Sunday, 14 December 2008

Djulfa (Jugha) destruction: 3rd anniversary of cultural vandalism, conference in Baku, and failed boycott by Armenia’s Ministry of Culture

3 years ago the Armenian medieval cemetery in the region of Nakhichevan (Azerbaijan) was destroyed and subsequently converted into a “military shooting range”.

On December 15th, 2005, Russia’s Regnum News Agency was the first international outlet to quote reports of approximately ‘100 Azerbaijani servicemen … crush[ing] Armenian graves and crosses ….’ An Armenian film crew in northern Iran, where the cemetery was visible from, had videotaped dozens of men in uniforms in the Azerbaijani border hacking the khachkars down with sledgehammers, using a crane to remove some of the largest monuments from the ground, breaking the stones into small pieces, and dumping them into the River Araxes by a large truck. The destruction, which also amounted to desecration of Armenian remains beneath the stones, had reportedly started on December 14th and lasted for a few days giving the world media enough time to report it as it was happening. But it was not until April 2006 when Azeri journalists from the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting confirmed that the cemetery had vanished. The Times reflected on April 21st, ‘[a] medieval cemetery regarded as one of the wonders of the Caucasus has been erased from the Earth in an act of cultural vandalism likened to the Taleban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001.’ (The Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum)
Ironically, earlier this month Azerbaijan hosted a European conference on intercultural dialogue organised by the Council of Europe. It is questionable, to say the least, whether Baku could be considered as an appropriate place for a conference to follow-up Europe-wide "White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue", as Azeri authorities did nothing to prevent or restore vandalised remains of numerous instances of Armenian cultural heritage there.

On the other hand, the Armenian Ministry of Culture failed to deliver a message by boycotting the conference. They either should have properly boycotted the conference by making an appropriate statement explaining the reasons for non-participation, or they should have participated there to raise the all important issues of destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in Azerbaijan, as well as protecting and restoring the multinational cultural heritage in all three South Caucasus countries. Instead, Ministry of Culture’s response was something like we did not participate because... “it was decided not to participate”. That’s all...


April 2006

*photos - via IWPR - Azerbaijan: Famous Medieval Cemetery Vanishes (Jugha Cemetery (13th-16th centuries). Photographs from 1970s and 2006.)

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