Azerbaijan delaying UNESCO mission visit to Karabakh

December 22, 2020 – 10:54 AMT

PanARMENIAN.Net – Azerbaijani is delaying its approval for a UNESCO mission to Nagorno- (Artsakh) to assess damage to cultural and religious sites, according to a statement published by the organization on Monday, December 21.

Ernesto Ottone, Assistant UNESCO Director-General for Culture, said: “Only the response of Azerbaijan is still awaited for UNESCO to proceed with the sending of a mission to the field. The authorities of Azerbaijan have been approached several times without success so far. Every passing week makes the assessment of the situation concerning cultural property more difficult, not least due to the weather which is expected to become harsher in the coming weeks. The window of opportunity that was opened by the cease fire must not be closed again. The safeguarding of heritage is an important condition for the establishment of lasting peace. We are therefore expecting Baku to respond without delay so that the constructive discussions held over recent weeks can be turned into action.”

Back in November, UNESCO reiterated countries’ obligation to protect cultural heritage in terms of the 1954 Convention for the Protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict to which both and Azerbaijan are parties. The Organization proposed to carry out an independent mission of experts to draw a preliminary inventory of significant cultural properties as a first step towards the effective safeguarding of the region’s heritage.

The proposal received the full support of the co-chairs of the Minsk Group and the agreement in principle of the representatives of both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Meeting at UNESCO on and December 10 and 11, the members of the intergovernmental Committee of The Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its Second Protocol (1999), welcomed the initiative and confirmed the need for a mission to take stock of the situation regarding cultural properties in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. The Committee requested each of the parties to render the mission possible.

Since November, UNESCO made proposals and led in-depth consultations with a view to organizing the mission which, in the terms of the Convention, requires the agreement of both parties.

Concerns about the preservation of cultural sites in Nagorno-Karabakh are made all the more urgent by the Azerbaijani government’s history of systemically destroying indigenous Armenian heritage—acts of both warfare and historical revisionism. The Azerbaijani government has secretly destroyed a striking number of cultural and religious artifacts in the late 20th century. Within Nakhichevan alone, a historically Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani forces destroyed at least 89 medieval churches, 5,840 khachkars (Armenian cross stones) and 22,000 historical tombstones between 1997 and 2006.

During the recent military hostilities, Azerbaijani forces launched two targeted attacks on the Holy Savior Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in Shushi. After taking control of the city, they destroyed the domes of Saint John the Baptist Church. Azerbaijan earlier “restored” a church by replacing its Armenian inscription with glass art.

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