The United States House Foreign Affairs Committee has passed (43 yes; 1 no) an amendment calling on Turkey to return Christian properties to their rightful owners. That would be 2,200 Armenian sites (a number concluded from statistical research instructed by Turkey’s Interior Ministry to Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian from the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople during 1912-1913), as well as hundreds of Greek and Assyrians properties.
Kudos to the Armenian National Committee of America for initiating the “return of churches” campaign. While the U.S. government is very careful not to use the term “genocide,” genocide recognition can be achieved indirectly, such as addressing the cultural loss caused by the genocide. Turkey understands the last point very well; that probably explains the official Turkish anxiety over the issue.
Nonetheless, Turkey must preserve its diverse heritage – with or without acknowledging the Armenian genocide. In 1969 Turkey signed the International Treaty for the Preservation of Cultural Monuments. Moreover, Turkey has also signed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which underscores indigenous peoples’ “right to maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites.”
The environmentally praiseworthy move may prove politically dangerous. While a likely coincidence, the name-sharing of the two parks could increase the already sky-scraping atmosphere of mutual distrust and information wars. But the incident also has potential to help Armenia and Azerbaijan – technically at war over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh and locked in so-far-unsuccessful negotiations – to acknowledge some of their overlapping history.
History is hotly (and hostilely) contested in Armenia and Azerbaijan, with both trying to delegitimize each others’ national claims. Azerbaijan, for instance, outright distorts Christian Armenia’s ancient roots in the region – often deliberately destroying distinct Armenian monuments (and later denying their previous existence in the first place) to support its absurd case.
Armenia, in turn, exclusively (and religiously) insists that the idea of “Azerbaijan” is a mere construction of 1918 when a Persian toponym (the northern part of Iran) was applied to a newly-established Muslim Turkic country in the Caucasus. While accurate, Armenia’s argument ignores Azerbaijan’s diverse ethnic composition which is not completely limited to colonizing Turkic tribes from the other side of the Caspian but also includes some native peoples who, on their turn, share blood with Armenians. This explains why native Armenians and largely-settler Azerbaijans are genetically more related than either would want to admit.
Instead of emphasizing commonalities, which hasn’t been limited t conflict, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been each demanding exclusive rights to geographic names. The name of the new sanctuaries in both countries, Zangezur, for instance, is the name of the mountain range that separates southernmost Armenia’s Syunik region – often called Zangezur itself – from Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave. Instead of considering history-sharing, both Armenia and Azerbaijan regard Zangezur and Nakhichevan (and neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh) their exclusive historic lands.
The history dispute is a headache. But it may contain the key to solving the conflict. The Western and Russian negotiators of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict deliberately overlook (and wrongly so) the delicate issue of history and cultural protection. Instead, they should work toward an honest and straightforward address of historical disputes. If indeed a coincidence, the two Zangezur sanctuaries should remind Armenia and Azerbaijan (and the dithering negotiators) that “power sharing” – in this case the coequal right to using common historical names – maybe the road to sustainable peace.
Would a “sister” program between the Zangezur reserve in Armenia and the one in Azerbaijan help bring some change?
“Who controls the past controls the future;” party slogan states in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, “Who controls the present controls the past.”
While hopes are high that – despite a hostile history – Armenia and Turkey will establish diplomatic relations and that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan may finally be solved, the problem of how to deal with the official Turkish/Azerbaijani factory of history is not being addressed.
Djulfa, Nakhichevan: the worst documented case of history fabrication; Azerbaijani soldiers destroying the largest Armenian medieval cemetery in the world (December 2005) – the site is now a military rifle range
It’s not merely Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s denial of the Armenian Genocide that makes the reconciliation quite difficult, to say the least, but also the official Turkish thesis, with its roots in the Young Turkish movement (that carried out the Armenian Genocide) and formalized by Ataturk, that Turks/Azeris are indigenous to their current homelands and that Armenians, in the best case, are unwelcome immigrants.
While the Turkish fabrication of history can be dismissed as an issue of “internal consumption” – meaning a convenient myth to boost Turkish/Azeri pride in their respective countries (with the dangerous slogan “Happy is the man who can say I am Turk”) – the implications of flip-flopping history are right there in the middle of the current developments in the region. Here is a most recent case.
Turkey’s ceremonial president Abdullah Gul is currently visiting Nakhichevan (or Nakhchivan as Azerbaijan prefers), the region of Azerbaijan which it got from the communist regime in Moscow as another gift at the expense of giving out Armenian lands. Moreover, a treaty that Soviet Armenia was forced to sign from Moscow made Turkey the “guarantor” of Nakhichevan in the 1920s.
Gul is visiting Nakhichevan with other heads of “Turkic-speaking countries” (most of them in Central Asia) to talk about common issues. Sounds like a normal political event, and nothing to protest about, especially since Armenia has no official claims toward Nakhichevan. But read the rest.
As there are no Armenians left in Nakhichevan (thanks to a Soviet Azerbaijani policy of nonviolent ethnic cleansing which attracted little attention at the time) and not a trace of the rich Armenian heritage (the most precious of which, the Djulfa cemetery, was reduced to dust by Azeri soldiers in December 2005 – see the videotape), Armenia has no claims to Nakhichevan and perhaps rightly so. Yet, apparently, the history factory in Nakhichevan is still cooking.
