CULTURAL HERITAGE IN DANGER

UNESCO International Conference “Cultural Policy, Policy for Culture: The Role of Culture in Post-2015 Development Agenda”, held in Armenia in 2015, adopted a Declaration, which in the strongest terms condemned cultural cleansing, barbaric destruction, violence, looting and other crimes committed against humanity’s cultural heritage and called upon the international․

Gohar Agha Upper Mosque, 1864–1865
In 2019 the mosque was restored keeping in mind the best international practices and standards, the project involved both local and international organizations. Along with an existing partnership with the Artsakh Ministry of Culture, the project also partnered with the Iranian “Part Saman Jahan” architectural bureau; the “TFA-Armenia” architectural bureau; ICOMOS-Armenia; Lorenzo Jurina, professor of the Politecnico di Milano; Faculty of Oriental Studies, Yerevan State University, as well as Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization. The latter provided significant support in inviting 12 specialists with major experience in brickwork construction, as well as the restoration of Islamic spiritual sites, to participate in the mosque renovation efforts.

Contribution of the Republic of Armenia to the consultations on the intentional destruction of cultural heritage as a violation of human rights, in particular cultural rights

The UN Human Rights Office of the Hight Commissionaire published a document, which states that the cultural heritage of national minorities in the Republic of Armenia is protected and preserved in accordance with appropriate legislation in force. According to the Constitution the citizens of Armenia who belong to national minorities have the right to preserve and develop their own customs, language, culture and religious liberties. These rights are reflected in a number of laws, which are being strengthened. The restoration of cultural heritage is implemented by means of financial resources allocated from the State Budget and from public-private partnerships. These resources are equally used to provide the restoration of both Armenian cultural heritage properties and ones belonging to national minorities.

The monuments of Armenian historical and cultural heritage have been a subject of intentional destruction throughout centuries during armed conflicts, as well as in time of peace. Along with human lives lost, cultural heritage is under ongoing attacks and under danger of destruction on both sides. Gross violation is done against the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.

As opposed to the policy of Azerbaijan, the Muslim monuments in Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh are under Government protection, well preserved and restored and are never used for any other purposes. The authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh have restored a 19th century mosque, the first Muslim monument to open as a tourist attraction in the entirely Christian-populated territory.

The monuments of Armenian heritage throughout the whole territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan have been either alienated (when falsely presented as “related to Caucasian Albania/Arran/Aghvank”) or destroyed.

This December will mark the 15th anniversary of the most recent and notorious of the acts of cultural vandalism committed in Nakhijevan. Several thousands of giant engraved cross-stones and tombstones of the medieval Armenian cemetery of Old Jugha in Nakhijevan were bulldozed by the Azerbaijani army during peacetime. There is ample evidence, including photos and videos, showing the destruction of the Armenian cultural heritage. In total 89 medieval churches, 5.840 ornate cross-stones and 22,000 historical tombstones were demolished only in Nakhijevan between 1997 and 2006. 

Cross stones, Nakhichevan 12-13cc.

The 16th General Assembly of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) adopted in October 2008 a resolution expressing the international community’s concern with regard to these acts of vandalism and regretfully stating: “this heritage that once enjoyed its worthy place among the treasures of the world’s heritage can no longer be transmitted today to future generations.”

Deliberate destruction of cultural heritage sites amounts to war crimes. The history shows that any form of intolerance towards the values of civilization belonging to others, intentionally damaging or destroying cultural or religious heritage, must be condemned with strong determination in order to protect the heritage. By keeping silence, we are paving the way to the new cultural atrocities to be committed in the different parts of the world. 

Museums and collections located in the zone of current fire are under huge risk of destruction. Museum professionals are committed to promote and to call the international and national societies to protect and preserve cultural heritage that is a mean to achieve a global well-being. The international Council of Museums – ICOM promotes the idea of museums and culture being for peace, mutual understanding and protecting human memory.

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