UNESCO Must Hold Azerbaijan Accountable for Destruction

  • By: Simon Maghakyan
  • Target: Mr. Kishore Rao, Deputy Director of UNESCO World Heritage Centre 
Satellite data analyzed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science confirm the complete destruction of the medieval Djulfa cemetery in Azerbaijan.  Tell UNESCO to stop adding Azerbaijani monuments to the World Heritage List until Baku acknowledges and punishes the vandalism at Djulfa.  

Dear Deputy Director Rao:


Newly released satellite images and analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science confirm that the celebrated medieval Djulfa cemetery, located in the southwestern quadrant of Azerbaijan, has been erased from the face of the earth. We therefore urge the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO to expressively discontinue considering the inclusion of any further monuments from Azerbaijan to the World Heritage List until the Government of Azerbaijan takes responsibility for the deliberate destruction of the Djulfa cemetery by facilitating an impartial investigation into the demolition that occurred; prosecuting those who gave orders and supervised the destruction; and designating the site where the cemetery existed as an archaeological landmark.


Five years ago starting on December 14, 2005, a local Armenian church film crew in northern Iran caught on tape approximately a hundred members of the armed forces of Azerbaijan destroying the ancient Djulfa cemetery across the River Araxes (the border between Iran and Azerbaijan). The video evidence, currently available at www.djulfa.com/film/, and reports of the destruction have been denied as "absolute lie" by Azerbaijan's president, despite confirmation by independent Azeri journalists in April 2006 about the complete vanishing of the cemetery.  Using modern technology to clarify the allegations, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has conducted satellite image comparison, released in December 2010, that shows the cemetery largely intact in 2003 and completely gone in 2009. 


The tradition of crafting Armenian khachkars, the largest assemblage of which had been at Djulfa, was included in the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List in November 2010. Moreover, part of the Djulfa Armenian culture on Iranian territory directly across from the destroyed cemetery in Azerbaijan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of Armenian Monastic Ensembles in Iran in 2008. The Djulfa khachkars are, therefore, part of both tangible and intangible world heritage by posthumous association. Azerbaijan, unfortunately, doesn't even acknowledge that the cemetery existed in the first place.  


The satellite data comparison leaves no room for doubt that the celebrated Djulfa cemetery with its unique 3,000 medieval tombstones, intricately carved monuments of Christian Armenian art known as khachkars, has been deliberately erased from the face of the earth. The role of the World Heritage Centre is to protect all historic monuments, especially the most vulnerable ones. The only parallel to the destruction of Djulfa is the bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban in Afghanistan. UNESCO forcefully (and rightfully so) responded to the latter but has kept silence on the former.  Now is the time for UNESCO to break that silence.

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