Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Western) being interviewed during a recess at the conference

‘Nagorno-Karabakh: Today and Tomorrow’ Conference in Los Angeles Focuses on Lost Heritage

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LOS ANGELES — The Artsakh Heritage Committee of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of North America held an international conference on human and cultural security prospects for Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh in Los Angeles on November 11-13, 2022 that featured top experts from across the world to discuss cultural preservation, geopolitics, diplomacy, and legal matters concerning Armenian existence.

“We thank the esteemed experts that travelled from across the USA, Armenia, Austria, Bolivia, Georgia, and the United Kingdom for the ‘Nagorno-Karabakh: Today and Tomorrow’ conference to discuss the present and future of Artsakh’s religious heritage and living culture,” remarked Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, the Diocesan Primate. “We are also grateful to the many individuals and institutions, particularly conference host Woodbury University and Armenian Studies centers from various universities, for making this gathering possible,” said the archbishop.

“The aftermath of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war has left Armenian communities, including in the Diaspora, feeling confused, helpless, and hopeless,” remarked conference chair Simon Maghakyan. “This is why we brought together expert practitioners and stakeholders in a Chatham House-like intimate environment to understand what can be done to ensure sustainable human and cultural security for Artsakh,” continued Maghakyan, who is a Denver-based investigative researcher and cultural heritage defender.

The speakers at the conference

The Conference Report that summarized conference discussions and findings was recorded for public dissemination.

It can be viewed on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm4p3rTMR2E

A communiqué, summarizing recommendations and next steps, was adopted by conference participants.  The text of the communication is presented below.

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The Artsakh Heritage Committee was founded at the initiative of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, in the aftermath of the 2020 war on Artsakh and its ongoing repercussions. The Committee consists of prominent scholars, experts, clergymen, and other key stakeholders dedicated to the cause of safeguarding Armenian cultural heritage under Azerbaijan’s newfound control.

The conference on the subject “Nagorno–Karabakh: Today and Tomorrow,” convened in Los Angeles, United States of America 11-13 November 2022, gathered top experts from across the world to discuss cultural preservation, geopolitics, diplomacy, and legal matters concerning Armenian existence in Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh.

The current conference is the fourth in the series of international conferences in Holy Echmiadzin (Armenia), Austria, and the Russian Federation, on the timely topic of the preservation of the cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh, and this communiqué reflects the principal formulations of the preceding conferences.

Meeting in Los Angeles, by the blessings of His Holiness, Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians and under the auspices of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church, we, conference participants from around the world, are deeply moved and inspired by the faith and resilience of the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Furthermore, we are also profoundly concerned with the consequences of the horrors of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war launched by Azerbaijan and the ongoing aggression against the sovereign territories of the Republic of Armenia.

The discussions highlighted the critical importance of the protection of the living Armenian cultural heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh: as physical sites and, critically, as a way of life for the people of Artsakh.

There are serious concerns regarding the preservation of the monuments that came under Azerbaijani control as the result of the recent war, taking into consideration the consistent practice of Azerbaijan of destroying Armenian cultural heritage in its territories in the past. For example, after formerly Armenian-populated Nakhichevan came under the control of Azerbaijan, its Armenian cultural heritage was entirely annihilated between 1997 to 2006: 89 churches, as well as around 6,000 khachkars (cross-stones) and over 22,000 tombstones across Nakhichevan were destroyed.

The acts of vandalism committed by the Government of Azerbaijan are an extension of an ongoing policy towards Armenians that began several decades ago.

This consistent policy has two clearly defined directions: on the one hand, the complete elimination of Armenian heritage, and on the other hand, the misappropriation of Armenian heritage for the same purpose, where by effacing the inscriptions in Armenian from the walls of the medieval churches and gravestones they are then reclassified and represented to be Caucasian Albanian. The claims of Azerbaijan regarding the origin of the Armenian churches of Artsakh are a distortion and falsification of historical facts. The purpose of this policy of politicized historiography and historical revisionism is to eliminate every trace of Armenians from the region.

This international gathering underlined the urgency for the Government of Azerbaijan to allow immediate and unimpeded international access to the areas of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh which have come under Azerbaijan’s control for the purpose of independent assessment and monitoring missions.

The Government of Azerbaijan must halt and cease the activities of the “working group” on eliminating Armenian traces from historical monuments, and allow independent international cultural heritage professional and monitoring groups of the UNESCO and other relevant organizations to monitor the current state of the monuments of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Relevant stakeholders, particularly OSCE Minsk group co-chairs, should ensure the fundamental rights to access places of worship and cemeteries.

The organizers pledged to continue the work together in the implementation of a more detailed action plan to be issued shortly after the conference, to address the concerns raised during these conferences in Holy Echmiadzin (Armenia), Austria, the Russian Federation, and the current conference in the United States of America.

Finally, the international community must exert the necessary pressure to ensure Azerbaijan’s compliance with assumed international obligations with regard to preservation of fundamental human rights and liberties, including preservation of cultural heritage.

13 November 2022

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