Cultural War: Systematic destruction of Old Julfa khachkars raises international attention

According to reports, a number of Armenian stone crosses (“khachkars”) have been purposefully destroyed in the Azerbaijan-held territory, Nakhichevan.

Information released by the Embassy of Armenia in Iran says that during the middle of last month, some 100 Azeri soldiers entered an Armenian cemetery in the vicinity of Old Julfa and used sledge hammers and shovels to destroy the stone-cross tombstones.

(When Nakhichevan was handed over to Azerbaijan in 1921, a unique complex containing some 5,000 khachkars some dating as far back as the ninth century existed. Since, the number of crosses remaining has diminished in actions that include vandalism. Activists for the preservation of Armenian culture see the latest action as an overt attempt by Azerbaijan to remove traces of Armenian history from the territory.)

Spiritual leaders from three Armenian dioceses of Iran on behalf of the whole Armenian nation express their indignation and appeal to the world community, international organizations, in particular, to UNESCO in order that it undertake steps to avert another “cultural genocide being perpetrated by Azerbaijan.”

A statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia condemned the mid-December destruction and also appealed to UNESCO.

The MFA has routinely raised the issue, including in 2003 at its General Assembly.

On January 10, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vardan Oskanian issued a statement about the state of affairs in the area Old Julfa:

“The destruction of the Armenian cemetery in Nakhichevan causes concern, which became the occasion for my appeal to the Director General of UNESCO. We hope that in 2006 UNESCO will respond to the application of Armenia and will send a mission to Nakhichevan for the confirmation of the facts of destructions on the spot and for undertaking corresponding steps.”

On December 23, co-chairmen of the U.S. Congressional Armenian Caucus Joe Knollenberg and Frank Pallone addressed a letter to Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the United States Hafiz Pashayev expressing their concern with the fact of destruction of Armenian khachkars, tombstones and monuments in the Armenian cemetery of Nakhichevan. The message also pays attention to the obligations assumed by Azerbaijan within the framework of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe and other international organizations.

“As a member of the international community, Baku must protect cultural and historical heritage. Ignoring these obligations, the government of Azerbaijan undermines the efforts of the United States and the international community aimed at establishing stability in the South Caucasus,” the Knollenberg/Pallone letter reads.

The Armenian Assembly of America has also weighed in. “Representatives of the Armenian Assembly of America last week met with U.S. Department of State officials and informed them about the fact of destruction of Armenian monuments, presenting as evidence photographs from the scene, due to which the U.S. officials understood the whole gravity of the problem,” AAA Executive Director Bryan Arduni said.

The issue was also put on the agenda of the British House of Lords as “a question for a written reply”.

The consideration of this issue was initiated by Baroness Caroline Cox and John Marx. As the REGNUM News Agency reports, Baroness Cox, in particular, urged the British Government to consider the opportunity of expressing concern over the destruction of old Armenian churches and other artifacts in Azerbaijan through a representative in UNESCO.