Assyrians around the world are protesting what they consider to be Turkey’s attempt to oppress and eventually close the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox church on Earth.
Mor Gabriel Monastery, founded in 397, has survived centuries of oppression, including the World War I genocide against indigenous Assyrians and Armenians by Ottoman Turkey. Its remote location, perhaps, is one reason.
But with rising Turkish nationalism – and increasing Assyrian demands for recognition of their genocide – Mor Gabriel Monastery is facing challenges. In the words of a Turkish newspaper:
A local prosecutor in August 2008 initiated a separate court case against the monastery after mayors of three villages complained the monks were engaged in “anti-Turkish activities” and alleged they were illegally converting children to the Christian faith. Monks say the mayors are instigating anti-Christian feelings by accusing Mor Gabriel of being against Islam. Villagers in neighboring Çandarlı, a settlement of 12 humble houses with no paved roads, said they had nothing against Christians and accused the monastery of taking land they need for cattle.
“There is a continued campaign to destroy the backbone of the Syriac people and close down the monastery,” said Daniel Gabriel, director of the human rights division of the Syriac Universal Alliance, a leading Syriac group based in Sweden. “These proceedings cannot take place without the sanction of the Turkish government. If the government wanted to protect the Syriac Christian community, it would stop this case,” he said.
Many churches and monasteries in southeast Turkey — known to Syriac Christians as Turabdin or “the mountain of worshippers” — are now abandoned and in ruins. “You need people to have a church. Without the community, the church is only a building,” said Saliba Özmen, the metropolitan, or bishop, of the nearby city of Mardin.
Three years after a cemetery dating back to the 9th Century was deliberately destroyed in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, bloggers recall an ancient culture annihilated and condemn the world for closing its eyes to what many consider to be an official attempt to rewrite history.
Today is the commemoration of the 3rd anniversary of Djulfa’s destruction. …This [is] not only a crime against Armenian culture, but against our collective cultural heritage as humankind. Don’t let it go unnoticed.
Between 10-16 December 2005 over a hundred uniformed men were videotaped destroying the Djulfa cemetery using sledgehammers, cranes, and trucks. The video was taken from across the border in Iran.
Азербайджанские власти на протяжении всего советского периода старались уничтожить этот некрополь, поскольку для них он был всего лишь свидетельством о том, что именно армяне были хозяевами этой территории на протяжении веков, вопреки тому, что говорилось в азербайджанских советских мифах о собственной “древности”… Это кладбище, вполне достойное названия чуда, было даже не внесено в реестр архитектурных памятников Азербайджана… После распада СССР, во время карабахского конфликта, продолжалось разорение кладбища, и, наконец, оно было окончательно уничтожено….
The Azeri authorities throughout all Soviet period tried to destroy this necropolis as for them it was only a testament that Armenians were owners of this territory throughout centuries in spite of Azerbaijan’s Soviet myths about own “antiquity”… This cemetery, quite worthy to be called a wonder, was not even placed on the register of architectural monuments of Azerbaijan… After USSR’s collapse, during the Karabakh conflict, the cemetery’s demolition continued, and, at last, definitively destroyed….
آنان از سنگ قبر ارامنه هم نگذشته اند و با تخریب دوازده هزار قبر با سنگ قبر هایی منحصر به فرد که متعلق به چند قرن پیش بوده و جزئی از میراث فرهنگی ارامنه به حساب می آمد، هیچ اثری از ارمنی نشین بودن آنجا، بجا نگذاشته اند.
[After acquiring Nakhichevan, Azeris] did not even tolerate Armenian gravestones. They destroyed twelve thousand Armenian graves. These unique gravestones with several centuries’ history were part of Armenian cultural heritage. However, through destruction of these gravestones, [Azeris] destroyed all signs indicating the existence of Armenians in that land. [translated by Loosineh M.]
iArarat, remembers Djulfa by discussing Robert Bevan’s The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War, a book that was “part of a class I teach at a Texas university on nationalism and ethno-political conflicts.”
While reading Bevan’s book I was inevitably reminded of the destruction of the medieval Armenian cemetery in Jugha, presently in Azerbaijan. Azeri soldiers at the command of their superiors without as much as blinking an eye would embark at destroying and erasing the last vestige of the Armenian civilization in that territory as if the Armenians had never as much as existed there, as if Armenians had never as much as created anything, something to celebrate their faith and commemorate their dead…
Adding insult to injury, earlier this month Baku, Azerbaijan hosted a little-noticed two-day conference of Council of Europe culture ministers to discuss “Intercultural dialogue as the basis for peace and sustainable development in Europe and its neighboring regions.” In his opening remarks to the attendees Azeri president Ilham Aliyev, astonishingly claimed:
“Azerbaijan has rich history and the cultural monuments here are duly preserved, and a lot is being done in this direction…”
[T]he Armenian Ministry of Culture failed to deliver a message by boycotting the conference. They either should have properly boycotted the conference by making an appropriate statement explaining the reasons for non-participation, or they should have participated there to raise the all important issues of destruction of Armenian cultural heritage in Azerbaijan, as well as protecting and restoring the multinational cultural heritage in all three South Caucasus countries [Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan].
