Commentary of the Press Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan about unfounded claims by Armenia on committing “cultural crimes” in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan
On 25 March 2021, BBC News reported on the alleged ‘disappearance of an Armenian church’ in the Azerbaijani town of Jabrayil. We take such allegations seriously, but strongly refute claims by the Armenian National Commission for UNESCO that any ‘cultural crime’ was committed.
The Republic of Azerbaijan has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to protecting culture and religious diversity, and it remains unchanged.
The alleged ‘disappearance’ must be put in context. The chapel in question was unlawfully constructed during Armenia’s nearly thirty-year occupation of land that is internationally recognized as Azerbaijan, and that was solely populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis prior to the unlawful occupation in 1993.
The chapel was constructed during a period when Armenia was destroying the homes and cultural heritage of Azerbaijanis that had lived in Jabrayil and other occupied regions of Azerbaijan for generations.
In 2017, following the Republic of Azerbaijan’s appeals to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Co-Chairs from the OSCE Minsk Group agreed to visit the chapel in Jabrayil. The Republic of Azerbaijan raised grave concerns that the Armenian forces were altering the demographic, cultural and physical character of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.
Following their visit, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs concluded that the chapel had been built as part of a military compound in Jabrayil for use by Armenian soldiers.
The chapel cannot be considered a part of Jabrayil’s cultural history when its construction, reportedly only five years ago, solely served the occupying forces of Armenia.
Broad coverage of total demolition of the once occupied territories of Azerbaijan by international media, which were labeled as ‘Ghost town’ or ‘Hiroshima of Caucasus’ clearly demonstrated the vandalism of Armenia and deliberate policy of destruction of the Azerbaijani historical, cultural and religious heritage supported at the state level.
The country that deliberately targeted the Azerbaijani heritage, conducted cultural cleansing and numerous war crimes in the once occupied territories, including the destruction of 927 libraries, more than 60 mosques, 44 temples, 473 historical sites, palaces and museums has neither legal nor moral right to accuse Azerbaijan.
Armenia during its decades of a continuing policy of occupation did not allow international missions to visit the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. This fact is even clearly reflected in the UNESCO Activities Report published in 2005. The report stated that the government of Azerbaijan expressed concern about the protection of cultural heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied territories and requested the dispatch of a fact-finding mission to these territories, however, this mission was prevented due to the occupation of these territories by the Armenian military forces.
Azerbaijan is the most interested side in the conduct of independent and comprehensive international mission to the liberated territories, so the devastations in these areas are well documented. Constructive dialogue is underway on this regard with UNESCO and we hope the mission will take place soon.
The Republic of Azerbaijan remains committed to its international obligation to protect and uphold historical cultural and religious heritage in the liberated territories.