Monumental Effort: Scotsman wants to prove Azeri policy of cultural destruction in Nakhijevan

A Scotsman, Steven Sim, takes out books about Armenian historical and cultural monuments from his backpack, as well as maps of contemporary and historical Armenian territories. He says that he is in love with Armenian monuments, and this love was born in him 20 years ago when he visited the ruins of Ani, once Armenia’s capital, and made his first photograph there.

“During these years I visited Turkey many times and photographed Armenian monuments. I even photographed the monuments in the waters of the river Arax that remained under water when the river’s dams were built,” says the ???? year old ????. Armenian monuments are of interest to me by their original beauty, and because they are not known to the world.”

Currently on one of his visits to Armenia, Sim was just in Nakhijevan, visiting the famous Armenian cemetery in Nor Jugha, from where he returned angry and disappointed.

“I was advised to leave the place as soon as possible unless I wanted trouble,” Sim says.

Ten years ago Sim was in Iran and saw the Jugha khachkars across the border. He says that from that moment he had been longing to visit the place and see the cultural values of world importance.

“Generally, the photographs of the monuments of Nakhijevan were published in numerous books. I was also advised to go and see them by the chairman of the Research on Armenian Architecture organization Armen Hakhnazaryan, with whom I have close ties,” says Sim.

Sim fulfilled his dream two weeks ago. He went to Turkey, and from there to Nakhijevan (which is under Azerbaijan rule), then he took a train to Jugha to see the khachkars of the cemetery on the road, as the railway directly passes by the cemetery. But he was quickly spotted as a foreigner. Sim says that controllers strictly prohibited him from taking photographs or even to look out of the window.

“They did everything to distract my attention, even by treating me to tea,” Sim says. “Before reaching Jugha two of the controllers left the compartment and I had time to look through the window. I was taken aback, because there was not a single standing khachkar (stone cross) there. All of them were lying, facing the ground, or ruined. Meanwhile, 10 years ago I saw from across the border 2,000 standing khachkars.”

The Jugha cemetery situated on a territory of 1,600 sq. meters is located on the west side of Jugha – on three hills. It is famous for its khachkars. In 1648, according to the data of traveler Alexander Rodes, it had 10,000 well-preserved khachkars. In 1903-1904, after the construction of a railway, along with the destruction of a number of the town’s monuments also destroyed were part of the cemetery’s khachkars. During that time there were 5,000 standing and collapsed khachkars registered. According to the data of 1915 and then 1928-29, there were up to 3,000 khachkars and a few thousand flat, two-edged, cap-shaped tombstones. In 1971-1973, only 2,707 were preserved in Jugha, and in the cemeteries of churches and the All-Savior monastery and elsewhere there were 250 khachkars, and 1,000 tombstones.

Sim says that a great part of the cemetery situated on a hill next to Jugha does not exist anymore. The khachkars on the other two hills are turned upside down.

In 1998-1999, Iranian-Armenian architects photographed evidence that the Azeris were using bulldozers to destroy the last vestiges of Armenian culture in the territory across the Arax.

“What I saw was real savageness, but I cannot say that they did not leave anything, since there are still lying khachkars,” says Sim.

After Jugha he decided to go to see the current condition of the churches that he saw in books.

He took a taxi from Nakhijevan????? to the town of Abrakunis to see Surb Karapet Church (1381). Sim photographed from the same spot, the same scene that he saw in the books, but without the church.

“They razed it to the ground, they did not leave even the slightest thing reminding of the church, it was totally cleared. When I asked the locals where the village church was, they showed the empty territory situated near the entrance. The only thing that reminds of the existence of a church in the past was the pieces of brick buried in the ground,” says Sim.

After Abrakunis he went north and visited the villages of Khanega, Ilandagh (Odzasar) and Khachi Sar. There he also found ruined and destroyed Armenian monuments and churches. The following day he took a bus to Ordubad to go to on to Agulis from there. However, the police prohibited him from going to Agulis. They even prohibited him to leave the center of the town.

“I did not oppose the ban, as tension was already obvious. Officially the purpose of my visit there was to see Islamic and Armenian holy places. In Nakhijevan they treat foreigners with suspicion. It does not matter whether you are an Armenian or a representative of another nationality. In Ordubad, too, every Armenian thing was destroyed,” he says.

Thereafter, Sim went to one of the remotest regions of Nakhijevan to see whether such a situation was everywhere. He went to the village of Shorut. What Sim saw there brought him to one conviction: “It is a special state policy being implemented throughout Nakhijevan.”

Nothing is left of the churches once situated in Shorut – the churches of Patriarch Hakob, Grigor Lusavorich, Surb Stepanos, Surb Astvatsatsin, nor the khachkars dated 924-926. The villagers claim that there were no Armenian churches there. The oldest of them even began to speak Armenian with Sim to try to identify his nationality.

Having visited Turkey and Azerbaijan, studying the Armenian monuments Sim says: “I don’t think that there is a central government program in Turkey to destroy monuments. There, it is even possible to purchase travel guides telling about numerous Armenian churches. But a special state policy of destruction is being implemented in Azerbaijan. In Turkey, after 90 years of staying empty, there are still standing churches today, meanwhile in Nakhijevan, all have been destroyed within just 10 years.”

After Shorut Sim returned to Turkey, and from there came to Armenia.

“I raise my voice of protest and want everybody to listen to me. If such monuments are being destroyed, then it is an evil deed directed against all of mankind,” Sim said on a visit to ArmeniaNow newsroom. “The khachkars of Jugha are cultural values of international importance. Once, the problem was raised at UNESCO, however Azerbaijan did not receive its representatives, which shows that they are hiding the facts. And the photographs are very, very important. It will be possible to prove the truth through them.”