The restoration and preservation of Gohar Lady’s Upper Mosque (also known as Gohar Agha Upper Mosque) attests to Armenia’s and Nagorno-Karabakh’s respect for Iran’s cultural and historical heritage. The mosque in question is a religious complex and “madrasa” (seminary) building adjacent to another mosque in the city of Shushi of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), which came under the control of Azerbaijan after the 44-day war in 2020.
The Upper Mosque, the main Muslim religious building in Shushi, was constructed in the 1880s under the patronage of the daughter of Ibrahim Khan of Karabakh. The roof of the Upper Mosque was renovated with state subsidies in 2009 as part of the Shushi mosques’ rehabilitation program.
Large-scale rehabilitation work began in 2014 with the assistance of the Initiatives for Development of Armenia (IDeA) Foundation and the Revival of Oriental Historical Heritage Foundation. Work on the study and restoration of the mosque was completed in 2019 with the participation of the Armenian National Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites NGO (ICOMOS-Armenia), the Iranian architectural firm Part Saman Jahan, the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts, and Tourism Organization, and Lorenzo Yurina, lecturer of Polytechnic University of Milan.
Making an opening speech at the event dedicated to the completion of the Upper Mosque’s restoration, Nagorno-Karabakh’s Minister of Culture, Youth Affairs, and Tourism said that the mosque will function as an Armenian-Iranian scientific cultural center and will contribute to the strengthening of Armenian-Iranian relations.
As a Christian-Islamic cultural property, Gohar Lady’s Upper Mosque shows how deep Armenian-Iranian cultural ties go. The existence of the Iranian religious and cultural center in Shushi testifies to both the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s outlook toward civilizational values and the representation, preservation, and development of the cultural heritage of its neighbor state in step with its own regardless of ethnic, religious, and other differences.
In this context, Iran, too, has always demonstrated a matching civilized approach towards the Armenian cultural properties that are located on Iranian territory. Mutual respect and preservation efforts ensure that the cultural heritages of both are protected and serve as a vivid model for other countries in the region to follow.
The liberation of Shushi in 1992 was a watershed moment that paved the way for showcasing and acknowledging both Armenian and Iranian cultural properties with their unique historical, architectural, and aesthetic qualities.
Furthermore, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic undertook various initiatives from 1994 to 2020 to preserve tangible and intangible cultural heritage, but the war unleashed by the Republic of Azerbaijan against the Republic of Artsakh on September 27, 2020, and Baku’s post-war policies clearly targeted the historic Armenian presence in Nagorno-Karabakh and the territory’s cultural properties. The deliberate destruction of Nagorno-Karabakh’s cultural properties during and after the armed conflict has been qualified as a war crime in several international conventions and declarations. The most famous examples of such policies are the deliberate targeting and desecration of Holy Savior Ghazanchetsots Cathedral and St. John the Baptist (or Kanach Zham) church of Shushi, and the targeting of the Upper Mosque on November 1, 2020.
In conclusion, it should be emphasized that the promotion of the Armenian-Iranian resource-based cooperation policy can best fulfill the strategic task of preserving, recognizing, and popularizing their civilizational and cultural heritages.