Azerbaijan’s explicit criminal intent to destroy Armenian cultural heritage in Artsakh a challenge to all humanity

Azerbaijan’s explicit criminal intent to destroy the Armenian cultural and religious monuments in is a challenge to all humanity, President of the National Assembly of Artsakh Arthur Tovmasyan  said in a letter addressed to UN Secretary general António Guterres, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoula,  Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, the Personal Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office and Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, WCC acting general secretary.

The letter reads:

I address You to alert to the mounting threat to the Armenian cultural and religious heritage in the territories of Artsakh subject to military occupation by Azerbaijan during the war unleashed by Azerbaijan against the Republic of Artsakh on September 27, 2020 and following the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020 on complete ceasefire and termination of all hostilities in the area of the Nagorno- conflict.

Cases of deliberate and overt irremediable damage to, utter ruining and misappropriation and alienation by Azerbaijan of the Armenian cultural and religious heritage have been documented since 1920s which served as а precedent for renewed brutality and defacing demonstrated wantonly towards historical landmarks, pieces of art and places of worship as constituting Armenian cultural and religious heritage, as well as monumental tributes to the Great Patriotic War and Artsakh National-Liberation War, in territories which fell under Azerbaijan’s occupation during the 44-Day War of 2020 and in the months following it.

We also consider it pertinent to point out that following the trilateral statement of November 10, 2020 on complete ceasefire and termination of all hostilities in the area of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan has embarked on, at the highest state level and even more ruthlessly, the calculated policy of legitimization of the false logic and fallacy of “Caucasian-albanization” of Armenian apostolic churches, misappropriation of the Armenian religious heritage, their desecration and utter destruction on a case-by-case basis.

The statements made by Azerbaijani high authorities on replanning and coercive remoulding of the Armenian apostolic churches with the far-reaching aim of their “albanization”, on erasing Armenian inscriptions, are reprehensible.

The most recent examples include presenting the 12th century Holy Mother Armenian Church in the village of Tsakuri of Artsakh Republic’s Hadrut region, occupied by Azerbaijan, as an Albanian church, or destroying the St. John the Baptist church in Shushi.

Azerbaijan is thereby true to its modus operandi of historical revisionism, fabrication of history, legitimization of its presence in the occupied territories of the Artsakh Republic and strengthening its ties to these lands.  

It is obvious that these carefully planned institutionalized attacks and aggressive campaign by Azerbaijan on Armenian cultural and religious property, pursued with flagrant violation of treaty and customary international humanitarian law, are aimed at eradicating Armenian people’s historical roots to the region, destroying historial records of their self-definition, dismantling the Armenian cultural capacity, obliterating the Armenian identity, as well as appropriating the Armenian cultural and religious heritage.

Whereas, as opposed to the policy of extermination of the Armenian cultural and religious heritage adopted by the Azerbaijani authorities, the Republic of Artsakh has always remained committed to promoting ethnic and religious tolerance in its territory. The restoration of Gohar Agha Upper Mosque in Shushi in 2019 is a clear example and ample proof of it. 

The relevant entities of the Republic of Artsakh and Republic of Armenia have time and again raised serious concern over the systematic and deliberate destruction and appropriation cases by Azerbaijan of the Armenian cultural and religious heritage based on open-source data. 

The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Artsakh issued an ad hoc comprehensive report on cases of vandalism and the risk of destruction by Azerbaijan of the Armenian cultural and religious monuments in the territories of the Republic of Artsakh under Azerbaijan’s occupation.

No doubt the urgent warnings were heeded by relevant international organisations and international community at large.

As far back as during the 44-Day War in 2020 the deliberate targeting by Azerbaijan of the cultural and religious monuments in Artsakh was duly condemned.

In this context we acknowledge the concerns raised by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chair countries – the Russian Federation and France most notably – over the fate of Armenian cultural and religious heritage in Artsakh, their willingness to deliver practical support, and statements and calls on engaging international specialized organisations to protect the Armenian cultural and religious heritage in Artsakh and prevent further damage.

We appreciate the international actors’ determination to share responsibility of solving this human right’s issue.

We also appreciate UNESCO’s proposal to carry out an independent mission of experts to draw an inventory of cultural property to safeguard effectively the region’s cultural and religious heritage which was welcomed by the intergovernmental Committee of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, with both the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan parties to it, and its Second Protocol.

We reaffirm our readiness to facilitate the UNESCO fact-finding mission to the region.

We are obliged to note that Azerbaijan politicizes the issue and prevents the UN agency from carrying out their fact-finding mission in the region, thus jeopardizing seriously the very essence of UNESCO and its universal dimension.

The rich Armenian cultural and religious heritage of Artsakh is an inseparable part of the global cultural and religious heritage, and Azerbaijan’s explicit criminal intent to destroy the Armenian cultural and religious monuments in Artsakh is a challenge to all of humanity.

Condemnation by the international community of states of the intolerance by Azerbaijan towards the Armenian cultural and religious heritage in Artsakh and inviting their attention to it is certainly one of the means of preventing further damage to the endangered Armenian cultural and religious heritage in the territories under the military occupation of Azerbaijan.

We still look forward to go beyond statements of concern and take practical steps to fight against the intentional destruction of Armenian cultural and religious heritage pursued by Azerbaijan.

We call on to make sound use of international standards – the UNESCO 1954 Hague Conventions and its Protocols, as well as UN SC Resolution 2347, and to take urgent, effective and consistent measures to work out efficient mechanisms to hold Azerbaijan accountable and bring the country to honor duly its commitments with regard to respecting cultural property of other peoples and refraining from hostility directed against it.

We reconfirm our commitment to promoting an understanding of the world’s cultural heritage and its universal value, and tolerance and mutual respect when it comes to the protection of peoples’ cultural and religious heritage.

We would like to remind that intentional attacks on the Armenian cultural and religious heritage in the territories of the Republic of Artsakh currently under military occupation of Azerbaijan which could legitimately be considered as an intent to ethnically cleanse the Armenian people have negative implications for fostering peace, stability and security in the region, and the protection of the Armenian cultural and religious heritage, including introducing observation and risk reduction mechanisms, should be addressed within the framework of holistic strategies to promote stability and security in the region.

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