old-dilettante [RU], says that Djulfa’s destruction was the last stage of Azerbaijan’s attempt to eradicate Nakhichevan’s Armenian heritage. Commenting on a post about churches in Georgia, she writes:
Теперь там не найдется ни одной армянской церкви, несмотря на фотографии и книги, изданные всего ничего – лет 20 тому назад. Все церкви уничтожены. Все могилы. Все хачкары.
И кто через 20 лет скажет, что там вообще жили армяне? … А ведь мой дед был “местным жителем”.
…Now, not a single Armenian church will be found [in Nakhichevan] despite of photographs, some as recent as 20-years-old. All churches are annihilated. All cemeteries. All khatchkars.
And who will say in 20 years that Armenians ever lived there? … It wasn’t that long ago that my own grandfather was a “local” there.
In Baku Armenian cemeteries with less historical but more immediate sentimental value to many (including my family whose three generations made their home in Baku for nearly a century) were paved over for roads or new construction. That does not justify the disrespect they were afforded but makes some remote sense.
In the case of Jugha khachkars stood in the middle of nowhere and were simply crushed, dismembered, thrown into the river. They were targeted and wiped out as the last remaining Armenian outpost.
Sarcastically, the journalist-blogger considers how other Armenian monuments on Azerbaijani territory could be protected.
Now I am thinking, perhaps Armenians should disassemble the remaining Azeri mosques and gravestones on their territory and exchange them for the khachkars and other Armenian heritage items of value?
Certainly some of the Azeri items have cultural value for Armenia and I would rather not see them go. But what other options are there?
Reacting to a comment on his above-mentioned post, Ivan Kondratiev [RU] also says that if Azerbaijanis wanted to cleanse their territory of Armenian heritage, they could have at least given the monuments to Armenia even if such a transfer would amount to acknowledging Djulfa’s Armenian history.
[T]here is reason to be optimistic that [Barack Obama’s] foreign policy team will… have a very different response to the ongoing stonewalling by the Azeris than [current US Secretary of State] Rice’s utter disinterest [about Djulfa’s destruction], which is rooted in the Bush administration’s pro-Azerbaijani, pro-Turkey foreign policy.
In addition to secretary of state nominee Hillary Clinton […] prospective U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has a particular interest in genocide and is an advocate of military action to stop mass killings, rather than ineffective “dialogue” as slaughters continue apace. And Harvard professor Samantha Power, author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” (2002), has been quietly advising Obama behind the scenes […].
Given that past is prologue, with these women’s combined emphasis on championing human rights and genocide prevention, it will not be easy for the Obama administration to ignore or overlook the genocide that preceeded – and encouraged – all others in the 20th and 21st centuries, or the ongoing “cultural genocides” in Azerbaijan and Turkey against the archeological remains of a once-thriving, centuries-old Armenian population that is no more.
More photographs of the cemetery, before and after its destruction, are available at www.djulfa.com.
It is rare when France, the Russian Federation and the United States are part of a small group that vote the same way in the United Nations.
But today they joined the states of Angola, Armenia, India, and Vanuatu in voting against a General Assembly resolution by the Republic of Azerbaijan that calls on Armenian forces to withdraw from the Armenian indigenous region of Nagorno Karabakh – a de facto but internationally unrecognized republic in the ex-Soviet world.
The U.N. General Assembly on Friday demanded [on March 14, 2008] that Armenian forces withdraw from all occupied territories in Azerbaijan, but key mediators in the Azeri-Armenia dispute rejected the non-binding resolution.
There were 100 abstentions and many other countries chose not to participate in the vote, which Western diplomats said was a reflection of the fact that most people felt the Azeri resolution was not a balanced picture of the problem.
“This resolution was not helpful,” said a diplomat from one of the three co-chairs of the Minsk Group — Russia, the United States and France.
The Minsk Group is a committee of countries working to bring about a peaceful resolution of the disagreement over Nagorno-Karabakh, the disputed Caucasus mountain enclave. The group was established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1992.
A U.S. statement on the resolution said the three Minsk Group co-chairs all voted against the resolution because they agreed it represented a “unilateral” view of the dispute.
