Before its destruction, the Djulfa cemetery was the largest known Armenian cemetery. In 1990 the town’s cemetery, old Djulfa’s most important and valuable monument, was described by researcher Aivazyan as a partially destroyed forest of khatchkars – literally meaning, cross-stones.


The site of the main Djulfa cemetery was located on the western side of the settlement site of old Djulfa, and was spread out over three hills separated by small ravines; it occupied an area of about 1600 square meters, and once extended all the way to the Araxes River. Walls had been built above the cemetery as barriers to protect the tombstones from floods and avalanches from the nearby mountains.


After the “great deportation” of 1605, a traveler named Alexandre de Rhodes passed through the area and wrote that there were about 10,000 khatchkars, all in good condition.

Sir Robert Ker Porter, a British traveler and archaeologist who was in Djulfa at the beginning of the 19th century, wrote: “…I would not be exaggerating if I say that thousands of tombstones stand out in this final resting place of the Armenians of old. Truly in this particular area of the Orient, the various memorials which come to mind, suggest that one is walking in a vast cemetery….”

Aram Vruyr, who visited the cemetery in the beginning of the 20th century, wrote: “how even more mysterious is that deep and stony silence! Thousands of ancient marble spectres, standing in rows as if ready to attack. The battle has already taken place, since how many of these giants have fallen to the right and the left. Their rows extend far, very far….”

The seemingly countless khatchkars and ram-shaped tombstones, whether erect or slanting, fallen or broken into pieces, told a great deal about the past history and culture of Djulfa. In the words of M. Taghiadian, “the graves of the Jughaites stand like artillerymen … the tombstone on each grave is a green granite slab… decorated with amazing, masterfully carved reliefs. The deceased can tell about their ancestors’ glorious life better than the Jughaites who are living.”

A European scholar noted at the beginning of the last century that “[t]here are thousands of khatchkars here. Each khatchkar could very easily become a rare exhibit in any of the most famous European museums. The Europeans appreciate every single museum piece. If all of Europe’s millionaires were to enter the Hin Jugha forest of khatchkars and come out bankrupt, the forest would not be endangered in any way.”


From period writings it appears that, until the recent obliteration of Djulfa between 1998 and 2006, the greatest loss of tombstones occurred during the end of the 19th century and the initial decades of the 20th century at which time several thousand khatchkars from the cemetery were destroyed.

Gegham Ter-Galstian (Gnouni), an eyewitness to the construction of the railway line passing over the territory of Djulfa, described the circumstances in his article entitled “Excavations in Old Djulfa” submitted to the paper “Mshak” on November 2, 1904. Gnouni wrote that “after a repose of three centuries, old Djulfa appears before us today with all that was interesting in its past. There are excavation going on in old Djulfa now; however, they are not the same kind of excavations that were taking place in Ani for the past three months under the eminent scientist Marr. These excavations are accidental, accomplished at great speed, without foresight. The Ouloukhanlu-Julfa railway line is passing through the ruins of old Djulfa, tearing the splendid murals of its renowned cemetery to pieces. Today that railway, in its destructive tempo, passes through the Djulfa cemetery like a serpent, devastating everything that is sacred and consecrated. The engineers, as if full of intrigue and without regret, barbarously broke down the fine, artistically carved khatchkars of the cemetery and, like a ruthless enemy, scattered them right and left to make way for themselves… Some of the khatchkars taken from their places are scattered all over the Djulfa streets… After the fall of old Djulfa (in 1605) its famous cemetery still stands today proud and immaculate and a witness of its past prosperity and unlimited riches. But fortune was not satisfied with that: today, three centuries after Shah Abbas, another merciless hand has come to destroy the cemetery. And … the deafening explosions of dynamite give the spectator the impression that a second holocaust is breaking out over old Djulfa.”

In 1903-1904, after the construction of the railway line during which a very large number of khatchkars were destroyed, there were about 5000 surviving khatchkars either upright or fallen down. Later, in 1915, Vruyr and, in 1928-1929, S. Ter-Avetisian counted up to 3,000 khatchkars plus several thousand gabled, or flat, or ram-shaped tombstones.


According to Argam Aivazyan’s 1971-1973 investigations at the Djulfa cemetery, there were 462 khatchkars on the first hill (as he called it), either upright, fallen, or broken. On the second hill there were 1,672 khatchkars; and on the third hill there were 573 khatchkars. This made a total of 2,707. In addition to these khatchkars there were, in the main cemetery, more than a thousand ram-shaped, gabled, or flat tombstones. An additional 250 khatchkars were counted in the cemetery of the Amenaprkich monastery and in those of the town church and elsewhere.

The number of khatchkars and ram-shaped tombstones buried in the earth or in fragments, in the main cemetery and in all the others, was estimated to be more than 1,400.