While Armenia restraints itself from claiming its indigenous lands, and particularly Nakhichevan, taken away from it without its consent, Turkey and Azerbaijan must discontinue their unhealthy fabrications of history. Instead…
Putting the “native” side aside for a moment, the distortion of not just basic history but of linguistics is sickening. Save for the disputed proposal that Nakhichevan comes from the Persian phrase Naqsh-e-Jahan (image of the world), every other explanation of the name of the region has to do with Armenians (see Wikipedia for the several versions), let alone that the word itself has two Armenian parts to it: Nakh (before or first) and ichevan (landing, sanctuary) – referring to Noah’s coming out of the Ark from (another holy Armenian symbol) Mount Ararat – next to Nakhichevan now on Turkish territory.
Ironically, and as almost always in history fabrication, the Azeri/Turkish distortion of “Nakhichevan” is inconsistent. According to an official Azerbaijani news website, there are discussions in Nakhichevan that admit that the word has to do something with Noah (of course after saying that it had to do with a mythical Turkish tribe that lived there thousands of years ago): “The Turkic tribes of nakhch were once considered as having given the name to it. Other sources connect Nakhichevan with the prophet Noah himself, as his name sounds as nukh in Turkic.” Moreover, as an official Nakhichevani publication reads, “There is no other territory on the earth so rich with place-names connected with Noah as Nakhichevan. According to popular belief, Noah is buried in southern part of Nakhichevan, and his sister is buried in the northwest of the city.” Hold on. Did you notice that the language uses (at least its official English translation) the Armenian taboo name of the region: Nakhichevan (as opposed to Turkified Nakchivan)? Maybe there is hope, but not really. Azerbaijan still denies that it didn’t destroy the Djulfa cemetery because, well, it didn’t exist in the first place.
A skeptic would ask what the fuss is about. The answer is that Nakhichevan’s distortion is not the first. The sacred Armenian places of Ani, Van, and Akhtamar in Turkey all have official Turkish explanations to their meanings, while those places existed for hundreds – if not thousands – of more years before Turks colonized the homeland of the Armenians.
More importantly, the changing of toponyms is not done to meet the social demands of Turks/Azeris and in order to make it easier for the locals to pronounce geographic names. Distortion is done to rewrite history in order to control the future. But it’s not the right thing to do. And both Turkey and Azerbaijan embarrass themselves when it comes to legal discussions.
Immediately prior to voting for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, for example, the Turkish delegation at the United Nations made it clear that its “yes” vote was cast with the understanding that there were no indigenous peoples on Turkey’s territory. If there were indigenous peoples on the territory, the Turkish representative stated, then the declaration didn’t challenge states’ territorial integrity. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, abstained from voting.
The reservation on the UN document came from both countries who claim that there are the indigenous heirs of the lands they occupy and that their main enemy, Armenians (and also Kurds) are not only indigenous but are recent immigrants.
One version of Azerbaijan’s ridiculous inidigenousness claim is written on the website of one Azerbaijani Embassy: “The ancient states of Azerbaijan, which maintained political, economic and cultural ties with Sumer and Akkad and formed part of the wider civilization of Mesopotamia, were governed by dynasties of Turkic descent. The Turkophone peoples that have inhabited the area of Azerbaijan since ancient times were fire-worshippers and adherents of one of the world’s oldest religions – Zoroastrianism.”
Armenians (and to a large extent the Kurds, Assyrians and Pontiac Greeks) have their share of fault in the debate. Constantly repeating their indigenousness in what is now Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenians have helped create the defensive Turkish/Azeri attitude that they, and not Armenians or others, are the indigenous peoples of the land. But when it comes to fabricating history of their own, there is little blame for Armenia.
As Armenia struggles to defend the victory it won over the Karabakh conflict, most Armenians use the Turko-Persian name for Nagorno-Karabakh (Karabakh meaning black garden, Kara – black in Turkish and bagh – garden in Farsi). While some Armenian nationalists prefer using the indigenous name of the region, Artsakh, many others indirectly admit that diverse history of Nagorno-Karabakh by keeping its Turkified name.
While Turkey ad Azerbaijan must come to terms with history, Armenia must accept that Turks and Azeris are there to stay. All the nations in the region have equal rights to existence, but not so at the unhealthy price of fabricating history.
Five months after the war with Russia over South Ossetia, Georgian authorities have reportedly arrested two members of its Armenian minority on suspicion of espionage and forming an armed gang. Underrepresented in the local government of a region where they make up the majority, some Armenian demands for autonomy of Georgia’s Samtskhe-Javakheti region (map) are once again being heard.
On January 22, 2009 the special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia detained Grigor Minasyan, the director of the Akhaltskha Armenian Youth Center of Samtskhe-Javakheti Region of Georgia and Sargis Hakobjanyan, the chairman of “Charles Aznavour” charitable organization. They were charged with “preparation of crime”, according to Article 18 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, and “formation or leading of a paramilitary unit” (Part 1 of Article 223) and “espionage” (Part 1 of Article 314).
The announcement also reads:
The «Yerkir» Union considers these arrests as a deliberate provocation by the Georgian authorities, aimed at deterioration of the situation in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region and worsening the Armenian-Georgian relations…Only a democratic Georgia, respecting its ethnic diversity, can avoid further disruption and guarantee the sustainable development of the country.
