Int’l Reaction: Only Words and No Action

December 9, 2007 at 5:23 pm (Djulfa destruction)

International Reaction to Djulfa cemetery destruction
has been only words and no action

By Simon Maghakyan, The Armenian Repoter
June 30, 2007

DENVER, CO. – After several failures to visit Djulfa
(Jugha), where the largest medieval Armenian cemetery
was reduced to dust by Azerbaijan’s military a year
and a half ago, officials at international
organizations are talking again about sending experts
to the region.

While reports about plans to send a mission by
the United Nations Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to Armenia and
Azerbaijan have again appeared in the media, words are
all that have reached so far the remote shores of the
Araxes where an archeological monument with thousands
of ancient Armenian burial stones, khachkars, existed
not too long ago.

Still a UNESCO spokesperson says their talks are
serious and, according to Armenpress, the organization
is now working out the details of a visit both to
Nakhichevan – where Djulfa is located – and Karabakh,
where Azerbaijan alleges Armenians have destroyed
Azeri monuments.

And this week, the Armenian Foreign Ministry
spokesman Vladimir Karapetian said that UNESCO has
already determined the make-up of its monitoring group
and that currently the issue is with the visits’

Armenians and others have long urged UNESCO to
interfere in the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery
and other Armenian monuments.

In October 2006, an international group of
parliamentarians from Canada, France, Greece, the
United Kingdom, Russia and Switzerland traveled to
UNESCO’s Paris headquarters in order to request that
Director-General Ko¿chiro Matsuura take up an
investigation in Djulfa.

Canadian Parliamentarian Jim Karygiannis, a
member of the delegation to Paris, this week told this
author that he still has not heard back from UNESCO.


In addition to UNESCO, the Council of Europe
Secretary General Terry Davis has expressed interest
in sending experts to monitor cultural sites whenever
a relevant agreement with Armenia and Azerbaijan is

But efforts by the European Parliament to send a
delegation to Djulfa, headed by British MP Edward
O’Hara, first in 2006 and again in April 2007 have
been unsuccessful. This was despite the February 16,
2006 European Parliament resolution condemning the
destruction of Djulfa and calling on Azerbaijan to
allow “a European parliament delegation to visit the
archaeological site of Djulfa.”

O’Hara told this author that no party but
himself is to blame for this year’s postponement which
was “entirely due to domestic commitments.” This
explanation is different from last year’s
cancellation, which as The Art Newspaper (London)
reported in June 2006, was due to Azerbaijan’s refusal
to allow ten delegates to enter its territory.

Meantime, there has been no reaction towards
claims by Azeri officials and nationalist historians
that the cemetery did not exist or was not Armenian.
Foreign diplomats and organizations with presence in
Baku have also been quiet toward Azerbaijan’s
anti-Armenian activities. Former Norwegian Ambassador
Steinar Gil, who publicized a case of vandalism at an
Armenian church in central Azerbaijan, remains the
only exception.

Thomas de Waal, an expert on
Armenian-Azerbaijani relations says that “foreign
investors and diplomats in Azerbaijan are very
sensitive towards anything that touches on the
Armenian-Azerbaijani issue and the peace process and
are therefore very timid about raising the issue of
the destruction of cultural monuments.”


Azerbaijan’s continuing military build-up and
threats to launch a new war to win control over
Nagorno Karabakh add on to the concern for the peace
process. But Human Rights Watch has also blamed the
West, especially the United States, for trading human
rights for oil in Azerbaijan for inaction to condemn
broad range of human rights violations.

The U.S. State Department did not react on the
Djulfa vandalism until pressed for comment. Following
a congressional hearing on February 16, 2006,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a written
response to Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.)
acknowledging U.S. awareness of “allegations of
desecration of cultural monuments” and urged
Azerbaijan to “take appropriate measures to prevent
any desecration of cultural monuments.” She also said
the U.S. has “encouraged Armenia and Azerbaijan to
work with UNESCO to investigate the incident.”

During a visit to Armenia in March 2006, Deputy
Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza called the
destruction a “tragedy.” He said: “it’s awful what
happened in Djulfa. But the United States cannot take
steps to stop it as it is happening on foreign soil.
We continually raise this issue at meetings with Azeri
officials. We are hopeful that the guilty will justly
be punished.”

