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 June27, 2003 

Culture Above Conflict: Mosque to be preserved in Shushi


Oshin Yeghiazariantz is leading efforts to restore the Shushi mosque.

The tumbledown mosque of the 19th century in Nagorno-Karabagh will soon become a museum and a gallery of various religions' history and culture.

The Paris based Chene (hearth) benevolent organization has undertaken the reconstruction of one of the three mosques in Shushi, which is in poorest condition. (The organization has conducted other works, such as restoration of schools and hospitals in Karabagh.)

The initiator of the project, Chene representative in Armenia Oshin Yeghiazariantz says that Shushi has always been a crossroad of different cultures and its architecture reflects the cultural elements of the nations who lived there.

"The idea of the mosque's restoration captured me a long time ago. The mosque as a church is a house of a God," Yeghiazariantz says. "To respect your culture you should learn to respect the culture of other people too."

Chene is planning to initially invest $40,000 for the restoration and hopes to finish next year. The mosque's minaret roof and façade will be renovated and the storehouse will be constructed in its backyard.

The idea of mosque reconstruction could be considered controversial, taking into account the systematic destruction of ancient Armenian monuments and relics in Azerbaijani territory.

For the recent couple of years the Armenian Government especially intensified its effords to prevent the destruction of khachkars (cross stones) in the ancient cemetery of Jugha, in the southern of Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan.

But neither the effords of Armenian Government, nor the visit of UNESCO delegation to the region had a positive effect. At present only few khachkars remained in Jugha out of the original 10,000.

But most people who found the project of mosque renovation apolitical say that it is worthwhile.

The old timers of Shushi say that the mosque was not used for its direct purposes, or at least they know the other story about it.

Harus Hakobyan, a 72-year old Shushi resident says that during the Soviet times the mosques as well as churches were banned by Communists.

"This mosque was used as a state marriage register office. Many Karabagh residents registered here for their marriage," she says.

"I believe since Shushi was liberated and returned back to Armenians we should be tolerant to the memory of those people who built it."

Though the mosque is abandoned and ruined it is fenced by the decision of Nagorno-Karabagh Government.

The head of Karabagh Diocese Archibishop Pargev says he is also against its destruction.

The sign on its entrance says that it is a historical monument and is under the protection of the Government.

Greta Mirzoyan the head of the public organization "Soldiers' Mothers" is one of the activists to prevent the destruction of Armenian historical and cultural monuments on Azerbaijani territory.

She believes that the reconstruction of a mosque should become a model of tolerance to other people's culture and history throughout the Caucasus region.

"The destruction of Armenian cemeteries or graves in Azerbaijan is a part of Azerbaijani state policy directed to remove all the evidences of Armenian presence in the region. But vandalism is never appreciated by history," she says.

According to the initiators of the project the restored mosque will be a picture gallery and museum of folk art. The representations of various spiritual religions will have a chance to give lectures on theological and philosophical issues.

"We call to all people to put culture over politics," Yeghiazariantz says. "We should join our effords to preserve cultural heritage. The geopolitics should not prompt us to destroy. The Caucasus should become a peaceful region and its people should learn to live together."


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