While XUSSR NEWSreminds of earlier arrests of ethnic Armenians in Georgia, there is little information in the conventional media about the new development and limited discussion in the blogosphere.
[Think-tank] Mitq […] continues to play the nationalist card by warning of a second Armenian Genocide [in Georgia]. The same news site carries a report quoting a former Armenian Ambassador who not only lays claim to the region, but potentially risks encouraging a new armed conflict.
And as Armenian nationalists openly boast that “after Karabakh, Javakhk is next,” more diplomatic initiatives and sensitive handling by both Yerevan and Tbilisi seems more necessary than ever.
The blog, nonetheless, acknowledges problems in the region and especially with Council of Europe demands to repatriate Meskhetian Turks deported from the region by Stalin in 1944. Other bloggers in Armenia staged a mock funeral in 2008 outside the Georgian Embassy in protest at an ongoing dispute over church property in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
As an indication of some concerns that Armenians have about the level of cultural rights in Georgia, smbatgogyan [AM] has detailed an Armenian textbook published in Georgia with countless typos and grammatical errors.
Գնացել էի գյուղ, որը գտնվում է Վրաստանում` Ջավախքում: Այնտեղ արդեն մի-քանի տարի է, ինչ դպրոցներում փորձում են վերացնել հայերենը: Սակայն նրանց մոտ ոչինչ չստացվեց` ծնողները հրաժարվեցին իրենց երեխաներին քիմիա, աշխարհագրություն և համաշխարհային պատմություն սովորեցնել վրացերենով: …Վրաստանի կրթության նախարարությունը սկսել է հայերեն լեզվով դասագրքեր տպել Վրաստանի հայկական դպրոցների համար և պարտադրում է ուսանել այդ գրքերով: Ահա այդ գրքերից մեկը…:
…I went to a village in Georgia’s Javakhk [region]. [The Georgian authorities] have been trying to eliminate the Armenian language at schools there. But they were unsuccessful: parents refused to let their children learn chemistry, geography and world history in Georgian…. Georgia’s ministry of education has started to print textbooks in Armenian and requires to use them at school [as opposed to textbooks published in Armenia]. Here is one of those books…
The blog posts the cover of a mathematics textbook for second-grade students with the large title containing two typos in the word “mathematics.”
Interestingly, an earlier post dealt with translating textbooks into minority languages in Georgia. Writing for TOL Chalkboard, Swiss-Armenian journalist and regional analyst Vicken Cheterian detailed the project.
When we […] carried out bilingual education studies in Georgia […] we wondered how the images of minorities were reflected in the pages of Georgian history textbooks[…].
Their report […] found something startling: Armenians and Azeris in Georgia were by and large absent from Georgian history books. When they were noted, it was in a negative sense.
A workshop held in November  […] concluded that the Georgian Education Ministry is moving forward in its efforts to change the way history is taught. At the event […] Georgian educators presented their ongoing project to develop new textbooks with the aim of giving more space to minorities in the official version of history presented to youngsters from majority and minority linguistic communities.
These new texts should begin appearing soon in Armenian and Azeri schools, and be in use in all history classes in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo-Kartli by 2011.
[…]Georgian history teachers and authors are moving from a position of negation of ethnic minorities to one of recognition. But important obstacles remain in the path toward an integrated narrative of history in which minorities move from being the “other” coexisting with “us” into being part of society.
…[I]n a turbulent political climate following the catastrophic August war [with Russia], Georgian education authorities and many educators continue to press for change.
Will the process of “change” include enough Armenians and Azeris so that relations, let alone words, are not lost in translation?
In a cave overlooking southeastern Armenia’s Arpa River, just across the border from Iran, scientists have uncovered what may be the oldest preserved human brain from an ancient society. The cave also offers surprising new insights into the origins of modern civilizations, such as evidence of a winemaking enterprise and an array of culturally diverse pottery.
Excavations in and just outside of Areni-1 cave during 2007 and 2008 yielded an extensive array of Copper Age artifacts dating to between 6,200 and 5,900 years ago, reported Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, January 11 at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. In eastern Europe and the Near East, an area that encompasses much of southwest Asia, the Copper Age ran from approximately 6,500 to 5,500 years ago.
The finds show that major cultural developments occurred during the Copper Age in areas outside southern Iraq, which is traditionally regarded as the cradle of civilization, Areshian noted. The new cave discoveries move cultural activity in what’s now Armenia back by about 800 years.
Remarkably, one skull contained a shriveled but well-preserved brain. “This is the oldest known human brain from the Old World,” Areshian said. The Old World comprises Europe, Asia, Africa and surrounding islands.
Scientists now studying the brain have noted preserved blood vessels on its surface. Surviving red blood cells have been extracted from those hardy vessels for analysis.
While I have received a number of personal letters from individual Turks apologizing for the Genocide, this one is addressed to all Armenians: “My conscience does not accept the insensitivity showed to and the denial of the Great Catastrophe that the Ottoman Armenians were subjected to in 1915. I reject this injustice and for my share, I empathize with the feelings and pain of my Armenian brothers and sisters. I apologize to them.”