Later that month, Bryza’s State Department
manager, Assistant Secretary Dan Fried, told the
Armenian Assembly of America conference in Washington
that he “would be happy to raise issues of Armenian
historical sites” with Azerbaijani officials because
respect and protection for cultural sites is “a
universal policy of the United States.”

And in her May 12, 2006 response to Sen. Barbara
Boxer (D-Calif.), U.S. Ambassador-designate to
Azerbaijan Anne Derse noted that the U.S. is “urging
the relevant Azerbaijani authorities to investigate
the allegations of desecration of cultural monuments
in Nakhichevan. If I am confirmed, and if such issues
arise during my tenure, I will communicate our
concerns to the Government of Azerbaijan and pursue
appropriate activities in support of U.S. interests.”


The destruction of Djulfa, nonetheless, did not
make it into the State Department’s 2006 International
Religious Freedom Report on Azerbaijan released on
September 15, 2006. The report only repeated the
previous years’ language that “all Armenian churches,
many of which were damaged in ethnic riots that took
place more than a decade ago, remained closed.”

Likewise, the report failed to notice the words
of the Norwegian Ambassador that a church in the
village of Nizh was in early 2006 “restored” with
Armenian lettering eliminated from its walls and
nearby tombstones. That “restoration” was part of the
Azerbaijan’s effort to present the Armenian cultural
heritage on its territory as “Albanian” – that is
belonging to a culture that became extinct hundreds of
years ago – and therefore not Armenian.


The most detailed outsider’s account of
Nakhichevan’s Armenian heritage remains that of Steven
Sim, a Scottish architect who visited the area in the
summer of 2005. During his visit he found no trace of
a single medieval Armenian church he had travelled to
research, with local interlocutors denying there were
any churches there in the first place.

Still, while traveling along the border with
Iran, Sim did manage to see the Djulfa khachkars from
his train before the hand-crafted stones were erased
from the face of the Earth in less than half a year.

More than 350 years ago before Sim’s visit, a
foreign traveller to Djulfa had estimated 10,000
khachkars in the cemetery. By 1998, less than seven
decades after a Soviet agreement with Turkey placed
Nakhichevan under Azerbaijan, there were only 2,000
khachkars remaining while the entire Armenian
population had disappeared.

According to eyewitness reports cited by the
International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS),
Azeri authorities made efforts to destroy much of the
Djulfa cemetery in 1998 and again in 2002. Describing
what he saw in Djulfa in August 2005, Sim reported
“what I saw was real savageness, but I cannot say that
they did not leave anything, since there are still
lying khachkars.”

Four months later, on December 15, 2005,
Russia’s Regnum News Agency was the first
international outlet to quote reports of approximately
“100 Azerbaijani servicemen penetrate[ing] the
Armenian cemetery near Nakhichevan… using
sledgehammers and other tools… to crush Armenian
graves and crosses.”

This final stage of destruction, which also
amounted to desecration of Armenian remains underneath
the burial monuments, had reportedly started on
December 14 and lasted for three days, leaving no
trace of a single khachkar.

An Armenian film crew in northern Iran, from
where the cemetery was visible, had videotaped dozens
of men in uniform hacking away at the khachkars with
sledgehammers, using a crane to remove some of the
largest stones from the ground, breaking the stones
into small pieces, and dumping them into the River
Araxes using a heavy truck.

Nevertheless, Azeri president Ilham Aliyev told
the Associated Press that the reports of the
destruction are “an absolute lie, slanderous
information, a provocation.”

By March 2006, photographs of the cemetery site
showed that it had been turned into an army shooting
range. An Azerbaijani journalist who visited the area
on behalf of the London-based Institute for War and
Peace Reporting in April 2006 similarly found no
traces of the cemetery left.



  1. Armenia – I stormaktenes hender « Blikk - Nyheter for aktivister said,

    […] djulfa.wordpress – Only words and no action […]

  2. manouk pezeshkian said,

    No action was taken by anyone while the barbarians were distroying a culture. Now what good does it do by Trying To Talk !. When they are gone they are gone as 1,500.000 Armenians are gone. And they are still talking about it . Nothing is changed .

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