Azerbaijani president, first lady visit Albanian Church of Blessed Virgin Mary in Nij settlement, Gabala (PHOTO)

Azerbaijani president, first lady visit Albanian Church of Blessed Virgin Mary in Nij settlement, Gabala (PHOTO)

BAKU, Azerbaijan, May 16


President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, and their daughter Leyla Aliyeva have visited the Albanian Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary located in Nij settlement of Gabala district.

The President and the First Lady were informed about the work done in the church.

- The restoration of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary was started by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation in 2019 and completed during the 44-day war in November 2020. Please, you can familiarize yourself with its initial state.

President Ilham Aliyev: Was it in this condition?

- Yes.

President Ilham Aliyev: There was not even a dome, it had collapsed.

- Yes, it had collapsed. During the reconstruction, about 50 percent of the bricks and stones of this structure were restored.

President Ilham Aliyev: Hello.

- Welcome, our dear President. Welcome to the Church of the Virgin Mary. May Allah protect you, may Allah protect Azerbaijan.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, thank you very much!

- The attached land plot has also been landscaped, the territory has been fenced, a spring and three ponds have been created.

President Ilham Aliyev: Where is the spring? Here?

- Yes.

President Ilham Aliyev: Hello.

- Hello, welcome, Mr. President.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you.

- The ceiling and floor of the church have been replaced. The lower part of the church was built in the 12th century. You can also see the ruins here. We have restored some of them. The construction of the second part was continued in 1898.

President Ilham Aliyev: It was in a ruined state.

- It was in very bad condition. During the restoration, work was carried out in accordance with the architecture of Athens. Neither the interior nor the exterior was damaged. We tried to use the building materials that were used in the construction at that time.

President Ilham Aliyev: So was it built from these bricks at that time?

- Yes, it was built in 1898. We replaced about 50 percent of these bricks, but we used old bricks.

President Ilham Aliyev: Leyla told me that when she was here, the issue of this church was raised during the conversation. And as soon as she arrived in Baku, she immediately raised this issue, after which the restoration work was started. As you know, the opening of this church took place during the second Karabakh war.

- Yes, it was opened on 7 November.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, the opening took place again.

- Our wise President, Leyla Aliyeva is not only your daughter but also our daughter, the daughter of the Udi. Indeed, she granted us this church after one request of ours. Despite the pandemic and the 44-day war, restoration did not stop for a single day. Representatives of nine ethnicities worked here. Thank you so much. Thank you.

President Ilham Aliyev: The Udi people have a great historical heritage. You are performing divine services both in the territory of Gabala district and, at the same time, on liberated lands – both in Khudavang and Aghoghlan. There are also other temples belonging to the Udi people there. Most of them are either in a ruined or dilapidated condition. Therefore, we will restore them too. You will be able to visit those churches too. You have been to Khudavang several times.

- We have. We returned from Lachin, from the Aghoghlan church on 11 May. Mr. President, we have traveled seven times.

President Ilham Aliyev: Very good, you will continue to travel there because this is a great historical heritage, our heritage. Representatives of the Udi people performed at the “Kharibulbul” festival in Shusha recently, and your representative was there as well. This shows again that all peoples live like one family in Azerbaijan. On the first day of the “Kharibulbul” festival, which was organized in Shusha after a long break, representatives of the peoples living in Azerbaijan took the stage and demonstrated their culture. At the same time, we are also demonstrating our unity. The restoration of this church also embodies our unity.

- Yes, thanks to the staff of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation. We express our gratitude to you. Excellent restoration work has been done. We congratulate you on the holiday.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you. Let's go and take a look.

- Mr. President, since some of the stones here have survived from the 12th century ...

President Ilham Aliyev: Ancient stones.

- Yes, they are indeed ancient stones. We found stones in the Turyanchay river and processed them. The same applies to the bricks. The chandeliers and lighting – everything has been created according to the ancient concept.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, it is finished in that style.

- Mr. President, the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the largest cathedral church in Azerbaijan. The decoration of Albanian churches was often not very rich.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, it was rather simple.

- It was simple. There were no icons and everything was very simple.

President Ilham Aliyev: How was it used during the Soviet era?

- In the time of collective farms, it was a hazelnut warehouse.

President Ilham Aliyev: Then, during the years of independence, one church was restored here.

- Yes, when Thor Heyerdahl came here, one church was restored by the Ministry of Culture and a Norwegian humanitarian organization. That church was restored during the times of the national leader. And this church was restored by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation with the support of our Leyla Aliyeva.

President Ilham Aliyev: The church in Kish village seems to be smaller than this one.

- It is very small, it is the first church and is small. It was the very first and most ancient church. Mr. President, we have restored the temple in accordance with the Albanian and Orthodox concepts. The Armenians had appropriated it. The altar area in Armenian Gregorian churches is usually higher, while in Albanian churches it consists of three steps. This is the key element in architecture. When we opened it, we saw that the Armenians had walled it up. We have cleared everything, the Albanian cross.

