In anticipation of Biden for genocide, the Armenians worry cultural issues …… | Information reporting
The Armenians' fears of a new genocide were put on hold after the fall of Shusha, the crown jewel of Nagorno-Karabakh, high in the Caucasus. Last November, Azerbaijani troops captured the city – known to the Armenians as Shushi – whereupon a ceasefire ended military hostilities.
But not the cultural.
Last month, satellite images reportedly exposed the destruction of the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Shusha. It was built in 2009 and leaves a bitter taste during this year's remembrance of the 1.5 million lives lost when Turks drove Armenians from their homes a century ago.
President Joe Biden can identify the atrocity by using the word genocide in his memorial address.
But the horrors in Turkey also extended to Shusha, where Azerbaijanis massacred the local Armenian population.
"As in 1915, the Turco-Azeris are not only committing human genocide against the Armenians, but also cultural genocide," said Rene Leonian, President of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches in Eurasia.
"Unfortunately, nations and international organizations are too passive to firmly condemn these abuses."
You can now add the case of the missing church.
After the war, video footage was taken of an Azerbaijani soldier shouting "Allahu Akbar" on the roof of the Church of Our Lady in the city of Jabrayil.
In the search for the simple stone chapel, the BBC found no traces.
The police escorting it first said it was destroyed in the war. Then he changed his story and said the Armenians dismantled them before they left.
The President's advisor, Hikmat Hajiyev, told the BBC that the matter would be investigated but then shifted the discussion to the nearly 30-year-old Armenian occupation.
It wasn't entirely inappropriate.
The church in question was built on a military base after Armenia captured the controversial Caucasus enclave during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war in 1993. Jabrayil became a ghost town when Azerbaijani residents fled. The area was later looted and left in ruins.
The Armenians call Nagorno-Karabakh "Artsakh", as it is called in his kingdom from the 5th century. Over the centuries it changed hands, and in 1923 the then nationality commissioner Joseph Stalin had the Soviet Union designate the region as Azerbaijani territory despite its predominantly Armenian population.
But beyond the vanished military worship outpost, Azerbaijani actions – and rhetoric – also threaten historic churches.
Ghazanchetsots (Holy Savior) Cathedral in Shusha, built in 1888, was hit twice by missiles at the start of last year's war.
After the armistice, the towers of Shusha's Kanach Zham (Green Chapel) by John the Baptist from 1818 were removed. And last month aerial photographs showed the entire structure being destroyed.
Azerbaijan stated that the church originally belonged to the Russian Orthodox churches and was subject to "Armenification". There are plans to bring the church back to its former form – and the owners.
But such actions are "cultural genocide," said Davit Babayan, Artsakh Foreign Minister. He and many Armenians believe that Azerbaijan is pursuing a systematic campaign to erase their heritage from the region.
The destruction of more than 2,000 khachkars, ornately carved gravestones from a Christian cemetery in Nakhchivan, is cited as a precedent. A 2005 video, a non-congruent Azerbaijani enclave, shows previous efforts to eradicate historical evidence of the Armenian people.
A January 2021 report by the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Artsakh Republic stated that at least 1,456 Armenian historical, cultural and religious sites are now under the control of Azerbaijan.
It lists khachkars, tombs and fortresses and includes 161 monasteries and churches.
For many of them, however, the allegation of armenification goes even further. Many belong to the old Caucasian Albanian people, says Azerbaijan. This ancient Christian people, unrelated to the modern Balkan nation of Albania, is said to be the indigenous people of Nagorno-Karabakh before the Armenians changed their heritage and claimed it.
Today they are known as Udi, and Azerbaijan wants them to get it back.
Image: Press service of the Republic of Azerbaijan
Last month, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev visited the Hadrut region in Nagorno-Karabakh. He was filming for national television and entered the 12th century St. Astvatsatsin Church in Tsakuri village to highlight the graffiti and general state of disrepair.
The Armenian inscriptions are "wrong," he said.
"If it were really Armenian, would you use it as (a) garbage dump?" asked Aliyev. “This is our old story. This is the church of our Udi friends. "
During the war he consistently called the Armenians "dogs".
Aliyev later visited a cemetery and accused the Armenians of forging tombstones.
