forming the Albanian Church. Thus, the Albanian Church is considered one of the oldest churches not only in the Caucasus but also in the whole Christian world," the ambassador stressed. She noted that the descendants of the first Christians of Caucasian Albania, the Udins, who are the heirs of the Albanian Apostolic Church and live in the Gabala district, have preserved their religion and traditions until today.


But in the past, with the influx of Armenian settlers into the Caucasus, Echmiadzin (the Armenian Apostolic Church) has been deliberately engaged in the total appropriation of both the Georgian and Albanian Christian heritage in the Caucasus. And while the Georgian Orthodox Church managed to survive (although Armenian religious organisations, the same Echmiadzin, still lay claim to hundreds of Georgian churches), the fate of the heritage of Caucasian Albania was much sadder.


Having absorbed the ancient ecclesiastical organisation of the Albanian Catholicos, Echmiadzin has generally tried to erase from historical memory any mention or hint of the independence of the Church of Caucasian Albania, declaring all its cultural heritage and all its temples as Armenian or 'Armenian'. And this historical lie is actively propagated today in Europe and the West.


The appropriation of the history and heritage of Caucasian Albania is also necessary for Echmiadzin and Armenian nationalists to assert their claims to Azerbaijani Karabakh. They're now shouting all over the world that Azerbaijan has allegedly 'seized' and 'threatened' Armenian churches in Nagorno-Karabakh. This is although Azerbaijan, after de-occupying its territories, returned its Christian heritage, which historically belonged to Caucasian Albania.


We count the statehood of "Artsakh" from the first half of the 5th century, after the fall of the Armenian royalty, and in eastern Armenia - "Artsakh", Utica, Paytakaran and on the left bank of the Kura River - the Armenian royalty with its king and Catholicos was established. Such historical nonsense was spread by Archbishop Pargev Martirosyan, who from 1988 to 2020, illegally in the Azerbaijani lands of Karabakh occupied by Armenia, headed the so-called "Diocese of Artsakh".


Of course, Armenian nationalists and representatives of Echmiadzin, who claim that the Albanian Catholicosate was 'Armenian' everywhere, deliberately omitting that today there is a legitimate heir to the Christian heritage of Caucasian Albania: the Albanian-Udin Christian Community. The Albano-Udin Christian community has nothing to do with the Armenians. At the opening of the exhibition in Warsaw, Robert Mobili, Chairman of the Albanian-Udin Christian Religious Community, told the guests about the history of the Albanian Church, the existing Albanian churches in different regions of Azerbaijan, the Udins, who are the heirs of the ancient Albanians, and their material cultural heritage.


After the liberation of Karabakh and its return to Azerbaijani control, many in Azerbaijani society, including Christians, wondered "whether the stage has not come for the preparation of documents to restore the rights of the Albanian Church, namely the revival of its ancient heritage by returning it to the status of autocephaly, especially in the presence of the Albanian-Udin Christian community in Azerbaijan? However, to revive the ancient Albanian Catholicosate, it is necessary to work internationally, especially in Christian countries with their traditions.


Poland is one of these countries. The majority of its population is Catholic, but there is also the Orthodox autocephalous Polish Orthodox Church, whose voice, together with the voices of other local Orthodox Churches, will be important for the revival of the autocephalous Albanian Church. To this end, it is necessary to inform Polish society about the Christian heritage of Caucasian Albania.


According to Bishop Michal Janocha of the Catholic Archdiocese of Warsaw, the exhibition "Christian Heritage in Azerbaijan's Multicultural Identity" has "educational value", as it deals with "a topic completely unknown in Poland: how the Albanian Church was a powerful Christian community in the territory of modern Azerbaijan, a church with an apostolic tradition, the starting point of Christianity in this territory". Michal Janocha also recalled his visit to Azerbaijan in September 2022 as part of a delegation of Polish clergy. He shared his impressions of the atmosphere of religious solidarity and tolerance in Azerbaijan.


The Executive Director of the International Centre for Multiculturalism, Ravan Hasanov, said it was no coincidence that the exhibition's opening dedicated to Azerbaijan's Christian heritage was held in Warsaw. He underlined the historical ties between Poland and Azerbaijan, stressing that Poles played a vital role in the development of the oil industry, in architectural construction and on the way to Azerbaijan's independence.


Unfortunately, according to Gavan Hasanov, "there is not enough information about Azerbaijan's pre-Islamic heritage in the West". At first glance, the ancient Christianity of Caucasian Albania and the ancient history of Azerbaijan have nothing to do with Poland. However, one should not jump to conclusions.


