US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Mark Libby and his wife Danusia visit Shusha (Shushi), May 6, 2024.

US Envoy ‘Extremely Impressed’ By Trip To Karabakh Town

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YEREVAN (Azatutyun) — The US ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mark Libby, visited Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday, May 6, becoming the first senior American diplomat to set foot in the region since the 2020 war and the subsequent exodus of its ethnic Armenian population.

Libby specifically toured the Karabakh town of Shushi (Shusha) together with his wife.

“I am so happy to be in Shusha today,” he said in a video message recorded there and posted on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “We have been preparing for this visit for almost two months and I am glad it has finally come together.”

“I was extremely impressed by my tour and saw first-hand how the city is developing. I look forward to continuing my travels throughout Azerbaijan,” added the diplomat.

Libby’s predecessors avoided such trips. The Azerbaijani government-controlled media said in recent weeks that he too is reluctant to travel to Karabakh fully recaptured by Baku as a result of last September’s Azerbaijani military offensive.

The offensive criticized by the United States forced the 100,000 or so remaining residents of Karabakh to flee to Armenia. More than 20,000 Karabakh Armenians fled their homeland during the 2020 war. Some 5,000 of them lived in Shushi.

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In separate tweets, the US Embassy in Baku said Libby met with local Azerbaijani officials who briefed him on “development efforts” there and the return of the town’s former Azerbaijani residents. He also visited Shushi’s Azerbaijani monuments.

Satellite images taken on December 28, 2023 and April 4, 2024 show the destruction of Shushi’s St. John the Baptist church.

The embassy made no mention of the two local Armenian churches that have been endangered since the Azerbaijani army captured the town in November 2020. Satellite images released on April 20 by Caucasus Heritage Watch (CHW), a US-based research and monitoring group, suggest that one of them, the St. John the Baptist Church, was destroyed recently.

“The church is now gone,” said the group led by archaeologists at Cornell and Purdue Universities.

Citing other satellite imagery, CHW reported the same day that Azerbaijani authorities have also completed the destruction of Shushi’s old Armenian cemetery.

The other, much bigger local Armenian church, the Holy Savior Cathedral, was stripped of its conical dome and cross attached to it in 2021. The Armenian government said at the time that this was done for “depriving the Shushi Cathedral of its Armenian identity.” Baku claimed that it is simply renovating the imposing 19th-centruy cathedral damaged by Azerbaijani rockets during the war.

 

Topics: Shushi
People: Mark Libby
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