Cultural heritage in Azerbaijan
Delivered in Plenary - 16th February 2006
The alleged demolition in December 2005 of the mediaeval Julfa – also known historically as Jugha – Armenian burial grounds, with the breaking-up of the khachkars, or beautifully engraved headstones, is a serious desecration of European Christian heritage.
The Azerbaijani Government claimed the video footage documenting this is fraudulent Armenian propaganda. But I have received independent verification that the footage is genuine from a British architect, Steven Sim, an expert in the region. Furthermore, if there has been no destruction, why are on-site visits refused by the Azerbaijanis, who also, rather bizarrely, state that this could have been done by looters needing the stone for local building work?
Once more Mr Sim has stated that passage into the cemetery requires passing through Azerbaijani army-controlled territory, making such a thing almost impossible without official support and in clear breach of their duty of care to protect the site.
I have also been informed by the Azerbaijani Embassy that this destruction is nothing compared to the destruction of Azerbaijani mosques. I was indeed sent photos of destroyed mosques. That mosques in the war zone were destroyed in 1991 is undeniable and to be condemned without reservation, but the photos I was sent I believe represent destruction that took place 15 years ago, not 3 months ago. Furthermore, the Julfa site in Nakhichevan was never part of the war zone. Also, it is worth pointing out that I have been informed that the Nagorno-Karabakh authorities have recently agreed to a project for the reconstruction of mosques destroyed on their territory.
We are now at a critical juncture in the talks between the two Presidents, Kocharyan and Aliyev, in Rambouillet, France, on finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. I therefore believe that any further planned destruction of Armenian heritage will not be conducive to lasting peace in the region.