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.”
A high-resolution satellite image of a medieval Armenian cemetery in Azerbaijan taken in September 2003 shows hundreds of khachkars, intricate 15th and 16th century burial monuments. In a satellite image from May 2009, however, the khachkars are missing, suggesting that they were either destroyed or removed.
“Geospatial images allow us to shed light on regions that are not accessible, providing a visualization tool for events or circumstances that are important to bring to the public’s attention but which, without some visual evidence, are less likely to attract attention and interest,” said Jessica Wyndham, senior project director of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program.
In September of 2003 (upper data), the central area of the Djulfa graveyard appears to have sustained significant damage, but the areas to the northeast and southwest remain largely intact. By May of 2009 (lower data), however, the entire area has been graded flat, apparently by earthmoving equipment.
A close-up of the southwestern portion of the cemetery clearly shows the extent to which the area has been scoured. Upper data from 2003; lower data from 2009.
The northwestern area of the Djulfa cemetery in Azerbaijan has also been completely demolished. Upper data from 2003; lower data from 2009.
The AAAS team has also put together a video where Susan Wolfinbarger, senior program associate for the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, a part of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, explains their methodology and findings.
While Djulfa’s destruction was until now well-documented, the AAAS study conclusively, scientifically, and objectively confirms what Azerbaijan can no longer deny without ridiculing itself and what UNESCO – the organization charged with protecting our global heritage – can no longer keep silence on without discrediting its mission.
What UNESCO must do is to tell Azerbaijan that the former won’t add any new monuments from the latter to the World Heritage List until Azerbaijan’s authorities acknowledge the destruction at Djulfa and prosecute the perpetrators of this crime against world culture. That’s what the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/235/907/968/ demands and I hope that you will take one minute to add your signature to it.
It seems like it has become a tradition in Armenia to vandalize the monument (which has been replaced a few times – the newest one commemorates both Armenian and Jewish victims of WWI and WWII, respectively), which I call “Annual Vandalize Armenia’s Holocaust Memorial” event.
Sure, this is the work of a few. Sure, Armenians should be more sensitive to the Holocaust because of their own experience of genocide. Sure, vandals actually hurt Armenia by such an act of racism. Sure, these hate attacks might have been rare if Israel wasn’t maliciously denying the Armenian genocide.
These are statements we hear every time the monument is vandalized. We are missing the point though. What we need is acknowledgment that there is troubling anti-Semitism in Armenia (and among Armenian communities around the world). The repeated vandalisms are but one example.
First he started a devastating war with Russia allegedly because of personal distaste for fellow autocrat Vladimir Putin and for bullying the latter as “Liliputin.”
Now Georgian president Saakahsvili has finished the demolition of a WWII memorial honoring his countrymen (and countrywomen) who gave their lives in fighting the Nazis. Add two more people to that list of 300,000 people: a woman and her 8-year-old daughter were killed in the blast that brought down the war memorial – on the day of Saakashvili’s birthday – in Kutaisi, Georgia, supposedly to clear up space for a new parliament building.
The vandalism was not just an attempt to erase Georgia’s Soviet past. The creator of the prominent monument, a celebrated sculptor in Georgia, is Saakashvili’s critic.
Georgia’s president Saakashvili has (perhaps completely) lost his mind. It’s time for his dangerous adventure, initially seen as a democratic one, to end. It’s in Georgia’s national interest for her bipolar president – a democrat in rhetoric yet a dictator at heart – to resign.
“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.
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.
Carrying a black casket labeled “The Newborn Georgian Democracy,” a group of bloggers in Yerevan have marched toward the Georgian Embassy protesting what they call the destruction and desecration of Armenian cultural monuments in neighboring Georgia. Bloggers tell the story.
Posting a YouTube video of the march, ahousekeepersays the bloggers’ November 27, 2008 action was “[i]n response to regular desecrations, vandalism and attempts (often successful) to appropriate Armenian churches by Georgian clerics.”
Հայերի համար Վրաստանը միշտ էլ մոտիկ երկիր է եղել։ Բայց վերջին 5 տարիների փորձը ցույց տվեց մի բան, որ այդ երկիրը շարժվում է դեպի ֆաշիզմ։ … Մեզ հետաքրքրում է մի բան՝ կատարվում է հանցագործություն, բացահայտ խուլիագնություն. գերեզմաններ են քանդում,
փոշիացնում են պատմական հուշարձաններ:
For Armenians, Georgia has always been a close country. But the experience of the last five years shows that [Georgia] is moving toward fascism… All that interests us is one thing – a crime, blatant hooliganism is going on: [Georgians] are destroying Armenian cemeteries, reducing historic monuments to dust.
The recent controversy surrounds the removal of Armenian gravestones from Norashen, a church that Georgian priests are accused of taking over.