The thousands of Turkish signatories of the apology statement are not saying sorry for the genocide itself (which they call “the Great Catastrophe,” translating from the Armenian Metz Yeghern). The apology is for the convenient “ignorance” and “denial” about the WWI extermination of Ottoman Empire’s indigenous Armenians for about nine decades. The message, as I see it, is not recognizing a historical fact but recognizing humanity. To recognize genocide means to recognize a victim group’s humanity. The reverse can, apparently, be true as well.
What is also true is that there are thousands of Turks who are willing to risk their lives and comfort in order to break an ancient silence. As one Turkish friend told me, “[i]t’s a bit like putting your name on a ‘wanted’ list.” The “wanted list” is pretty big: over 22,000 signatures on the main website, http://www.ozurdiliyoruz.com/, by December 24, 2008, and over 3,400 on Facebook (as of Dec 20) with their real names and photographs (the Facebook event list seems to have since become a private one).
Nevertheless, Turkish media are openly calling Canan Arıtman, the female member of a social-democratic party who suggested Gul is a traitor because of his alleged Armenian origin, a “fascist” and a “racist.” Suggesting that the politician be expelled from her party, one Turkish columnist writing for Sabah says, “Arıtman is racist. What place can racism and questioning ethnic origins have in social democracy, an ideology that has freedom, equality and brotherhood as its fundamental tenets?”
Writing even harsher, a liberal Turkish columnist asks what if all Turks have Armenian origin:
“Arıtman and those like her are the strongest reason we have to apologize to the Armenian community. If these people can readily put into circulation statements that are racist, low and self-aggrandizing, the entire community is responsible for that. We all have a share in this crime. I have questions to ask people who approach this issue reluctantly and who think that it is unnecessary as an agenda item. Have you ever thought about this? Maybe we are all really Armenians. We may all have people in our lineage who were forced to act like Muslim Turks.”
A Zaman columnist says Turks “should thank the racist CHP deputy” for reminding the history of her political party. Apparently that political party is the hereditary of the chauvinist “Union and Progress” that committed the Genocide in 1915.
Furthermore, some of Arıtman’s colleagues in the parliament have compared her to Hitler: “”It was a similar stance that led German dictator Adolf Hitler to burn thousands of people of Jewish origin. Arıtman sees Armenians as enemies.”
When was the last time when any media in Turkey was outraged against insulting Armenians? Indeed this is unprecedented and demonstrates the power of the apology – no matte how vague and not-enough it may be. This maybe the reason why there is so much ultranationalist outrage in Turkey against the apology (even if some self-perceived progressives silently suggest the apology serves Turkey’s national interests). The website of the apology, for instance, was “suspended” according to a message which appeared on it around 1:30 AM standard US eastern time on December 23, 2008. Days ago it was also hacked. Furthermore, a group of nationalists have opened their own website called “I don’t apologize.” Almost 50,000 nationalists have signed it as of December 24. Another counter campaign claims twice as many supporters, although neither websites have received much – if any coverage – in Turkish or other media.
Hated by Turkish ultranationalists, the apology initiative has inspired similar (though low-profile) campaigns in the region. I have received a text that is being circulated among Cypriot Turks and Greeks asking both communities to apologize to each other:
“Initiative for Apologizing for the atrocities committed by ones’ own community
1. This is an initiative to collect signatures on a document apologizing for the atrocities committed by ones’ own community against the other. Following the initiative of 200 Turkish intellectuals, who found the courage to apologize for the Armenian genocide, we believe it is time for Cypriots to assume responsibility for the crimes allegedly committed in their name and to express regret and condemnation.
2. The initiative also aims at putting an end to the decades- long practice of concealing the truth about the events, of denying that they ever took place or attempt to justify them. This amounts to a crime of massacre denial which can no longer be tolerated. At the same time each one of us must assume responsibility for the actions we can take as parents, teachers, activists, journalists, politicians to put an end to the decades-long conspiracy of silence about our regrettable past.
3. We call on all interested persons and organizations to engage in a process of consultation on how best to promote this initiative and to formulate the text to be signed.”
Full of more potential for good than for bad, the Turkish apology is one that surprises many. In fact, it might not have been possible without one person. According to the Irish Times:
Others attribute the initiative to the shock that followed the murder of the Armenian-Turkish editor Hrant Dink. A leading advocate of a more humane debate on the Armenian issue, Dink was gunned down by a nationalist teenager in January 2007.
“When he died, it was as if a veil had been torn from the eyes of the democratic-minded citizens of this country,” says Nil Mutluer, a feminist activist who signed the letter. “People realised there was no time to be lost.”
The road ahead looks hard. The chief organisers of the 1915 massacres continue to be commemorated in street names across the country….”
The road is a hard one, but not unprecedented. Around the globe, there is a global recognition of indigenous rights which have often been repressed through genocidal policies. One such injustice was recently corrected by the country of Nicaragua when it gave title of traditional land to a native nation. A simple apology seems to please many Armenians, though, even it comes froma group of liberal Turks who are ashamed of a 90-year-old campaign to silence and rewrite history.
When I gave my father a print-out of the apology in western Armenian, his initial reaction was: “They took all of our land and memory and all they give us is an apology by a group of small people who don’t even use the word genocide?” To my surprise, he then added, “I accept their apology.”
And earlier this April, when a group of Turkish lobbyists and community organizers denied the Armenian genocide during a commemorative lecture at University of Denver, an Armenian friend of mine (who openly calls himself a nationalist), said to the audience that if a Turk told him “sorry” for the Genocide he would give that Turk a “big, Armenian hug.”
