Let the People Speak

This post is part 3 of 3 of Cultural Oppression in Azerbaijan series

“A medieval cemetery regarded as one of the wonders of the Caucasus has been erased from the Earth in an act of cultural vandalism likened to the Taleban blowing up the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan,” reflected the London Times after independent journalist Iddrak Abbasov in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan confirmed in April 2006 that the world’s largest historic Armenian cemetery had vanished.

When Mr. Abbasov returned to the exclave of Nakhichevan – where Djulfa existed – to investigate other human rights violations, he was interrogated, harassed, accused of being an Armenian spy, and instructed never to return to the region. Abbasov’s interrogation was mentioned in our 2009 “Azerbaijan: Independent Journalists under Siege” report. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Breaking News: Let the Satellite Stream

This post is part 2 of 3 of Cultural Oppression in Azerbaijan series

When reports emerged in December 2005 that Azerbaijan was deliberately destroying (see the tape) the world’s largest medieval Armenian cemetery at Djulfa with its intricately carved burial stones called khachkars, Azeri president Ilham Aliyev said the news was “an absolute lie.” Five years later, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has released before-and-after satellite image analysis which states that the “the entire area [of the cemetery] has been graded flat.”

Below are top ten reasons why you should take action to tell UNESCO – the international body charged with protecting world heritage – to hold Azerbaijan accountable for Djulfa’s destruction:

Satellite data showing the Djulfa cemetery partly destroyed in 2003 (left) and “graded flat” by 2009 (right); read the complete study on the AAAS website.


Let the Stones Scream

This post is part 1 of 3 of Cultural Oppression in Azerbaijan series

One of many snapshots from a video taped at the Iranian-Azerbaijani border in December 2005, this image shows a truck dumping deliberatey destroyed celebrated khachkars of the Djulfa cemetery into the River Araxes

Five years ago this month an ancient cemetery in a remote region of southerwestern Azerbaijan was wiped off the face of the earth. The unique and intricately carved tombstones of the cemetery known as khachkars, literally cross-stones in Armenian (the craftsmanship of which is a UNESCO Intangible Heritage tradition), were seen as the latest victims of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict materialized in the early 1990s war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. But their destruction was also a broader violation of human rights – not only against ethnic Armenians but all citizens of Azerbaijan who were denied a chance to explore and appreciate an often inconvenient history.

While the Karabakh war, ceased in 1994, destroyed thousands of lives and damaged cultural monuments on both sides (each side equally denying their own responsibility in the casualties), the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery in December 2005 was unique because it took place after the war in a region called Naxçivan (or Nakhichevan) where no skirmishes had taken place (and where ethnic Armenians live no longer). The deliberate destruction of Djulfa was more like a war against history: a calculated act of ruling out a future return of the Armenian heritage by denying its indigenous existence in the first place.