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.
Armenoids and Nushik Tati made an Armenian music video last year about Djulfa (Jugha) and its destruction. Thank you to Emil Sanamyan from the Armenian Reporter for sharing the video with us. You can watch it at http://youtu.be/_mjm4qCLHwQ or below:
Several newspapers mentioned us in their report on the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s satellite documentation of Djulfa’s destruction.
In particular, the California-based Asbarez Newspaper reported on December 8, 2010:
“Azerbaijan’s war against indigenous Armenian heritage in Nakhichevan cannot be justified in any way–including by the gridlock in the negotiations over the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that fought for independence in the early 1990s from Azerbaijan precisely so that a destruction similar to Djulfa’s would not take place there,” Simon Maghakyan, the founder and project Manager at the Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum (www.djulfa.com), said today in a widely circulated email to media and advocacy groups.
“The loss of Djulfa was a blow to not just Armenian culture, but also to all world heritage,” said Maghakyan.
Maghakyan criticized UNESCO, “the organization charged with protecting our common heritage,” for its “shameful silence” on Djulfa’s destruction and urged action to tell UNESCO that “its unequivocal protest is long overdue.”
Maghakyan provides a more detailed account of the five-year rampage against Djulfa in a special blog post on the Amnesty International’s “Human Rights Now” blog. The post, titled “Cultural Oppression in Azerbaijan can be read here.
Five years after Azerbaijan’s war against defenseless medieval Armenian burial monuments, khachkars, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has released satellite image comparison and analysis where, in the 2009 data, no trace of the Djulfa cemetery remains. We have set up a petition to UNESCO at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/235/907/968/. Please sign it.
Here are the images posted at http://www.djulfa.com/satellite/:
(click on image to enlarge)
In September of 2003 (upper data), the central area of the Djulfa graveyard appears to have sustained significant damage, but the areas to the northeast and southwest remain largely intact. By May of 2009 (lower data), however, the entire area has been graded flat, apparently by earthmoving equipment.
A close-up of the southwestern portion of the cemetery clearly shows the extent to which the area has been scoured. Upper data from 2003; lower data from 2009.
The northwestern area of the Djulfa cemetery in Azerbaijan has also been completely demolished. Upper data from 2003; lower data from 2009.
Global Heritage Fund’s Google Earth-powered Global Heritage Network explores the destruction of Djulfa.
Ambassador-designee-in-waiting Matthew Bryza was grilled by Armenian lobbies in the United States for his muted protest of the destruction of Djulfa when he was in charge of the South Caucasus region.
Next month marks the fifth anniversary of the destruction of Djulfa.
To mark the anniversary, a satellite image comparison and analyses will be published reconfirming the destruction of the ancient cemetery through scientific data. A petition addressed to UNESCO will also be featured.
In the meantime, check out an interesting story on the destruction of Djulfa from a 2009 blog post.
Idrak Abbasov, an Azeri journalist who confirmed the December 2005 destruction of the Djulfa cemetery in an Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) article in April 2006, has been harassed by the Azeri authorities in Nakhichevan and instructed to never visit the region.
Photo: Idrak Abbasov (via Radio Free Europe)
In the words of another Azeri journalist with IWPR:
An Azeri journalist said state security agents last week used the pretext of giving him an interview to detain, insult and abuse him.
Idrak Abbasov, a correspondent from the Zerkalo newspaper and an employee of the Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety, IRFS, had traveled to the Nakhichevan region, which is separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by Armenian territory.
“Just as soon as I sat at the table, my hands were forced round and tied, they even closed my eyes. They took my phone, my camera and my documents. They took me to a room I didn’t know and started to ask about the reasons for my trip in a rude way, with insults and threats. I tried to explain that I had come to report. They told me that no journalist can come to Nakhichevan without the agreement of the local authorities.”
He said one officer asked him about connections with local journalists, then accused him of being a spy for Armenia. After two hours of interrogation, the MTN officers told him to get off the territory of Nakhichevan and never come back. He said the stress had made him feel ill, and he had been taken to hospital.
When, in February 2006, the European Parliament officially condemned Azerbaijan’s December 2005 deliberate destruction of the world’s largest Armenian medieval cemetery – Djulfa – the Azeri authorities denied European delegations’ visit to the site.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation was already in Armenia – just miles away from Djulfa. But Azerbaijan didn’t allow them to visit the cemetery stating that the delegation must first visit Nagorno-Karabakh, the de facto Armenian republic that was placed under Azerbaijan by Stalin in the 1920s.
The European delegation then decided to visit Nagorno-Karabakh. In fact, they planned to visit all the South Caucasus Republics – Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to asses the situation of minority monuments.
Azerbaijan, which still claims Djulfa was never destroyed because it didn’t exist in the first place, then said that it would only agree to the visit IF the delegation visited Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbaijan (which is impossible since Nagorno-Karabakh is in a technical war with Azerbaijan and the only real way to visit Nagorno-Karabakh is from Armenia).
In an apparent desperation in the face of Azerbaijan’s continuous tricks to keep the delegation out of Djulfa, Edward O’Hara – head of the PACE Committee on Culture, Science and Education – has suggested to drop the idea of visiting all countries at the same time and instead start off by visiting Azerbaijan first.
According to Azerbaijan’s Trend News agency, O’Hara said on June 21, 2008 that he wants to visit Baku – Azerbaijan’s capital city – and Nakhichevan, the area where Djulfa was destroyed, as part of his first visit. Azerbaijan’s reaction is, as always, most predictable. According to Trend, an Azeri official, says that “We can agree to [visiting Azerbaijan first], but only if the rapporteur [O’Hara] visits Nagorno-Karabakh and its nearby regions occupied by Armenia beginning from Azerbaijan. We want him to see the Azerbaijani monuments destroyed by Armenians in the occupied territories.”
The Azeri official, in his own words, “informed the rapporteur that Nakhchivan does not have any ancient Armenian moment.”
And that is exactly why O’Hara wants to visit Nakhichevan – a region where thousands of indigenous Armenian monuments were surveyed just two decades ago – and find out why there aren’t any ancient Armenian monuments.