UNITED NATIONS (Combined Sources)—The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared the Armenian Khachkar (cross-stone) an intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding, News.am reported.
The decision to classify the unique Armenian artwork was made on Wednesday during the fifth session of an intergovernmental committee of states signed onto UNESCO’s Convention for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage.
According to News.am, forty-seven applications were submitted by twenty-nine countries seeking classification in the coveted list, which, according to the UNESCO website, helps to mobilize international cooperation and assistance to protect the cultural assets on its list.
Armenia’s application, the first submitted to the committee, presented the Armenian Khachkar as an ancient form of symbolism and craftsmanship unique and vital to Armenian national identity. Armenia’s report, titled. “Armenian Cross-Stones Art: Symbolism and Craftsmanship of Khachkars,” can be found on the UNESCO website here.
The’s application details the history of the Khachkar and its spiritual role, detailing its roots and development through the centuries and into modern times.
It describes Khachkars as “outdoor steles carved from stone” by craftspeople in Armenia and its Diaspora that are used as focal points for worship, memorial stones, and relics that “facilitate communication between the secular and divine.”
These hand-carved stones, it explains, are usually up to 1.5 meters in height with an ornamental cross carved on the symbol of a sun or the Armenian wheel of eternity and usually accompanied by carvings of saints, animals or other geometric designs.
The report provides a detailed account of the crafting process. “Khachkars are created usually using local stone and carved using chisel, die, sharp pens and hammers. The carvings are then ground using fine sand. Small breaks and rough surfaces are eliminated by plaster of clay or lime, and then painted,” it says.
The document also stresses the national character of the Khachkar craft, which is “transmitted through families or from master to apprentice, teaching the traditional methods and patterns, while encouraging regional distinctiveness and individual improvisation.”
According to the application, each Khachkar is completely unique, with its own pattern and design. There are more than 50,000 Khachkars in Armenia with thousands more in the global Diaspora and historic territories of Armenia in present day Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Iran.
Once the Khachkar is complete, the report continues, a small religious ceremony is held to consecrate the newly erected Khachkar. Once blessed and anointed, the Khachkar is believed to “possess holy powers and can provide help, protection, victory, long life, remembrance and mediation towards salvation of the soul,” the report explains.
According to ArmeniaNow.com, Azerbaijan complained to UNESCO over Armenia’s bid, demanded the name of its application be changed to “Symbolism and Craftsmanship of Armenian Khachkars.” Official Baku argued that the Khachkar was not only Armenian and thus the title of its application should reflect its Armenian origins. The Intergovernmental Committee reviewing the applications, however, did not accept Azerbaijan’s complaints.
A complete list of UNESCO’s intangible world heritage assets can be seen here.