“”It’s a tiny book, only 116 pages long, but it contains a monumental truth, another sign that one and a half million dead Armenians will not go away. It’s called My Grandmother: a Memoir and it’s written by Fethiye Cetin and it opens up graves. For when she was growing up in the Turkish town of Marden, Fethiye’s grandmother Seher was known as a respected Muslim housewife. It wasn’t true. She was a Christian Armenian and her real name was Heranus. We all know that the modern Turkish state will not acknowledge the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, but this humble book may help to change that. Because an estimated two million Turks – alive in Turkey today – had an Armenian grandparent.
As children they were put on the death marches south to the Syrian desert but – kidnapped by brigands, sheltered by brave Muslim villagers (whose own courage also, of course, cannot be acknowledged by Turkey) or simply torn from their dying mothers – later became citizens of the modern Turkey which Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was to set up. Yet as Maureen Freely states in her excellent preface, four generations of Turkish schoolchildren simply do not know Ottoman Anatolia was between a quarter and a half Christian.
Heranus – whose face stares out at the reader from beneath her Muslim headscarf – was seized by a Turkish gendarme, who sped off on horseback after lashing her mother with a whip. Even when she died of old age, Fethiye tried to record the names of Heranus’s Armenian parents – Isguhi and Hovannes – but was ignored by the mosque authorities. It was Heranus, with her razor-sharp memory, who taught Fethiye of her family’s fate and this book does record in terrible detail the now familiar saga of mass cruelty, of rape and butchery.
In one town, the Turkish police separated husbands, sons and old men from their families and locked the women and children into a courtyard with high walls. From outside came blood-curdling shrieks. As Fethiye records, “Heranus and her brothers clung to their mother’s skirts, but though she was terrified, she was desperate to know what was going on. Seeing that another girl had climbed on to someone’s shoulders to see over the wall, she went to her side. The girl was still looking over the wall; when, after a very long while, she came down again, she said what she had seen. All her life, Heranus would never forget what came from this girl’s lip: ‘They’re cutting the men’s throats, and throwing them into the river.'”
Fethiye says she wrote her grandmother’s story to “reconcile us with our history; but also to reconcile us with ourselves” which, as Freely writes, cuts right through the bitter politics of genocide recognition and denial. Of course, Ataturk’s decision to move from Arabic to Latin script also means that vital Ottoman documents recalling the genocide cannot be consulted by most modern-day Turks. At about the same time, it’s interesting to note, Stalin was performing a similarly cultural murder in Tajikistan where he moved the largely Persian language from Arabic to Cyrillic.
And so history faded away. And I am indebted to Cosette Avakian, who sent me Fethiye’s book and who is herself the granddaughter of Armenian survivors and who brings me news of another memorial of Armenians, this time in Wales. Wales, you may ask? And when I add that this particular memorial – a handsome Armenian cross embedded in stone – was vandalised on Holocaust Memorial Day last January, you may also be amazed. And I’m not surprised because not a single national paper reported this outrage. Had it been a Jewish Holocaust memorial stone that was desecrated, it would – quite rightly – have been recorded in our national newspapers. But Armenians don’t count.
As a Welsh Armenian said on the day, “This is our holiest shrine. Our grandparents who perished in the genocide do not have marked graves. This is where we remember them.” No one knows who destroyed the stone: a request for condemnation by the Turkish embassy in London went, of course, unheeded, while in Liverpool on Holocaust Day, the Armenians were not even mentioned in the service.
Can this never end? Fethiye’s wonderful book may reopen the past, but it is a bleak moment to record that when the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was prosecuted for insulting “Turkishness”, Fethiye defended him in court. Little good it did Dink. He was murdered in January last year, his alleged killer later posing arrogantly for a picture next to the two policemen who were supposed to be holding him prisoner. It was in Dink’s newspaper Agos that Fethiye was to publish her grandmother’s death notice. This was how Heranus’s Armenian sister in America came to read of her death. For Heranus’s mother survived the death marches to remarry and live in New York.
Wales, the United States, even Ethiopia, where Cosette Avakian’s family eventually settled, it seems that every nation in the world is home to the Armenians. But can Turkey ever be reconciled with its own Armenian community, which was Hrant Dink’s aim? When Fethiye found her Aunt Marge in the US – this was Heranus’ sister, of course, by her mother’s second marriage – she tried to remember a song that Heranus sang as a child. It began with the words “A sad shepherd on the mountain/Played a song of love…” and Marge eventually found two Armenian church choir members who could put the words together.
“My mother never missed the village dances,” Marge remembered. “She loved to dance. But after her ordeal, she never danced again.” And now even when the Welsh memorial stone that stands for her pain and sorrow was smashed, the British Government could not bring itself to comment. As a member of the Welsh Armenian community said at the time, “We shall repair the cross again and again, no matter how often it is desecrated.” And who, I wonder, will be wielding the hammer to smash it next time?””
In an apparent desperation in the face of Azerbaijan’s continuous tricks to keep the delegation out of Djulfa, Edward O’Hara – head of the PACE Committee on Culture, Science and Education – has now suggested to drop the idea of visiting all countries at the same time and instead start off by visiting Azerbaijan first.
Azerbaijan’s response? NO WAY JOSE! Read the rest of the post at the Djulfa Blog.