An impartial study of the historical facts (which goes beyond the scope of the exhibition, but is very relevant) shows many similarities in the historical roots of Poland and Azerbaijan. However, to do so, it is necessary to eliminate several stereotypes.


The stereotypes and the lie that "the Armenians are the only Christian nation in the East" are what the Armenian falsifiers focus on. They have instilled in the minds of many Europeans, especially Poles, the idea of an almost 'Armenian monopoly' over the entire Christian heritage of the Eastern countries.


Even today, many people from Poland who come to Georgia for the first time 'discover' a unique Christian country in the Caucasus. And Georgian Christian culture has nothing to do with the mythical 'ancient great Armenia'.


And the fact that there was also a Christian Caucasian Albania and that it has a rich cultural heritage, which also has nothing to do with the Armenians (only appropriated by them in their time), many Poles have yet to learn.


Going deeper, even the history of Poland, especially the ancient history, is heavily mythologised. One gets the impression that it was written in about the same 'research institute' as the history of the 'ancient Armenians'. With one exception - until the first historically reliable prince of Poland, Mieszko, who ruled in the 10th century - history is officially considered 'hypothetical' and 'based on legends'. Before Mieszko, the earlier rulers of Poland were officially considered 'legends' and not 'historical figures' like the Armenians.


In any case, the early centuries of this 'legendary' Polish history are strikingly different from what is known from chronicles and other data from the history of Kievan Rus', Hungary and other states. And to turn these 'legends' into historical facts is one of the tasks of Polish historiography. Poland's experience in the fight against Armenian historical falsifications in the South Caucasus can be of great help in the search for historical truth.


The most interesting thing is that in this official 'legendary' Polish history the 'centre' of the future Polish state is placed 'in the west', in the area of present-day Poznan. This was fully in line with the Eurocentric and 'West-centric' view of history, according to which culture and statehood 'came from the West' and then 'cultivated' the supposedly originally 'wild eastern semi-Asian territories', from which nothing good was supposed to come except 'devastating raids by wild nomads'.


However, in addition to the 'official' Eurocentric view of history now accepted in Poland, there was another, much closer to the historical truth. It was called 'Sarmatism' and, according to it, Polish statehood was founded not by Slavs but by 'Sarmatians'. Since 'Sarmatians' in the Middle Ages were called Turkic peoples, 'Sarmatism' is nothing but an 'Eastern' or Turkic concept of the origin of the Polish state.


Apparently, this historical concept is not so far from the truth. In any case, not only the statehood of Bulgaria and Hungary (which in the Middle Ages was called 'Turkey') had Turkic roots, but serious scholars believe that Kievan Rus as a state came from the Turkic tribe of Kayi.


Moreover, according to recent excavations by Polish archaeologists A. Koperski and M. Parczewski, who discovered a cemetery with typical "steppe" burials in the eastern Polish town of Przemysl (Peremyshl), in the first half of the 10th century there was a zone of settlement of steppe peoples in the area of Peremyshl. Archaeologists assumed that one of the groups of Magyars (Hungarians) lived here. However, as we mentioned above, the Turkic people participated in the ethnogenesis of the Hungarian nation, and the Hungarian statehood was Turkic, so it is quite possible that these were "Turkic" settlements, which is fully consistent with the "Sarmatian" concept of the origin of the Polish state.


From the East, from the Turkic peoples, the countries of Eastern Europe received not only state organisation. Much more important is the spiritual relationship. Here, too, falsifiers and 'compilers of ancient history' have for a long time diligently 'distracted' from the truth. Those who 'wrote history' in the interests of the 'Vatican' reduced everything to the reception of Christianity from Rome by the peoples of Eastern Europe, the same Poles. Others tried to find the 'Christian roots' in 'Byzantium', in Constantinople.


But apart from Rome and Constantinople, there were other Christian spiritual centres in ancient times. These were ancient Christian Georgia (Kartli or Iberia) and ancient Christian Caucasian Albania. How the Christianity of Caucasian Albania and Turkic peoples was connected with Poland and how 'Christians from the East', including those from the Caucasus, took part in Polish history is the subject of a separate study.


Today, historians already have many facts to prove the connection between Poland and the legacy of the Albanian Catholicosate. In particular, the Armenian Kipchaks who lived in Poland and were connected with the Church of Caucasian Albania (even though they fell under the spiritual oppression of the Armenian Monophysites) and the preserved monuments in the Armenian Kipchak language are the subject of a separate study. This also suggests that the 'Armenian-centred' mythologized in the East needs to be reconsidered.



George Mazniashvili


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