UNESCO mission deployment to Karabakh sparks tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan
UNESCO mission to Nagorno-Karabakh
“UNESCO continues to work to send its mission to Nagorno-Karabakh, negotiations are underway”, this is how the press service of the organization responded to a request from the Armenian news agency Armenpress. The request concerned reports received by Armenia about the destruction of Armenian monuments in the territories that, after the 2020 war in Karabakh, came under the control of Azerbaijan.
Recently, the statement of the Azerbaijani side on the formation of a working group of “specialists in Albanian history and architecture” has been actively discussed in the Armenian society. The working group will reportedly be responsible for removing Armenian inscriptions and other “fictitious traces” from churches that are declared “Albanian” in Azerbaijan.
The Armenian side believes that there is an ongoing process of deliberate destruction of the Armenian heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh.
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Azerbaijani authorities: “Armenians left traces on our monuments”
Armenia is closely following the statements of the Azerbaijani side regarding historical and religious monuments in the territories controlled by Azerbaijan.
Both the Armenian authorities and the residents of the country believe that Azerbaijan is deliberately eliminating the Armenian traces in Karabakh. In early February, the reason for this was the statement of the Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan Anar Karimov. He announced the creation of a working group, consisting of local and foreign experts, which was created “to eliminate fictitious traces left by Armenians” in “Albanian” churches.
“Armenians left traces on our monuments, we are now collecting evidence of this”, the minister told reporters.
Earlier, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev visited the Church of the Holy Mother of God in Hadrut, where he also spoke about Armenian inscriptions:
“Armenians have defiled the Albanian temple in the same way they have desecrated our mosques. But we will restore them. All these inscriptions are false, they were made later”.
“The danger of distorting the Armenian heritage is real”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia and the unrecognized NKR responded to the statement of the Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan. He described it as a gross violation of the decision of the International Court of Justice of December 7, 2021.
On that day, the Hague court issued a ruling on taking urgent measures on the counterclaims of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Both countries accuse each other of violating the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The Armenian side demanded to take urgent measures before considering the main claim against Azerbaijan and to oblige Baku not to destroy Armenian cultural monuments in the territories that came under the control of Azerbaijan. The court granted this appeal.
According to the court decision, Azerbaijan is obliged “to take all necessary measures to prevent, suppress and punish acts of vandalism and desecration of the Armenian cultural heritage”.
The “Azerbaijani initiative” is not only an open challenge to the decision of the Hague court, but also contradicts Azerbaijan’s statements about its readiness for reconciliation, creates obstacles to establishing peace in the region, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said in response.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry considers it a priority and an urgent necessity to send a UNESCO fact-finding mission to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone:
“Recorded cases of vandalism of Armenian monuments, as well as the announcement by the Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan about the creation of a working group to distort the identity of the Armenian historical and cultural heritage, indicate that this danger is real”.
“At the moment, there are no necessary conditions for sending a mission”
Meanwhile, UNESCO reports that it has not yet been possible to launch a fact-finding mission:
“We continue to work on sending an independent UNESCO technical mission to Nagorno-Karabakh, in accordance with the 1954 Hague Convention [for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict]. We hope that this will become possible in the near future, but at the moment there are no necessary conditions for this. So the discussions are still ongoing”, said spokesman Thomas Mallard.
Armenpress agency addressed the organization with a question: “Can the Azerbaijani interpretation of history become a justification for the destruction of Armenian historical inscriptions and other traces from religious and other monuments?”
UNESCO answered that the historical and cultural heritage “should not become a tool for achieving political goals”:
“We call on all our member states to respect this principle throughout the world”.
According to the official data of the Armenian side, as a result of the 44-day war, approximately 1,500 Armenian monuments – churches, monasteries, fortresses, khachkars (cross-stones), museums with their exhibits – came under the control of Azerbaijan. A year and a half after the war, according to the information that Armenia has received, some of them were completely or partially destroyed or desecrated.
After the online meeting of the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, France and the head of the European Council in February, information appeared that the parties agreed to deploy a UNESCO mission to Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, the Armenian Foreign Ministry reports that there are no “specific dates and agreements” yet.