My friend owes 20,000 Turks big, Armenian hugs. Let’s hope the number grows so big that he will never be able to give so many hugs in 90 years.
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.
While I have been silent on the recent developments of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, it doesn’t mean I have not been following the news. My silence reflects a complicated mixture of cautious optimism, confusion, excitement, fear, cynicism, and a busy schedule (which includes observing the US presidential elections). We live in historic and unpredictable times. These unknown globalized waves can translate into almost anything in Nagorno-Karabakh – from long-term solutions to further conflict.
Internationally, Obama’s election, Georgia’s unsuccessful bid for South Ossetia, Turkey’s continuous struggle to join the European Union, and international – particularly US and Russian – interest in the South Caucasus have contributed to the recent developments in the Armenian-Azerbaijani peace process, which was vocalized in a set of principles that Azerbaijan and Armenia signed in Moscow in early November 2008. One can only hope that Armenian and Azeri leaders will make tough choices and negotiate for a solution. Locally, both countries have a great chance to make the piece.
For those of you who don’t know, Nagorno-Karabakh is an indigenous Armenian region (called Artsakh by locals) within the country of Azerbaijan. This small territory declared its independence from Soviet Azerbaijan in 1991, less than seventy years after USSR chief Joseph Stalin gave Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The conflict escalated into a war between Armenia/Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan, killing thousands of people and leaving many more homeless.
Today, Nagorno-Karabakh is an internationally unrecognized republic with a common border with mother Armenia. Nationalist sentiment is at peak high in Azerbaijan where most people see Armenians as invaders and aggressors. The sentiment was reflected in December 2005, when a contingent of Azerbaijan’s army reduced the largest medieval Armenian cemetery – Djulfa – to dust. (Official Azerbaijan until this day denies the destruction, even though it was videotaped.) While most Armenians are nowadays much less antagonistic against Azerbaijan, during the war, in 1992, armed Armenian groups massacred a few hundred Azeri civilians when fighting in Khojalu, although both official Armenia and some Azeri sources question some of the facts of the tragedy: particularly suggesting that Azeri forces deliberately banned Khojalu’s residents to leave through a humanitarian corridor the Armenian army had left for civilians. Furthermore, Armenians claim that the conflict itself started in Azerbaijan when mobs attacked hundreds of Armenian citizens, killing several dozen, in their homes in Sumgayit in 1988 while the Police stood by. Azeris claim that there were riots against their kin in southern Armenia at the same time.
Armenian and Azeri Attitudes:
In short, both Armenia and Azerbaijan see themselves as the victim and the enemy as the aggressor in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. And while abuses by both sides have been almost always symmetrical in the conflict, official Azerbaijan – until recently – has been using both verbal threats and disproportional acts of destruction. Threats have included official statements by Azerbaijan’s president to win Nagorno-Karabakh back by any price, including by war, and predictions by a senior Azeri military chief that Armenia will not exist in several years. Disproportional acts of destruction by Azerbaijan have included total elimination of all ancient indigenous Armenian monuments on its territory, especially in the exclave of Nakhichevan (another region granted to Azerbaijan by Stalin). This is not only inconsistent with Azerbaijan’s self-promotion as “the world’s most tolerant country,” but is also an act of cultural genocide (what I call “genocidal vandalism” in my honors thesis) which in no way contributes to the peace process.
Armenia’s diplomacy in the conflict has been more moderate, which may be a reflection of the following: Armenia’s victory in the early 1990s war, oil-rich Azerbaijan’s military boom, and limited open international support for Armenia in the conflict. Moderate diplomacy, nonetheless, hasn’t resulted in worldwide condemnation against Azerbaijan for blockading Armenia (although until George W. Bush, the United States didn’t give military aid to Azerbaijan). And in general, the world has been very careful not to take sides in the conflict (neither in the case of the Khojalu massacre by Armenians nor in the recent case of Djulfa’s destruction by Azeris): an approach which is difficult to determine as productive or not.
Ideal Solutions and Militant Positions:
One reason why it has been difficult to defend one position or another has been the polarized Armenian and Azerbaijani demands, a “normal” situation in every conflict.
Azerbaijan wants to return its borders to pre-1991, entirely reversing what the bloody war did before the 1994 cease fire. It says that Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh will be Azerbaijan’s citizens, but that they will never have the right or the option to succeed from Azerbaijan. In short, the legal concept of “territorial integrity” has been the supreme law and the sacred doctrine in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has about a million refugees who live in horrible conditions. Azerbaijan hopes that all these people will return to their homes, now under Armenian control. Armenians say and an Amnesty International report agreed last year, that Azerbaijan is deliberately ignoring its refugees and making their lives even miserable in order to gain international support.
Armenia says that Nagorno-Karabakh’s return to Azeri control would mean giving 150,000 Armenian lives into captivity. If Azerbaijan reduces unarmed ancient Armenian graves to dust, what will it do with live Armenians? Many, if not most, Armenians insist on also keeping the seven regions around Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenian forces gained control of during the war. While not many Armenians lived on these lands during the war, there are hundreds of ancient monuments that Armenians see as proof for their historic claim to the land. Some Azeris criticize Armenians for capitalizing on history and, thus, denying Azeri inhabitants the right to return to their homes. Some Armenians respond that Azerbaijan is trying to capitalize on rewriting history, and denying indigenous Armenians their right to self-determination.