Last week Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said Kosovo’s newly declared independence from Serbia had emboldened Armenian separatists in Azerbaijan’s mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Both Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of stoking the recent violence there.
The resolution passed by 39 countries voting in favor of Azerbaijan’s ‘territorial integrity,’ while 100 states chose to abstain or not show up at all. The Azerbaijani resolution, which calls for “the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal from all the occupied territories of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” was largely voted for by Muslim countries including Armenia’s historic enemy Turkey (where the indigenous Armenian population was eliminated during WWI), Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Iraq, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and others. Among others, the ex-Soviet states of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – all in somewhat similar situation like Azerbaijan with breakaway regions – supported the resolution. From other former Soviet “Turkic” countries only Uzbekistan supported the resolution while the rest of Central Asian countries voted abstain or were not present. Serbia, which is still protesting the U.S.-backed breakaway of Kosovo, joined Azerbaijan in defending the latter’s “territorial integrity.”
According to the official United Nations website, Armenia’s representative argued that the Azeri-drafted resolution would undermine the peace process and contribute to Azerbaijan’s militant position in dealing with the indigenous population of Nagorno Karabakh:
The representative of Armenia said it was unprecedented for a draft resolution to be put to the vote without there having been any consultations on it, in cynical disregard of the foundation of the United Nations and every other organization. The purpose of the drafters had never been to encourage or facilitate discussion. It was simply a way for Azerbaijan to list its wishes on a piece of paper. If the intention had truly been to contribute to the success of ongoing negotiations, Azerbaijan would have put its energy into the existing Minsk Group negotiation format.
He said that, after Azerbaijan had militarized the conflict 20 years ago, there had been a full-scale war between Armenians of Nagorno Karabagh and Azerbaijan. The result was thousands dead, nearly 1 million refugees and lost territories on both sides. Today, there was a self-maintained ceasefire and negotiations under the auspices of the Minsk Group. Despite that and attempts by Azerbaijan to divert from the peace process, the talks were indeed moving forward. There was now a negotiating document on the table that addressed all fundamental issues, security being foremost among them. The Minsk Group co-chairs had presented the latest version to the two sides at the OSCE Ministerial Meeting in Madrid.
Yet, Azerbaijan risked sabotaging that process by presenting a draft that ignored fundamental international norms and the real issues, which must be addressed, he continued. In short, the draft was counterproductive. It called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of armed forces, while ignoring the security vacuum that would result. Who would be responsible for the security of the population of Nagorno Karabagh, which was already vulnerable, in the absence of “international cover” safeguarded by those very armed forces?
The draft also called for self-governance within Azerbaijan, he noted. That had become impossible 20 years ago and was not possible today, when the security of the Armenian minority was clearly endangered. The international community had demonstrated that it understood that, in various conflicts around the world. The Government of Azerbaijan had forfeited its right to govern people it considered its own citizens when it had unleashed a war against them 20 years ago. Armenians would not return to such a situation. Just as victims of domestic violence were not forced back into the custody of the abuser, the people of Nagorno Karabagh would not be forced back into the custody of a Government that sanctioned pogroms against them, and later sent its army against them.
Noting that the draft also asked for commitment by the parties to humanitarian law, he questioned their commitment to the non-use of force, the peaceful resolution of disputes and all the other provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. The draft talked about territories and refugees, but not how the consequences of the conflict would be resolved if the original cause was not addressed. Refugees and territories had been created by an Azerbaijan that had “unleashed a savage war against people it claims to be its own citizens”. Only when the initial cause was resolved would the fate of all the territories and refugees in question be put right.
The draft was a “wasted attempt” to predetermine the outcome of the peace talks, he said. That was not how responsible members of the international community conducted the difficult but rewarding mission of bringing peace and stability to peoples and regions. The co-chairs had found that today’s text did not help the peace talks. Armenia also knew it would undermine the peace process and asked other delegations not to support it.
Vandalized graves; broken stones. Another Christian cemetery has been erased in the Republic of Azerbaijan this time containing not only Armenian, but also Russian, Georgian and Ukrainian graves.
Photo: The burial monument of Tamara Akhoomiants, an ethnic Armenian, vandalized
According to photographs and information posted at Dpni.org, a conservative website from Russia, “Recently im Baku – the capital of Azerbaijan – an old Christian cemetery was destroyed. Hundreds of graves of Russians, Armenians, Georgians, and Ukrainians were barbarically demolished by bulldozers. ”
Photo: Dead residents of a Christian cemetery being “evicted” from Azerbaijan (again)
Shockingly enough, the photographs of the now-gone cemetery were taken in December of 2005 – the same month when the medieval Armenian cemetery of Djulfa was reduced to dust by the Azerbaijani army.
According to the website, the cemetery is being replaced with elite houses.