President Ilham Aliyev: Is this an Albanian cross?

- Yes, the altar was also covered with cement. All patterns on the outside were concealed. In general, Albanian churches are different from Armenian ones. The symbols are also different.

President Ilham Aliyev: I know that in the 19th century they wanted to appropriate the entire Albanian historical heritage.

- They tried.

President Ilham Aliyev: They took it away from you.

- Yes, we simply refused and preserved it. They wanted to Armenianize us too, they wanted to Armenianize us as an ethnicity.

President Ilham Aliyev: I know that this was their goal.

- Yes, they tried to absorb us.

President Ilham Aliyev: Yes they did, I know that.

- Mr. President, I want to show you a very interesting fragment. The manuscripts found here have been translated by the most famous linguists in the world. This is the Albanian alphabet.

President Ilham Aliyev: Which one, this?

- Yes, you see, it is very interesting. It has been translated into nine languages based on the Udi language. This indicates that the Albanians had their own alphabet before the Armenian church. This has already been confirmed by well-known European scientists. Each page is original. I have been to Sinai myself. I saw it. Famous linguists give names, you see – this is the original.

President Ilham Aliyev: It is necessary to promote and study this alphabet.

- Scientists have translated this book from the original into nine languages.

President Ilham Aliyev: You should, together with the Ministry of Culture, publish books in this alphabet now, so that children also know this alphabet and it can be restored. Because this alphabet is hardly being used. Therefore, we must restore it – together with the Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Culture and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

- We have provided a copy.

President Ilham Aliyev: Take this up, let books be published in this alphabet. And let children know this alphabet so that we can restore it.

- Mr. President, our holy book was first written into the Latin alphabet, and we are presenting it to you. This is the first time, we have not done a presentation yet. This is a holy book.

President Ilham Aliyev: In Albanian?

- Yes, we have translated it ourselves. It has been translated by Rafig himself. We have used 49 letters here.

President Ilham Aliyev: Does it consist of 49 letters?

- The ancient language consists of 52, but we used 49 to make it easier to work on a computer. Here in our schools, up to the 4th grade, native language lessons are conducted based on the Latin alphabet.

President Ilham Aliyev: It is very good, the Albanian language should live on and all Udis should know it.

- All the Udis know it. They also speak perfect Azerbaijani.

President Ilham Aliyev: This goes without saying – after all, Azerbaijani is the state language. But the Albanian language should be widely used not only in everyday life but also here, among the Udis.

- We publish holy books, we publish calendars. We are gradually recovering it.

President Ilham Aliyev: Very good!

- Mr. President, four days after you visited the Aghdam mosque on 24 November, I was there too, together with Robert. You declared to the whole world that we would restore churches, mosques and monasteries in the liberated lands and the Udi brothers would come here. You breathed life into us. We went there, Mr. President. We went to Khojavand and Tugh. As you said, the brothers would come here and so we did.

President Ilham Aliyev: Right, historical justice is also being restored.

- We wish you good health and long life. May Allah bless you and your family. We always pray in this church, in our Elisha church and in Karabakh.

President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you, please pass my greetings to all our Udi brothers, all representatives of the community. You are well aware that this is not my first visit here – I have come here for the third time. When I came here the second time, the opening of a school took place.

- Yes, we remember that very well. We visited the school.

President Ilham Aliyev: I have just been told that another school needs renovation. The school built in 1968 is in disrepair. I will give this instruction too. An order will be signed to restore this school. All necessary work will be done. I am always by your side.

- Thank you very much indeed. We have two schools that are over 150 years old.

President Ilham Aliyev: Two schools?

- Yes. We have a beautiful ethnographic museum.

President Ilham Aliyev: Are two schools in need of renovation or one? I was informed about school No. 4.

- Two.

President Ilham Aliyev: What is the other one?

- School No. 1.

President Ilham Aliyev: So 1 and 4.

- Yes. There is a church in the courtyard of this school. But school No. 1 is over 150 years old.

President Ilham Aliyev: What is the state of the other school?

- It is also quite poor.

First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva: I will order that it be repaired through the Heydar Aliyev Foundation.

- One school was built in 1972. Mr. President, in the future our youth will need a sports center.

President Ilham Aliyev: We will arrange that. Is there a place in the village?

- There is a place in the courtyard of this school.

President Ilham Aliyev: Is this school No. 1?

- Yes.

President Ilham Aliyev: The renovation of school No. 1 and work related to the sports center will probably be carried out by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, while repairs at school No. 4 will be carried out by the state.

- In the courtyard of that church.

President Ilham Aliyev: In the courtyard of the church I have visited?

- Yes.

President Ilham Aliyev: Let's go and take a look.

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