On surface, Azerbaijan doesn’t agree to any solution that will let Nagorno-Karabakh be separate from it. In the same way, many Armenians consider the possibility of giving much of the seven surrounding territories back to Azerbaijan a loss. Neither party considers all the damage that has happened – and will continue to happen – to people in both countries because of the unresolved conflict. Nationalism has overridden cost-benefit analysis (with a human rights perspective) or mutual respect for the rights of the other.
Undemocratic regimes in both Armenia and Azerbaijan have perhaps contributed to the conflict. Wars unite populations, and perhaps the conflict has worked well for both Azeri and Armenian political elites. A few months ago, a former Azerbaijani serviceman (now studying in the United States) told me that Azerbaijan’s economic elite is using nationalism to hold power in the country. While Azerbaijan’s economy is booming due to oil exports, ordinary people are not experiencing change in their lives. Hatred against Armenia, some Azeris say, is the perfect tool for Azerbaijan’s rich class to distract the majority’s attention. And in Armenia, between 1992 and 1994, people would die from hunger and economic desperation. While the government was blaming everything on the war, several government-protected families were illegally becoming superrich. According to widespread claims, independent Armenia’s regime (both Levon-Ter Petrosyan’s and Kocharyan’s) elites stole billions of dollars from the people of Armenia through neoliberal privatizations of several industries and by other means.
Time for Change?
But even undemocratic regimes can solve problems, especially when their hegemony and reputation is at stake. In the last few months, there have been interesting developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. First, Azerbaijan’s ally and Armenia’s historic enemy Turkey demonstrated diplomatic will to cooperate with Armenia. Turkey’s president Abdullah Gul accepted his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sargsyan’s invitation to watch a soccer match between both countries in September 2008. The historic event, deemed as “football diplomacy,” was followed by recent meetings brokered by Moscow between Armenia and Azerbaijan where, for the first time, leaders of both countries seemed to be pleased. More surprisingly, Turkey has been reducing its pro-Azerbaijan rhetoric while trying to become a mediator between its two South Caucasus neighbors.
Many Armenians, who are usually skeptical in international relations given their experience of genocide, are discouraged with the recent development. Skeptics see Armenian president Serzh Sargsyan, who came to power following a bloodshed during the March 2008 post-election protests, as trading his own presidency for a solution unbeneficial for Armenia. Turkey’s involvement in the process is less encouraging for the residents of Armenia, a country that Turkey has been blockading since the Karabakh conflict.
While Turkey may not be a friend of Armenia, it sure has its interest in helping the Nagorno-Karabakh process. Turkey is under enormous pressure to open the border with Armenia (which Turkey thinks will help persuade US president-elect Barack Obama to back off from his pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide). It will be very hard to open the border, though, without solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Thus, by helping to broker a deal between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey’s current regime would silence the United States (and also its own ultranationalist deep state), have better prospects for joining the European Union, and make a claim to sort things out in the region (Turkey has surely expressed interest in brokering a deal between the United States and Iran, and unsuccessfully tried the same with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).
Azerbaijan may be more interested in solving the problem now than in the past. Authoritarian leader Ilham Aliyev, the son of Azerbaijan’s former, now deceased, president Heydar Aliyev, just won a second (and final term) with the opposition boycotting the election (and giving him a perfect argument for a democratic victory). Not having to worry about reelection, Aliyev may be more interested in toning down his militant rhetoric. More importantly, the recent Georgian-Russian escalation over South Ossetia has likely demonstrated to Azerbaijan that war is not as good of a choice as Azerbaijan thought it might be. After all, Georgia not only didn’t win South Ossetia back, its attempt to get international sympathy faded away, if not being replaced with anger and distrust toward Tbilisi. Furthermore, the United States may want to partner with Azerbaijan even further more, especially in the case of an escalation with Iran, if it solves its problem with Armenia.
Armenia may be more inclined to change not only due to alleged pressure against president Sargsyan, but also due to the fact that an open border with Turkey will be a great asset for Armenia (Turkey thinks it may not be able to afford the border without a Karabakh solution). Furthermore, in two years, there won’t be many 18-year-olds in Armenia to qualify as soldiers. That’s because 1992-1994 are Armenia’s “dark and cold days,” when few families had children. So if there is to be war in the next four years, Armenia will have few bodies to fight.
A fight between Armenia and Azerbaijan, nonetheless, is not desired (at least at this time) by any of the superpowers, especially by the United States. Back in July, when I met with the acting US Ambassador to Armenia, I heard extremely nice remarks about president Serzh Sargysan’s offer of watching football match with his Turkish counterpart. The United States is seeking stability, especially with the mess that the Iraq war has created. Russia is also interested in stability between Armenia (a strong ally) and Azerbaijan (an ally), especially since Moscow’s interest in the Baku oil. Thus, internationally speaking, prospects for a peaceful Karabakh deal are possible, if not real.
