According to a statement on the website of the US Embassy in Azerbaijan, Ambassador Morningstar – like his predecessor Matthew Bryza – was denied access to the Djulfa cemetery.
Since my arrival in Baku as Ambassador, I have made an effort to become more familiar with this wonderful country, its people and history. Most recently, I traveled to Nakhchivan… It has been an opportunity to see this country’s diverse cultural heritage up close, an experience that I think is important for anyone coming to live and work in Azerbaijan.
The history of the region is a difficult one. The Nagorno Karabakh conflict resulted in thousands of deaths and severely altered the physical landscape of the region, including sites of historical, religious and cultural significance.
When I was in Nakhchivan, I discussed at length with local authorities one such site in Julfa, where, according to evidence from credible sources, an ancient Armenian cemetery was desecrated or destroyed. I regret that the authorities, citing security reasons, made it impossible for me to visit the site and personally see what is there.
Despite being denied access to Djulfa, Ambassador Morningstar sees light at the end of the tunnel:
I am nevertheless heartened by stories of efforts to protect each country’s heritage. Today in Baku, for example, I visited the Armenian Cathedral of St. Gregory the Illuminator, where I learned about the church’s history and the preservation of books and manuscripts in the Armenian language.
Ambassador Morningstar’s interest in preservation is laudable, but he seems to miss the point of the intentional destruction of Armenian monuments in Azerbaijan. The reason why the church in Baku he visited has been preserved is because, unlike medieval Djulfa, it was built in the 19th century. Official Azerbaijan claims that Armenians appeared in the Caucasus in the 19th century (despite Armenians’ thousands of years of rich history in the region).
Incidentally, Ambassador Morningstar’s statement was originally released through the Azerbaijani media. The Embassy promptly responded to our request for official confirmation of the statement and shortly after posted it online.