This picture taken on October 8, 2020 shows the damaged Ghazanchetsots (Holy Savior) Cathedral in the historic city of Shusha, some 15 kilometers from the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh province's capital Stepanakert, after it was hit by a bomb as fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces spilled over today ahead of a first meeting of international mediators in Geneva. (AFP/Aris Messinis)
Armenia said Thursday that Azerbaijani forces had shelled a historic cathedral in Nagorno-Karabakh's city of Shusha, where AFP journalists saw the church had suffered serious damage.
There was a gaping hole in the roof of the Ghazanchetsots (Holy Savior) Cathedral, an iconic site for the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Rubble was strewn about the floor, pews were knocked over and the interior was covered in dust from parts of the building's limestone walls that had been hit. A section of its metallic roof had collapsed and fallen to the ground outside.
"Enemy Azerbaijan hit the symbol of Shushi -- the Cathedral of Ghazanchetsots," Armenian defense ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said on Telegram, using the Armenian name for the city.
"There is no military, nothing strategic here, how can you target a church?" local resident Simeon, who lives near the church, told AFP.
"It is a very important cathedral for Armenians.... God will be the judge."
The enormous cathedral, built between 1868 and 1887, is of major symbolic importance for Armenians.
It is the seat of the Diocese of Karabakh and suffered heavy damage during the 1990s war over the disputed region, when it was used as a storage site for Grad rockets by Azerbaijani forces.
A walled fortress overlooking the regional capital Stepanakert, Shusha was a strategic stronghold for Azerbaijani forces during the war. For months in the winter of 1992, rockets rained down on the regional capital Stepanakert from Shusha, killing thousands.
When separatist forces took control of Shusha and the rest of Karabakh, the cathedral was restored and became an important site for visitors from Armenia and the Armenian diaspora.
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