SATELLITE IMAGES SHOW DISAPPEARANCE OF ARMENIAN ARTIFACTS IN AZERBAIJAN
Targeted News Service
December 8, 2010 Wednesday 2:16 AM EST
The American Association for the Advancement of Science issued the
following news release:
A high-resolution satellite image of a medieval Armenian cemetery
in Azerbaijan taken in September 2003 shows hundreds of khachkars,
intricate 15th and 16th century burial monuments. In a satellite
image from May 2009, however, the khachkars are missing, suggesting
that they were either destroyed or removed.
A comparison of the images by analysts from the AAAS Geospatial
Technologies and Human Rights Project found evidence of significant
destruction and changes in the grade of the cemetery’s terrain. The
image from September 2003 shows rocky and uneven terrain, as well as
shadows cast by the khachkars, while the May 2009 image shows a much
flatter landscape and the khachkars’ absence.
“As can be seen in the 2009 image, the appearance of additional dirt
roads that traverse the cemetery and visibly smoother terrain suggest
that the khachkars may have been destroyed or removed by earthmoving
equipment,” said Susan Wolfinbarger, senior program associate for the
AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project. “Our analysis
of the satellite evidence is consistent with that of observers on the
ground who have attested to the destruction of the khachkars and the
leveling of the terrain in the Djulfa cemetery.”
The geospatial team, part of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program,
determined the exact location of the cemetery using a map hand-drawn
by those with local knowledge of the area. It is located in Djulfa,
part of Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani exclave near the Iranian border.
Following reports that sledgehammer-wielding Azerbaijani soldiers
destroyed hundreds of khachkars, a delegation of European Parliament
members were rebuffed when they sought access to the cemetery in May
2006 to conduct a fact-finding mission. The International Council on
Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) also observed the phased destruction of
the khachkars in Djulfa in reports published in 2003 and 2006-2007.
“Geospatial images allow us to shed light on regions that are not
accessible, providing a visualization tool for events or circumstances
that are important to bring to the public’s attention but which,
without some visual evidence, are less likely to attract attention
and interest,” said Jessica Wyndham, senior project director of the
AAAS Science and Human Rights Program.
The AAAS team has used geospatial technology previously to document a
number of human rights violations, including the 2005 destruction of
structures and villages in Darfur, Sudan; civilian attacks in Burma
in 2006 and 2009; structure damage in South Ossetia, Georgia in 2008;
and mortar fights in Sri Lanka.
Decreasing computing costs, the growth of available geospatial data,
and the increase of earth-imaging satellite sensors that provide
high-resolution images have coalesced to improve the potential
applications of geospatial technology in the field of human rights.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Department
of State, international governments, the United Nations, and
nongovernmental organizations including Human Rights Watch have all
used geospatial technology for humanitarian as well as human rights
In the future, Wolfinbarger anticipates that the Geospatial
Technologies and Human Rights Project will use newer, higher resolution
satellites for detailed vegetation analysis, while lower resolution
satellites could facilitate deforestation analysis. “While in the past
we have focused on the destruction of structures, we may be able to
develop greater expertise in environment-related human rights through
the use of these other satellites,” she said.
The multispectral satellite images from September 2003 and May 2009
were taken by DigitalGlobe’s QuickBird satellite. The AAAS analysts
used ERDAS Imagine and ESRI’s ArcMap software to do a side-by-side
comparison of the images.
From: A. Papazian