Argam Aivazyan chronologically divided the khatchkars and the other tombstones and ram-shaped sculptures of the Djulfa cemetery into three basic periods. Those Monuments from the earliest period were mostly located on the first hill of the cemetery and were from the 9th to the 15th century. The khatchkars belonging to this group were small in size and without elaborate ornamental reliefs or inscriptions. From the intermediate period was a group of khatchkars created between the mid 15th century and the mid 16th century. The final period was the largest group of khatchkars in the Djulfa cemetery. These date from the middle of the 16th century until 1605.

In this last period, the art of the Djulfa khatchkar attained its highest level of creative perfection and complexity. They contained numerous lace-like and other delicate ornamental decoration: bas-reliefs and high-reliefs, real and imaginary ornamental motifs, with epigraphs in boloragir (a medieval Armenian letter-type).

Thus, the Djulfa khatchkars were not only important in terms of Armenian sculpture, but were also globally significant; they were the final stage in the development of medieval and renaissance period Armenian art.


It appears that from the end of the 15th century onwards, there was a kind of competition among Jughaites to erect better, more beautiful, and more unusual khatchkars to perpetuate the memory, and record for posterity, the worthy and typical characteristics of the deceased.

The gifted stonemasons of Djulfa, (of whom, unfortunately, only a few names are known – such as the two Grigors, Israel and Hayrapet, from the 16th-17th centuries), made certain changes to the traditional elements found in the composition of khatchkars, thus giving their work a unique appearance. By creatively adopting the traditions inherent in Armenian culture, stone masonry and miniature painting, and adding their own conceptions, they brought about the so-called Jugha style, an entirely new school of Armenian khatchkar art.

These stylistic developments were limited almost exclusively to Djulfa: they did not spread to other localities close to Djulfa (such as Agoulis, Shorut, or Abrakunis). In Djulfa the custom was to erect the khatchkars without pedestals as was the norm, instead they placed them directly on the ground in cemeteries as tombstones. All the khatchkars had, without exception, the same width from top to bottom, and had an average height of between 2 and 2.5 meters, which was proportionally much narrower than khatchkars from earlier periods. In their composition, the central space occupied by the large cross had greater bas-relief than those from other periods or schools as well.

Often there was not just one cross, but two or even four crosses, placed on altars. The use of several levels of reliefs was distinctive, and created an eye-catching play of light and shade. Various themes were to be found in the reliefs, including: portrayals of Christ and the Evangelists, the Virgin and Child, sphinxes, Golgotha, and a wide variety of abstract ornamentation that embellished the frames of these highly ornamented khatchkars.

The lower part of a khatchkar often included an inscription, an equestrian relief of St. George, the patron saint of freedom and justice, or even a relief portrait of the deceased.

The miniature presentations of Biblical, traditional, and other themes, with a high level of workmanship, imbued the sculptural art of Djulfa khatchkars with a particular charm. Another characteristic feature of the Djulfa cemetery was that, in addition to khatchkars, ram-shaped tombstones were also created. These were covered with a variety of beautiful ornamental decorations and reliefs, which represented everyday scenes. In addition to numerous pictorial representations of personages, there were motifs depicting animals, birds, plants, articles of daily use, musical instruments, tools, weapons, and untold numbers of geometrical, foliated, and other abstract motifs.

The carvings on the Djulfa khatchkars, because of the range of themes they covered, were particularly expressive pictorial documents that revealed the cultural life of Armenian people in the Middle Ages, especially in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The clarity and realism of the carvings resulted in depictions that were historically exact presentations of the past, offering important material for the study of the political and social life of medieval Armenian and neighboring cultures.As Russian researcher Yacobson summarized, “[t]he Jugha khatchkars are of unique value in the treasure house of sculpture created by humankind. They originated from the sources of the age-old art of sculpture in Armenia.”Once Medieval Armenia’s largest cemetery, Djulfa was erased by the Republic of Azerbaijan and replaced with a military rifle range by early 2006.

Thorough epigraphic studies of the Djulfa khatchkars have been conducted in full. In the 16th and 17th centuries the inscriptions on the khatchkars were usually carved in ouroutsik and boloragir Armenian letter-types and were often placed within ornamental borders. The origin of this style is connected with the art of writing and miniature painting found within Medieval Armenia. In addition to boloragir, the yerkatagir, sheghagir and notrgir letter-types were also used. A unique feature of Djulfa lithography is the special writing of the Armenian letter representing “A”. This helped to save time and space. Following the example of Djulfa, in the 16th -18th centuries, the unique method of writing this letter was also used in the lithographic art of Tsghna and Gagh, near Djulfa, and also in New Djulfa in Iran.

*This page is excerpted from “The Medieval City of Jugha” written by Tufts University Professor Lucy Der Manuelian and Art Historian Steven Sim based on texts taken from Argam Aivazyan, Djougha, Yerevan, 1990. Some of the paragraphs have been edited. Published in “The Destruction of Jugha and the Entire Armenian Cultural Heritage in Nakhijevan.” © 2006 Switzerland-Armenia Association, Bern.