Similar headstones have since been destroyed, said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Since 2013, USCIRF has listed Azerbaijan as a Tier 2 nation – now referred to as the Special Watch List – because it practices or tolerates violations of religious freedom.
Two soldiers were arrested by Azerbaijan for the crime.
Video recordings have also captured the fall of a Khachkar in Hadrut.
In the famous 13th century Dadivank Monastery, the video released by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense is believed to have revealed the removal of medieval Armenian inscriptions. A Udi priest had previously been sent to hold services.
"Azerbaijan is trying to make Albania on par with Armenia," said Ara Sanjian, associate professor of history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and director of the Armenian Research Center.
"I want to see evidence," he said. "I can't say it didn't happen, but it is up to the Azerbaijanis to prove otherwise."
International scholars find it difficult to examine all historical sources. But Thomas de Waal, author of Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War, stated that Albanian theory had "little currency outside of Azerbaijan" and called it "bizarre".
Nagorno-Karabakh means "mountainous black garden" in a combination of Russian, Turkish and Persian names.
Such disputes are usually resolved by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization. However, the institution only worked through recognized states and was not responsible for recording religious heritage during the Armenian occupation.
And since the end of the war, UNESCO declared in December that Azerbaijan was not cooperating. In January, Aliyev threatened to overhaul relations with UNESCO, claiming it was acting with prejudice against Armenia and failing to investigate damage during the occupation.
Last month, President's adviser Hajiyev said Azerbaijan was ready to take on a mission. At the time of publication, UNESCO announced to CT that it was still in the discussion process, "in a spirit of consensus and strict impartiality".
International organizations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the World Council of Churches have called for preservation.
Johnnie Moore, a USCIRF commissioner, agreed but took responsibility for Armenia.
"The religious freedom group should also prepare a report on the desecration of Islamic sites during the years Armenia controlled the area," he said.
"Christians cannot expect the world to stand against the destruction of their religious heritage if we do not stand against what others have suffered."
Alongside hundreds of cultural sites that were damaged, Azerbaijan said more than 60 mosques had been destroyed. Another was turned into a pigsty. One in Shusha has been preserved, but was called "Persian" after Iranian help with the reconstruction.
"They even tried to steal our mosque," said Mushfig Bayramov, an Azerbaijani who converted to Christianity. "It's amazing how these people hate us."
Armenia said Azerbaijan targeted this mosque during the war and narrowly missed it.
The mutual accusations between the sides continue. Azerbaijan said Armenia illegally removed 40,000 museum exhibits. Armenia said Azerbaijan refused to return 1,500 art objects from Shusha.
Rima Nasrallah, Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at the Middle Eastern Theological School in Beirut, has paid special attention to Dadivank Monastery.
The threats reminded them of the destruction of the Armenian heritage in Turkey, but also of the losses suffered by Arab Christians in the Middle East.
In cooperation with scientists and theologians from Germany, she signed a declaration in which she rejected the destruction of the cultural heritage and its "ideological reinterpretation", especially in the service of a political agenda.
"Where monuments have been destroyed or changed, part of our Christian history has been lost," said Nasrallah.
“These are not just random halls for weddings and christenings. They are sacred spaces in which people have met God and felt his presence. "
Aliyev is committed to protecting these churches – and giving them to the Christians of Azerbaijan. Although Udis seem to be the beneficiaries, Aliyev stated that the Armenians are free to stay in what he now calls "Karabakh" and dropped the "mountainous" descriptor that signaled Armenian populated areas.
Even so, the dehumanization continues.
Azerbaijan issued postage stamps that look like an exterminator was spraying the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
A Military Trophies Park was opened in Baku, the country's capital, where Aliyev walked through an exhibition of helmets from killed Armenian soldiers.
While these images and violations received plenty of coverage in the Armenian media, mainstream publications have been more cautious. Although USCIRF and BBC are starting to notice, Armenians are just getting more frustrated.
Many put their hope in God.
"As the civilized world continues to turn a blind eye, Azerbaijan's greatest strength lies in denial," said Leonian, who headed the Artsakh ministry of the Armenian Missionary Association of America for 17 years.
"But God's patience is limited and one day the nations will open their eyes."