- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 March 28, 2003 

Disturbing the Dead: Concern grows for fate of Armenian cemeteries in Azerbaijan

Thousands of khachkars used to stand in Jugha, but no more.The Armenian community is exasperated with the attitude of Azerbaijan authorities towards the Armenian cemeteries and historical monuments on its territory.

At a conference Wednesday at the Armenian National Academy, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vartan Oskanian criticized Azerbaijan policy for its continued and systematic destruction, most recently of Armenian cemeteries.

The conference was organized by the Research on Armenian Architecture, the Land and Culture Organization, and the Armenian Academy of Sciences and focused around the destroying of cross stones (khachkars) of the old Armenian cemetery of Jugha in the south of Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan.

Armenian historians believe that the Jugha cemetery is a part of world cultural heritage, taking into account that some gravestones of Jugha dated back to the ninth century.

In the 17th century there were about 10,000 khachkars there. By the 20th century about 5,000 of the crosses had been preserved plus three churches and a chapel.

Now only a few khachkars remain in Jugha, the rest having been broken or removed.

The cemetery is now closed to visitors. Photographer Zaven Khachatryan was the last Armenian visitor there some years ago and photographed the few remaining khachkars.

Participants at Wednesday's conference called upon all the diplomatic representation in Armenia asking to establish an international committee under the umbrella of UNESCO to prevent the demolition of the cemetery.

"The protection of Armenian cultural treasures is a part of Armenia's foreign policy," Oskanian said.

Archbishop Mesrob Ashjian said he appreciated the Armenian Government's efforts to raise international public awareness towards the Armenian monuments.

"The Minister's presence in this conference," the Archibishop said, "is evidence that the Armenian State is ready to defend Armenia's legacy outside of its borders."

Armenians from Azerbaijan are also concerned about the Montinskoe cemetery in Baku. Many refugees from the Karabakh war have relatives buried there.

Alexander Manasyan, PhD, whose relatives are buried in Montinskoe is convinced that the destruction of the cemeteries is not merely vandalism.

"The destruction of Armenian cemeteries or graves is a part of Azerbaijani state policy directed to expunge the historical record and remove all the evidences of Armenian presence in the region,." Manasyan said.

The Montinskoe cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Baku.

Lida Harutyunayn, a refugee of Azerbaijan whose parents are buried there says that it was a huge cemetery and some Armenian graves were dated to the 18th century.

"There were graves of Russian and Jewish as well, and actually that was an international cemetery," she says. "The Armenian graves were seen from far because of the big crosses on them."

Greta MirzoyanIn January the City Council of Baku announced that a highway would be constructed in the district of Narimanovsk and that part of the Montinskoe cemetery would be transported to another cemetery.

The information appeared in the local newspapers and at the entrance of the cemetery.

The Baku authorities said that the relatives of people buried in Montinskoe cemetery could apply to the City Council for the reinterment.

Greta Mirzoyan the head of the public organization "Soldiers' Mothers" qualified that announcement as ridiculous.

"Tens of thousands of Armenians are buried there and of course it is impossible under the present circumstances to go to Baku."

Mirzoyan who had a chance to visit the cemetery last year when she went to Baku within the framework of the "Women of Southern Caucuses" conference says that in fact there is no cemetery there.

"The part where there were Armenians graves was completely destroyed. There was not one Armenian gravestone and the old big trees which used to grow there were cut down. Moreover it was clear that the bulldozers worked there."

Mirzoyan says that just near the cemetery there was a camp of Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia. She said that those people desecrated many graves too, looking for golden decorations or gold-capped teeth.

Mirzoyan says that now there is no need to apply to UNESCO or other organizations, which are engaged in cultural values because nothing remained in the cemetery to prevent.

The Azerbaijani mass media often covers the cemetery issue.

Azerbaijani "Echo" newspaper reporter Zarema Velikhanova writes:

"The human rights activists in Azerbaijan believe that the City Council's hasten to take such decision and destroying Armenian graves could aggravate the relations with Armenia on Nagorno-Karabagh issue."

"The construction of the highway should have been postponed till the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict," writes Azerbaijani human-rights activist Eldar Zeinalov.

"Now when the issue of settlement of Nagorno-Karabagh entered the peace phase any actions which would raise tensions could affect the peaceful process of settlement"

Greta Mirzoyan says that she took flowers with her when she went to visit the graves of her grandparents.

"I had hoped that maybe their graves were persevered, but when I approached the cemetery I realized that I would never find the place because there were no stones. I was about to leave, when I saw a new grave. There was no sign on the grave. I put the flowers there."


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  Photo of the week
Click on the photo above to enlarge


At today's Under-21 football match between Armenia and Northern Ireland, played in Abovian, the match had to be delayed for nearly an hour while workers cleared the pitch of snow. When the field was cleared, the home team played to a 2-0 victory.



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