- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
February 27, 2004

History at Risk: Khachkars of Julfa suffer renewed destruction

The destruction of Armenian historical monuments on the territory of Azerbaijan has been raised in a new report by an international monitoring body.
The 2002/2003 report of Icomos "Heritage at Risk" includes information on Armenian khachkars in Jugha.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), a non-governmental organization, condemned the renewed demolition of khachkars in Julfa, Nakhichevan, in its latest annual report published this month.

A report by Armen Hakhnazaryan, a member of Icomos Armenia and chairman of Research on Armenian Architecture, and co-author Dieter Wickmann described the historical and cultural significance of the cemetery at Julfa, which had thousands of khachkars dating from the early Middle Ages until the destruction of the city in 1605.

It reported the discovery in January and February last year of a resumption of destruction of khachkars, adding that the actions “cannot have been carried through without the consent of the Azerbaijan government”.

It concluded: “One cannot avoid drawing a parallel to the fundamentally motivated destruction of the Buddha statues by the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was accompanied by world-wide protest.

”Similar to that case we are here confronted with the systematic obliteration of religious monuments of a foreign culture, the only difference being that the destruction in Nachitchevan (sic) concerns the European history of civilisation.”

Armenia became a member of Icomos in 2001. Stepan Gyurjyan, the president of Icomos/Armenia, said: “In 1998-99 the parts that remained from historical Julfa cemetery were not simply destroyed by Azerbaijanis, but were transported by bulldozers and were simply removed.

“At that time the Government of Armenia, the Church and several organizations expressed their protest and managed to stop the barbaric actions. However, it restarted in 2002. They decided to destroy them in order to close once and for all the issue of monuments.”

At the moment when Azerbaijanis restarted their destructive actions Armenia received a warning from Iran . From the other side of the Araks river, Iranian-Armenian architects took factual pictures together with information of what was actually happening and sent them to Armenia .

“This time they did not transport, they buried them under the ground, meaning they swept it off the ground,” says Gyurjyan.

Nakhichevan Compatriots Union, the Armenian Society on Monuments' Preservation, and the International Organization on Studying Armenian Monuments, which has its branches in different countries, responded immediately with protests against the crime.

Icomos Armenia addressed the president of international Icomos Michael Pezet to take measures to stop the destruction, to restore the site's previous look and to condemn Azerbaijan 's actions.

“We were asking them to use their connections and to send correspondent specialists to the region through UNESCO, who together with Armenian and Azerbaijani specialists will discuss the issue,” says Gyurjyan.

Currently, there's about 500 khachkars left in Jugha.


On February 24, 2003 , Pezet sent a letter saying he had applied to UNESCO to send specialists to assess the destruction of Armenian historical cultural monuments in Nakhichevan. He pointed out that the issue had to be brought to international attention, since the world was unaware of it. He promised to publish information in the annals published by Icomos.

“It has already been published, meaning they understood the significance of our problem and this is the first important step. Our goal is that specialists visit the region and study the situation there,” says Gyurjyan.

“This issue was also raised by Armenian deputies at the cultural committee at Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe, as a result of which there was a decision to sent a correspondent group to study the issue locally. Despite that decision, the group hasn't visited the region until now.”

Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian has also spoken on the issue at the UNESCO council, demanding an evaluation of the vandalism.

In the early 20th Century there were 10,000 khachkars in Julfa. Half of them were destroyed during the construction of the Alexandropolis-Tehran railroad. During the Soviet period, the khachkars were being preserved.

Since the Soviet collapse, more than 1,500 more have been lost, with others buried underground. As a result what remains is about 500 khachkars.

Icomos titled its report for 2002/03 “Heritage at Risk”. It is distributed to the 106 member countries of UNESCO, which include Turkey and Azerbaijan .

The khachkars of Julfa are not even included in Azerbaijan 's state list of monuments. It is important that the issue of preservation of Armenian historic-cultural values is raised in Armenia 's foreign policy issues. Those monuments have to be included in the list of historical monuments of those very countries,” says Gyurjyan.

According to Agnes


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