When reports emerged in December 2005 that Azerbaijan was deliberately destroying (see the tape) the world’s largest medieval Armenian cemetery at Djulfa with its intricately carved burial stones called khachkars, Azeri president Ilham Aliyev said the news was “an absolute lie.” Five years later, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has released before-and-after satellite image analysis which states that the “the entire area [of the cemetery] has been graded flat.”
Below are top ten reasons why you should take action to tell UNESCO – the international body charged with protecting world heritage – to hold Azerbaijan accountable for Djulfa’s destruction:
Satellite data showing the Djulfa cemetery partly destroyed in 2003 (left) and “graded flat” by 2009 (right); read the complete study on the AAAS website.
1. There is conclusive video, eyewitness, and satellite confirmation of the complete destruction of the ancient Djulfa cemetery (established in the 9th century and thriving as late as the early 17th century) in a remote borderline area of Azerbaijan.
- The unique headstones of the cemetery called khachkars are UNESCO heritage by association since the craftsmanship of creating these sacred stones is a UNESCO Intangible Heritage tradition; a few of the surviving stones (removed from Azerbaijan before 1991) are highlights at several museums, including Russia’s Hermitage and Armenia’s St. Echmiadzin Holy See.
These khachkars held the key to regional history since they recorded a pre-1604 genealogy of Armenians who mostly now reside in Iran after a forced deportation; the destruction deprives the Armenian people from a part of their past and identity.
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- The destruction of history, identity, and indigeneity is a human rights violation and a violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; Djulfa’s destruction was a deliberate attempt to deny that the native Armenian culture existed in the first place (probably explaining Azerbaijan’s abstention in the September 2007 International Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples vote).
The destruction of Djulfa cemetery is part of what appears to be a centrally-planned campaign to eliminate all pre-19th century Armenian monuments in Azerbaijan (for instance, while the unused Armenian church, built in 1887, was renovated in capital Baku in 2004, all the much older and unique cathedrals were reduced to dust in other parts of Azerbaijan, according to Steven Sim who found no single monument left when he visited the region around Djulfa to study medieval Armenian cathedrals in August 2005).
One of the surviving khachkars from Djulfa (removed from the cemetery during Soviet times) that I photographed in 2007 at the St. Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Yerevan, Armenia, where five of the sacred stones are preserved. About 3,000 others were reduced to dust in situ by Azerbaijan’s army in December 2005 alone.
- Cultural destruction is not unavoidable, as seen in Armenia’s ongoing restorations of Azerbaijani mosques and Azerbaijan’s 2004 restoration of the 19th-century Armenian church in Baku.
The destruction of Djulfa was followed by attacks against independent Azerbaijani journalist Idrak Abbasov, who confirmed that the cemetery had vanished.
Peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is hard to achieve with deliberate cultural destruction of Armenian heritage in Azerbaijan; the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict started, in part, due to fears that Azerbaijan would systematically destroy Armenian culture in that region.
The destroyed khachkars did not belong to Armenians or Azerbaijanis or even both; the stones belonged to the entire world.
The Djulfa cemetery has been converted to a military training ground desecrating the medieval bones that lay under the khachkars.
Click here to take action to fight deliberate destruction of world heritage.