Azerbaijan International

Spring 2003 (11.1)

About the Kish Church Reconstruction Project

The archaeological team who did excavation work on the Kish Church in summer 2000.
Left: The archaeological team who did excavation work on the Kish Church, near Shaki, in summer 2000.

Azerbaijan has numerous old church buildings that date back to the period when Christianity existed in the region. One such church is located in the village of Kish, near Shaki, in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, about five hours northwest from Baku. Once the Kish Church Museum opens in late September 2003, tourists visiting Azerbaijan should consider putting the village of Kish on their "must-see" list for any visit to Shaki and the western part of Azerbaijan. Radiocarbon analysis has been made of various objects on the site: the cultic site found beneath the altar of the church dates to about 3000 B.C., while the Church construction itself dates to about the 12th century (990-1160 A.D.).

The idea for the Kish Project was conceived by Bjørn Wegge of Norwegian Humanitarian Enterprise. In the mid-1990s, he frequently visited Azerbaijan to assess the refugee situation and offer humanitarian assistance to victims of the Armenian-Azerbaijani war over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The idea was to restore the neglected and abandoned Kish Church and turn it into a museum dedicated to the early church history of Caucasus Albania. Before reconstruction of the building could begin, archaeologists were consulted to establish the date of the church and determine if there had been any earlier stages of construction or use, as is often true of religious sites.

The Kish Project began in 2000 and is scheduled to be completed by late 2003. Funding for the project was provided by the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Reconstruction has been a joint project between Baku State University for Architecture and Construction and the Norwegian Humanitarian Enterprise. The project is being carried out under the direction of Dr. Gulchohra Mammadova, Rector of the University for Architecture and Construction, who is also a Member of Parliament.

Archaeological Team
Dr. Vilayat Karimov of Baku's Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography served as the Director of Excavations. Archaeologists included Aliya Garahmadova of the same institute and Suseela C. Y. Storfjell of the University of Sheffield, England. The Archaeological Advisor for the project was J. Bjørnar Storfjell, who hails from Tromsø, Norway and currently directs the Thor Heyerdahl Research Centre in Aylesbury, England. The staff of archaeologists was assisted by a group of workers led by local archaeologist Nasib Mukhtarov.

The date for the opening ceremony of the Kish Church historic monument is planned for the weekend of September 26-28, 2003. For more information about the event, contact Tore Seierstad, Country Director of Norwegian Humanitarian Enterprise in Baku. Tel: (994-12) 93-62-19 or or the Norwegian Embassy in Baku at Tel: (994-12) 97-43-25 or

For an earlier description of the project, see J. Bjørnar Storfjell's article, "The Kish Church-Digging Up History: Norwegians Help Restore Ancient Church" in AI 8.4 (Winter 2000). Search at

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