Both sides need to accept that no solution is going to be perfect for either side. I don’t want to suggest what the solution should or will be, but it is clear what the solution cannot be. Azerbaijan cannot recover all the territories that it had before 1991; Armenia cannot retain all the territories that it gained after 1991. This is not a simple cliché, but a psychology that Azerbaijani and Armenian governments must start embedding in their populations. Any solution, though, would be a hard-sell both in Armenia and Azerbaijan. The governments in both countries might want to employ the same tactic they have used for a long time – information wars. Instead of dehumanizing the enemy this time, Armenian and Azeri TV channels (both are government-controlled to a large degree) should broadcast stories that rehumanize their neighbors. This strategy hardly needs to be called ‘affirmative propaganda,’ because there are so many true stories of mutual help and respect that can help in bringing change. One thing that is clear is that a peaceful solution at this time would be great for Armenia, Azerbaijan, their neighbors and the world.
We have a unique opportunity to document the Armenian culture and material history before it is completely wiped out in Turkey and in Azerbaijan. This would cost about 1 million dollars, but I highly hope rich Armenian foundations will realize the importance of such a project. In terms of fully satellizing the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery, it would only require about $3,000.
Although having access to American satellites, NATO member Turkey has decided to lunch an 80-centimeter-resolution satellite into the orbit by 2011. According to The Space Review (“Turkey’s military satellite program: a model for emerging regional powers”), “Space-based observation is one important way that they can keep track of activities in places like Armenia” and other places.
The government-owned Turksat already has several broadcast satellites for promoting “cultural, economic, and political influence” from Turkey to Central Asia – the area that many Turkish nationalists have hoped to unite in a Pan-Turkish empire.
The report says the Turkish military plans to spend 200 million dollars on the project. Turkish personnel have been training in Torrejon, Spain for satellite interpretation and technology. The military satellite will be used for “taking pictures of nations that directly border on Turkey.” According to the Turkish Press, November 17, 2006, was the deadline for “bidding in the tender for Turkey’s first military-purpose satellite project.”
But Turkey has already started documenting its neighbors. It “is already buying imagery from commercial sources” – that are available to everyone for the same price.
The report about Turkey’s satellite ambitions came three weeks after I purchased a 2003 satellite image of Nakhichevan’s (part of the Republic of Azerbaijan) Julfa’s (Culfa, Jugha) region’s western portion – that shows the ancient Armenian cemetery (now destroyed), the village Gulustan, several other monuments such as caravanserais, churches, and a historic Mulsim tomb.
I purchased the image from Digital Globe. Since then I have been wondering whether the Armenian government owns this available-to-everyone satellite images of the region. It would cost Armenia about 1 million dollars to get Digital Globe’s entire coverage of the Armenian Republic and the Republics of Azerbaijan and Turkey, at least the immediate bordering areas.
If you are wondering about the image posted above, it is the September 2003 inverted satellite image of now-gone Djulfa cemetery. Although I have no expertise or training in satellite interpretation, there are still many conclusions that can be made from that image without having professional background:
1. The cemetery was over 70% intact in September of 2003, even after the deliberate acts of official vandalisms in 1998 and 2002 that UNESCO had ordered to stop.
2. The 1998 and 2002 vandalisms were done by heavy technology – the entire level of the soil was scrapped off. The darker side is the most recent and the deepest scrap. This could not have been done by a group of hooligans. This was not done in a search for treasure.
3. The scrapped trace proves the intent of totally wiping out the cemetery even before 2005. A very thick level of the soil had been removed. Hundreds of skeletons must have been exhumed in this process and destroyed.
4. Although it is not too clear – but if it is zoomed in and studied closely it can be noticed that most, if not all, headstones (khachkars) were pushed down to the ground and none were standing in Sept. of 2003. This may have been done either in 1998 or 2003, as a first step of destroying the headstones. In fact, if you compare a December 2005 photograph with the Sept 2003 satellite image you will notice that in both places the khachkars were laying down on the ground instead of standing in their regular positions.
I do have many other images of the surrounding area, but would like to keep them for sharing on possible future presentations about the vandalism. All the images are from the big file that I got from Digital Globe.
The negative aspects of Digital Globe satellite imagery are that these areas are taken on different dates and times. Thus, “coverage” of the region could have been from 2002-2006, and many things might have changed in the meantime. Another problem would be getting detailed imagery. Digital Globe does not provide 80-cm imagery, as the one that Turkey aspires. But even so, the satellite images will provide much information. In fact, Azerbaijan is aware of what I am talking about. When this hostile neighbor accused Armenia of deliberately “burning forests,” they immediately provided several satellite images of the area with different dates of download (these images are available here).
How did Azerbaijan get this imagery (that didn’t really “prove” anything other than that the forests were really destroyed due to a fire)? Digital Globe, as far as I know, would not have been able to provide information that fast. In fact, it takes them up to 60 days to download a current image of an area. So, Azerbaijan either used U.S. technology with the help of its ally and NATO-member Turkey, or has another secret access to satellite imagery, OR, there is another simple access to such images that Armenia is not even aware of. The images say “Space image,” but my Google search did not provide such a copyright holder. I doubt that Azerbaijan has its own satellite in the orbit, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it had one very soon.
The text released by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry gives confusing details about the satellite imagery they obtained. According to the statement, the satellite imagery show that “[o]n the 132,2 square km area a number of towns, villages, agricultural lands, cultural and historical monuments, existing flora and fauna, living dwellings have been destroyed or burnt by the fire.” Interestingly, the statement also mentions the possibility that the fires “are nature-caused,” yet it holds Armenia accountable and says “these actions by Armenia constitute a gross violation of international humanitarian law.”
