The current issue of The Armenian Reporter (January 5, 2008), a newspaper in the United States, has my latest article on the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery discussing the politically safe “both sides are guilty” argument and its effectiveness.
The article, with a front page preview, also features a satellite image from the Djulfa cemetery before its final destruction showing marks of pre-2003 destruction. To see the satellite image and the article in the actual paper format, download the January 5, 2008 issue of The Armenian Reporter from http://mark.armenianreporteronline.com/generating/pdf/2008/jan05/A0105.pdf.
The full article is also available at the Djulfa blog.
While on a one-day visit to Nakhichevan last November, the U.S. Ambassador in
Anne Derse was confronted by angry Azeri students who were unhappy that an exhibit at Azerbaijan featured photographs of Armenian cultural heritage – today completely vanished – in Nakhichevan. During Mrs. Derse’s visit, the Nakhichevani branch of Harvard University ’s National Academy of Sciences issued an official statement proclaiming that “there is no Armenian historical or cultural monument among those registered” in the region. Azerbaijan
In fact, these Armenian monuments no longer exist. One of the largest – the medieval cemetery of Djulfa – was wiped off the face of the earth two years ago, in December 2005, in a well-documented case of vandalism that was condemned by the European Union.
And according to what Jonathan Henick, Public Affairs Officer at the American Embassy in
, told this writer, “[t]he Ambassador and others at the Embassy have raised the issue of the Djulfa cemetery with Azerbaijani officials.” Baku
But during her short visit to Nakhichevan, Mr. Henick said, “The Ambassador did not have the opportunity to travel outside of the capital city. She did visit a number of interesting cultural monuments in Nakhichivan city, but our understanding is that none of those monuments were of Armenian origin.”
Perhaps the Ambassador missed a chance to visit the site where the world’s largest Armenian cemetery existed not too long ago. Instead, the American Embassy, as articulated by Mr. Henick, offered an important message to Armenia and Azerbaijan that “joint efforts to preserve monuments in both countries would serve the interests of safeguarding the shared cultural heritage of this fascinating region and might also be a valuable confidence- building measure in the ongoing efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.”
The well-intentioned statement of the Embassy resonates with a popular Western sentiment that “both sides are to blame” for the cultural destruction that is happening. This argument is in a way a form of political correctness and seeks not to dehumanize any ethnic group.
Yet this approach avoids analysis of specific cases and unintentionally supports the prejudiced “barbarian” argument – “Azeris are barbarians they have always destroyed Armenian monuments,” and vice versa. It suggests that if we accept that a certain aspect of an ethnic conflict – such as destroying the other’s culture – may be an official policy or a norm among one side and not necessarily and equally among the other then this one side is more “civilized” than the other.
In reality, cultural destruction during ethnic conflict and who destroys how much and how it goes about destroying is not a reflection of “clash of civilizations,” but a representation of a slew of historical and social circumstances. These do not demonstrate the “humanity” of one people or another but whether one or the other perceives the opposite side as much human.
’s leaders have no such reasons to rewrite history and instead try to contrast their policies to what Armenia has done to Armenian monuments. The restoration of two mosques in Karabakh with government funding is the most recent such example. Azerbaijan
A more realistic picture of Azeri monuments in
is one of neglect and ignorance, as Vanadzor-based journalist Naira Bulgadarian reported for the IWPR Caucasus Report in September 2007. There is also an effort to present Muslim monuments on Armenian territory as belonging only to the Persians, and not the Azeris – while both groups, as well as Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs, can lay claims to these monuments. Armenia
Yet, as Ms. Bulgadarian reported, the Armenian government has also allocated funds to catalogue and to safeguard Azeri cemeteries. An exhibit in Stepanakert late last year featured photographs of about 30 Muslim monuments in Karabakh.
Azerbaijani officials and activists, on the other hand, have to a large degree ridiculed the discussion of monuments in the
South Caucasus. Last October and November, as part of the effort to thwart the Nakhichevan exhibit at Harvard, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry distributed letters and statements claiming that “Armenians destroyed over 100,000 cultural monuments, hundreds of cemeteries and 1,000-2,000-year-old archaeological monuments in the occupied Azerbaijani territory.”[...]