Armenian khachkars being vandalized by the Azerbaijani forces.

Azerbaijan to Eliminate Armenian Cultural Heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh

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YEREVAN — Azerbaijan resolutely is pursuing its cultural policy of threatening Armenian historical and cultural heritage in the occupied territories of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh), denying their links to Armenia.

On February 3, the Azerbaijani Minister of Culture Anar Karimov announced that all traces of Armenian heritage from cultural and historical sites would be removed in Nagorno-Karabakh. He claimed that they distort the original Albanian identity of the monuments.

Caucasian Albania is a former kingdom once located in modern-day Azerbaijan, inhabited by the Udi people. According to the minister, international experts familiar with Albanian culture and history will be invited to the working group.

Karimov’s announcement was condemned by the foreign ministries of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh and local non-governmental organizations, calling for action the international organizations, such as the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). On February 7, several Armenian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were the first to issue a statement as a response to Azerbaijani intentions.

“This action is obviously aimed at eliminating the Armenian cultural heritage of Artsakh, as a result of which the basis for the demands of the Artsakh Armenians to live on their land and the protection of their rights will be questioned,” they announced.

On December 7, 2021, the UN International Court of Justice announced its decision on Armenia’s claim against Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was obliged to take necessary measures to prevent and punish all acts of vandalism and desecration committed against the Armenian cultural heritage, including churches, other religious places, monuments and graves. However, the Azerbaijani government’s actions violate the UN declaration.

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In the light of recent news that UNESCO will soon send a delegation to Nagorno-Karabakh, the issue of protecting the Armenian heritage has become relevant again.

“We continue working to send a UNESCO Independent Technical Mission within the framework of the 1954 Convention. We hope that it will be possible soon, but for the moment, the necessary conditions are not in place. So discussions are still ongoing,” said Thomas Mallard, press officer at UNESCO, to Public Radio of Armenia.

Armine Hayrapetyan, the director of the Artsakh State Department of Historic Environment Protection, emphasized that the Azerbaijani tendency of desecrating Armenian sites in Nagorno-Karabakh had been going on for many decades.

“Azerbaijan resolutely pursues its cultural policy of de-Armenianization of historical and cultural heritage in Artsakh which was initiated back in the Soviet times,” she said. “Armenian churches in the lists of the Council of Ministers of Culture of Azerbaijan were already represented as Albanian.”

The Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi shelled by the Azerbaijanis

Hayrapetyan assured that Azerbaijan’s long-term goal is erasing all the traces of Armenian presence in Artsakh.

“Azerbaijan is creating a commission which will consist of Azerbaijani and international members, and we can guess that there will be foreign experts whom they succeeded to corrupt,” Hayrapetyan said, adding, “it gives them the freedom to distort Armenian cultural sites to ‘restore the historical justice.’”

In the aftermath of the 2020 war, the Artsakh Ministry of Culture, in collaboration with the Foreign Ministry, attempted to reach out to UNESCO, the UN Office, and the French Senate with the request of reviewing the Azerbaijani attitude towards the Armenian monuments and churches in Nagorno-Karabakh, but they got no response. Azerbaijan rejected UNESCO’s previous attempts to inspect the area. (Azerbaijan’s First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva is a Goodwill Ambassador with UNESCO.)

Now Armenia is anticipating the next UNESCO visit, which will allow them to involve local experts in their group to maintain a balance of opinions.

In response to the Armenian criticism, Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture announced that “Azerbaijan has always been respectful for its historical and cultural heritage, regardless of religious and ethnic state. Restoration of mosques along with two Christian churches in Shusha can be considered a vivid example of this.”

However, Azerbaijani media users keep sharing up-to-date records of new destructed sites or information on the Albanian pilgrimages to Armenian churches.

“The most frustrating thing is that Robert Mobili, the head of Albanian-Udi community in Azerbaijan, claims that Armenians distorted the Albanian-Udi churches and located khachkars to falsify their origins,” stated Hayrapetyan.

According to data provided by the Artsakh State Department of Historic Environment Protection, there is adequate evidence of destroyed cultural heritage in the villages of Talish, Azokh, Drakhtik, Mokhrenes, Mataghis, Aknaghbyur, Sghnakh, Hin Tagher, and others. The first Nagorno-Karabakh War and World War II memorials are demolished more actively. The number of destroyed khachkars and graves is also growing.

“The tendency towards vandalism in villages makes us assume that it is implemented in most villages despite the lack of facts and proofs,” said Hayrapetyan.

Zoravor Surb Astvatsatsin completely destroyed in Mekhakavan (Jabrail)

The department initiated its struggle to preserve the cultural heritage and raise awareness about the Armenian sites through social media. The Artsakh Monuments page on Facebook showcases the monuments from occupied territories of Artsakh with a particular focus on those targeted by Azerbaijan and Albanians. On February 15, their website went live to strengthen the Armenian arsenal on the information war.

Sergey Shahverdyan, the chairman of the Public Council for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Artsakh, sees the solution in mobilizing all the government resources, including propaganda, to counter Azerbaijan’s claims towards the cultural and historical sites in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“We should publicly criticize each act of vandalism and keep addressing to the UNESCO and other organizations with the demand to take practical measures,” he said.

Shahverdyan also emphasized that it’s essential to implement an expert evaluation of the exhibits left in museums and private collections to understand the precise value of artworks now under Azerbaijani control. Regarding the churches in Shushi, Shahverdyan suggested preparing brochures, video materials, presentations to show that the churches of Ghazanchetsots and Kanach Zham in Shushi are Armenian.

“Azerbaijan continues to insist on the Orthodox origin of Kanach Zham and Ghazanchetsots, unlike all the others, which it plans to de-Armenianize through the so-called ‘Albanization,’” Shahverdyan said.

To see a video of Azerbaijani military desecrating the Church of Surb Astvatsatsin in the village of Karin Tak, click on https://www.facebook.com/100067818338897/videos/pcb.271279208476022/476915690715164.

 

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