World Watches In Silence As Azerbaijan Wipes Out Armenian Culture

By Lucian Harris

Art Newspaper, UK
May 25 2006

>From Conservation

Western governments have failed to condemn the destruction of a unique
medieval cemetery by Azerbaijani soldiers

Armenia says the Christian cemetery of Jugha, dating from the ninth to
16th centuries, has been completely destroyed by Azerbaijani soldiers.

LONDON. A delegation of European members of Parliament was last month
refused access to Djulfa, in the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan,
to investigate reports that an ancient Armenian Christian cemetery
has been destroyed by Azerbaijani soldiers.

The delegation of ten MEPs from the commission on EU-Armenia
parliamentary co-operation travelled to Armenia on 17 April following
a resolution passed by the EP’s conference of presidents on 6 April.

An EP spokesman told The Art Newspaper that when the party tried to
enter Nakhichevan, it was “opposed by the Azerbaijan authorities”.

Azerbaijani soldiers photographed destroying headstones at Jugha

This was despite the Muslim country’s outright denial that the
cemetery has been destroyed-and despite the fact that Azerbaijan is
a member of the Council of Europe and thus committed to respecting
cultural heritage.

According to witnesses, as quoted in Armenian reports, in a three-day
operation last December, Azerbaijani soldiers armed with sledgehammers
obliterated the remnants of the Djulfa cemetery (known as Jugha
in Armenian). Until the early 20th century it contained around
10,000 khachkars, dedicatory monuments unique to medieval Armenian
culture. They are typically carved with a cross surrounded by intricate
interlacing floral designs.

A great number of khachkars, the majority of which date from the 15th
to 16th centuries, were destroyed in 1903-04 during the construction
of a railway, and by the early 1970s only 2,707 were recorded.

Armenian culture has always had a precarious existence sandwiched
between Russia and the Islamic spheres of Turkey and Iran. The
Armenians are still fighting to get acknowledgement of the genocide
of their people by the Ottoman Turks which reached its peak in 1915.

After 1921, when the southern enclaves of Nakhichevan and Nagorno
Karabakh were absorbed into Soviet Azerbaijan, many Armenians fled
the area and much of their cultural heritage was destroyed. By the
late 1980s when the Soviet Union crumbled, less than 4,000 Armenians
remained in Nakhichevan-so few that the exclave avoided the ethnic
warfare that exploded in Karabakh where a larger Armenian population
remained under the administration of Muslim Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijani army began clearing the Jugha cemetery in 1998,
removing 800 of the khachkars before complaints by Unesco brought
a temporary halt. But the destruction commenced again in November
2002, and by the time the incident was written up by Icomos in its
World Report on Monuments and Sites in Danger for that year, the
1500-year-old cemetery was described as “completely flattened”. It
is not clear exactly how many khachkars were left, but on 14 December
2005, witnesses in Armenian reports said that soldiers had demolished
the remaining stones, loading them onto trucks and dumping them in the
river, actions that were filmed from across the river in Iran by an
Armenian Film crew, and aired on the Boston-based online television
station Hairenik.

Armenians say the destruction of the Jugha cemetery represents the
final move in Azerbaijan’s systematic cleansing of Armenian cultural
heritage from Nakhichevan, mostly carried out between 1998 and 2002.

On a visit to Armenia in March, the director of the Hermitage Museum in
St Petersburg, Mikhail Piotrovsky, whose mother is Armenian, reacted
to the destruction by likening it to the Taleban’s obliteration of
the Bamiyan Buddhas. His comments elicited an angry response in the
Azerbaijani press. However, the lack of international condemnation
of Azerbaijan’s actions has been a source of frustration to many
Armenians. Baroness Cox, a long-standing campaigner for the protection
of Armenian heritage in Azerbaijan who has urged the British government
to take action, told The Art Newspaper that, despite the influential
Armenian Diaspora, both the US and UK administrations are more
concerned with cultivating close relations with oil-rich Azerbaijan
and its ally Turkey, than with Armenia.

A response issued by the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Brussels in
January, insisted that Armenian allegations were made “to delude
the international community” and detract attention from “atrocities
committed by the Armenian troops in the occupied territories of
Azerbaijan, where no single Azerbaijani monument has been left
undamaged”. It also contained an implied historical claim on the
Jugha cemetery stating that it was not Armenian but created by
“Caucasian Albanians”.

The Azerbaijani allegations, which claim the destruction of hundreds
of mosques, religious schools, cemeteries and museums in the Shusha,
Yerevan, Zangazur and Icmiadzin districts of Armenia, have undoubtedly
compounded the reluctance of international organisations to get
involved in a situation described to The Art Newspaper by Guido
Carducci, the head of Unesco’s International Standards Section, as
“a political hot potato”.

According to Baroness Cox, even during the war, mosques in Armenia
were generally protected by the Christian population, but with so
many emotive claims and counter claims being made, and both sides
accusing each other of rewriting history, non-partisan monitoring
and verification of all alleged cultural crimes seems more important
than ever. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Mikhail Piotrovsky said:
“Any destruction of the cultural heritage is a crime, whether that
heritage be Armenian, Russian, Azerbaijani, or Iraqi. The cultural
heritage belongs to the entire world, not just to one nation.”

for photos: 1

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