Shushi St. Hovhannes Mkrtich Church before and after destruction

Conference Participants Alarmed by Reports of Destruction of Armenian Religious Heritage in Areas under Azerbaijani Control


ECHMIADZIN ( — The conference on International Religious Freedom and Peace, convened at the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin in Armenia on September 9-10, brought a special focus to the promotion of freedom of religion and preservation of spiritual, cultural and historical heritage. As the Information Service at the Mother See reported, at the end of the conference the organizing Committee adopted a joint Communiqué.

The document reads:

“We re-affirm the principles of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international and regional human rights treaties. We claim this right, equally, for all people, of any faith or none, and regardless of nation, history or political circumstances — including for those Armenian prisoners of war still illegally held in captivity by Azerbaijan, for whose swift release and repatriation we appeal and pray, and for the people of Artsakh/Nagorno Karabakh  whose rights to free and peaceful assembly and association necessarily implicate the sacred character of human life,” read part of the meetings’ statement.

“We stress the critical importance of the protection of holy sites, places of worship and religious heritage for the effective realization of religious freedom, and for the promotion and preservation of peaceful relations among nations and communities. Protecting places of worship and safeguarding free access to them is essential for guaranteeing the exercise of religious freedom.”

The group’s statement added that it endorses the Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites, and in particular the following provisions and stipulations:

  • Holy sites shall be preserved for present and future generations, with dignity, integrity and respect for their name and confessional identity. They shall be preserved both as sites of religious significance, and as historical, cultural and ecological legacies of their communities and of humankind. They shall not be desecrated or damaged, nor shall religious communities be forcibly deprived of their holy sites; and
  • …all parties shall promote the preservation of holy sites, acknowledge the significance of holy sites of others as places of worship and sites of identity, respect the sensitivities of others with regard to these sites, and stress their spiritual value rather than any strategic, territorial or military significance. The attachment of a group to its holy site shall not be denied.

The statement added deep concern regarding the integrity of Armenian religious and cultural heritage in areas now under Azerbaijani control. “Our concern is greatly amplified by the well-substantiated reports of the systematic erasure of Armenian historical sites of world heritage significance in Djulfa, Nakhichevan, and elsewhere in Azerbaijan,” the statement continued.

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Therefore, the group called on the government of Azerbaijan to allow immediate and unimpeded international access to the areas of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as to sites in Nakhichevan and elsewhere in Azerbaijan, for the purpose of independent assessment and monitoring missions.

They also urged UNESCO to make an assessment mission to these areas an urgent priority.


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