The Untold Story Of How Azerbaijan Demolished The Ancient Armenian Holy Sites Of Nakhichevan

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The Untold Story Of How Azerbaijan Demolished The Ancient Armenian Holy Sites Of Nakhichevan

Photos: (Left) The medieval Djulfa khachkars once numbered in the thousands.(Argam Ayvazyan); (Right) Argam Ayvazyan, a researcher who documented the medieval Armenian monuments of Nakhichevan, pictured by a khachkar. (Simon Maghakyan)

As conflict has sparked again between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, known as Artsakh in Armenian, public scrutiny is being put on the actions of Azerbaijan and their treatment of not only the Armenian people within their national borders, but also their treatment of historic Armenian monuments. This involves the sacred Armenian holy sites of Nakhichevan in particular.

The sacred khachkars of Djulfa stood for centuries on the banks of the river Aras in the Nakhichevan region. Constructed in the 16th century as a cemetery, it was the resting place of many Armenians, often of noble background, and remained as a spot of profound cultural and archaeological interest and historic pride. This was up until the events that led to its annihilation.

Despite a request from UNESCO in 2000 to preserve the site, in 2019, the Azerbaijani government demolished the area as part of a program to erase the evidence of a historic Armenian presence within what is now Azerbaijan.

A statistical analysis of the ancient site has shown that 89 medieval churches, 22,000 tombstones and 5,840 khachkars have been wiped out completely. Despite large scale public outcry from Armenian communities across the world media, attention was minimal.

Simon Maghakyan, an American-Armenian activist, was one of those who dedicated himself to telling the truth about the abuses that have occurred. He stated in a speech covered by the Los Angeles Times in 2019 that:

"It's not a job, but it is my lifelong cause. I can never vacation from this. I tried, but it drove me nuts. If you believe in a cause, you have to pursue it or you're not going to have an easy time falling asleep at night. I'm stuck with this until something happens."

He drew comparisons with what ISIS and the Taliban had done within the areas they once controlled and stated his belief that just as the world turned its back on the Armenians when 1.5 million were killed by a Turkish genocide in 1915, the world was doing the same today. He added:

"This is worse than what ISIS did. How could the world ignore it? How did Azerbaijan get away with this? And if I do not tell this story, who will? I'd never forgive myself if the world never learned of the great cultural genocide of our time. I used to think that when Turkey denies the Armenian genocide, maybe it was mainly because the information is old, or some people really don't believe it happened. But here we have photos, satellite images, video footage. Denial is not because they are unaware. They know what happened. So denial to me has become so much more sinister."

There was worldwide outrage when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan in 2001, and when ISIS destroyed a huge number of artefacts and holy sites in Syria and Iraq during their brutal rampage in the mid-2010s. However, there remains only silence concerning the crimes of Azerbaijan.

The Armenian population living in Azerbaijan say they face widespread discrimination and racism and the region of Artsakh, populated mostly by Armenians and under de-facto Armenian control, is now the centre of an escalating conflict between the two countries. The question must be asked as to when the international community will recognise the crimes occurring before their very eyes.

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Thinking Humanity: The Untold Story Of How Azerbaijan Demolished The Ancient Armenian Holy Sites Of Nakhichevan
The Untold Story Of How Azerbaijan Demolished The Ancient Armenian Holy Sites Of Nakhichevan
As conflict has sparked again between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, known as Artsakh in Armenian
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