I have discussed it earlier that there is no reason that Armenia would have burnt forests. But an Azerbaijani blog says that the fire was deliberately done “perhaps in an attempt [to] clear land mines at the perimeter of the disputed area.” This wouldn’t make sense either, because there are no people living in these areas, and, as far as I understand, Armenia is planning to give up the particular territory to the Azerbaijanis in the future peace deal. Nor does Nagorno Karabakh President’s assertion – that Azerbaijanis have shot fire starting balls to the forests to blame the Armenians – make sense. Again, I don’t think any side would have deliberately started destruction of forests – although both Armenian and Azerbaijani governments are infamous for environmental degradation in their countries. Though, wait a minute, I may have double thoughts about Azerbaijan on this… I mean, it would be totally “worth” to cause forests fire in Karabakh to blame on Armenia in Azeri officials’ eyes, to balance the pressure on Azerbaijan for destroying the Djulfa cemetery. But, no, I don’t think they are that sick. What if ones of those mines blew up and started the fire? In any case, I think had the conflict was solved earlier the forest fire would have not been so widened in the area. Now let’s get back to satellite wars.
I wonder whether the Armenian government knows that satellite images can be purchased. By didn’t the foreign ministry purchase satellite images of the Djulfa cemetery before and after the destruction? As I already mentioned, I purchased the before image for “The New Tears of Araxes,” but I haven’t found a sponsor to help purchase a current satellite image that would cost between $1,200 and $2,000. It would cost only $1,500 years to have a final documentation of the vandalism, but interested parties are either not genuinely interested or don’t know they can do this.
After all, sometimes satellite images are not helpful at all. Look at the satellite image of Iran’s Embassy in Armenia.
Would you be able to figure out from this that a small Armenian Nazi group (the “Armenian Aryans”) gets financial support from this building?
In fact, not really having much hope for the current Armenian government, I hope an Armenian organization (a library, museum, etc.) in America will find ways to document historic Armenia in satellites (and then perhaps share the info with the Armenian government). We have a unique opportunity to document the Armenian culture and material history before it is completely wiped out in Turkey and in Azerbaijan. This would cost about 1 million dollars, but I highly hope rich Armenian foundations will realize the importance of such a project. But first we need people who would be interested to communicating and organizing all these. An Armenian Research Center at a U.S. university sounds the best option here. One non-Armenian university professor, according to the CNN, has already purchased many photos of Mount Ararat with the ambition to find Noah’s ark.
Finding Noah’s ark would not be the next cool thing after documenting the Armenian monuments. The non-Armenian monuments of historic Armenia should also be documented. If Armenia ever ends up liberating more historic lands, these monuments must be preserved, and we need to document them today so that we take care of them tomorrow. I don’t want the non-ingenious people of historic Armenia (the Turkic-Mongoloid peoples) die and disappear, but history shows that, in the long-run, Armenians end up staying in their homeland, while the newcomers continue their journey.
The Muslim tomb Gulustan (middle ages) not too far from now-gone Djulfa
More realistically, this (80 million Turks leaving the region) will not happen, but future liberation of Nakhichevan – the region that Stalin gave to Azerbaijan and the region where the Djulfa cemetery was wiped out along with thousands of other ancient Armenian monuments – is realistic, so even though all of the Armenian culture has been wiped out there, we should document the Muslim culture to preserve it in the future.
Speaking of preserving culture, let’s talk about our own. A Blogian reader from the Czech Republic has visited Armenia lately and got shocked after seeing the treatment of the Armenian monuments in Armenia. He sent us a photo of a tonir (the well where the traditional Armenian bread – lavash – is made) from one of Armenia’s most ancient monasteries – Khor Virap, where Grigor Lusavorish (Krikor the Illuminator) was imprisoned for many years before he converted Armenia to Christianity in 301 A.D. The tonir in the sacred site has been used by a garbage bin by visitors.
A local Armenian would blame the government – or whoever is in charge of taking care the historic monastery – for not putting trashcans in the area. But I think it also has to do with the visitors. For one reason, I can almost swear that no Diasporan Armenian would have thrown trash into the tonir. Has to do a lot with “dastiarakutyun” (the English term doesn’t come to mind); has to do a lot how people are taught about this world. There is lots of chances that even if the monastery was overpacked by trashcans people would still throw garbage into the tonir.
I visited Mother Cabrini’s shrine in Colorado last year. The sacred Catholic site had a sacred water fountain where people say water was found by God’s guidance. There were free plastic cups to drink the water and, as you can imagine, dozens of trashcans all over the place. When I tried to put a small donation in the huge can next to the water fountain, I saw used plastic cups smashed in it that blocked from putting the money in. Why would they do that? Well, perhaps they did not understand the “donation” sign, because most people who go there are Hispanics and perhaps don’t speak English. But hey, what has happened to the thing called common sense? I guess the mere presence of trashcans is not the final and complete solution.
(Khor Virap by Andy Abrahamian)
Well, let’s blame the absence of trashcans for the tonirtrash in Khor Virap, but what about the graffiti on the same monastery done by Armenians? Oh, these are done by unholy communists who hated the Armenian Church. Well, what about the 2005 Alphabet statues? Why is there graffiti on them too?