Archive for the 'Djulfa' Category

The Price of Djulfa

I am one of the few people on Earth who accept the following news with sorrow: UNESCO has listed three ancient and beautiful Armenian monasteries in the territory of Iran on its World Heritage List.

While I am happy to see Armenian culture getting appreciated and Iran’s tolerance of Armenian Christianity being noted, I hate the fact that I read more behind these simple lines than most people would:


[These churches] are the last regional remains of this culture that are still in a satisfactory state of integrity and authenticity.


One of these churches is part of the ancient Armenian city of Jugha (Djulfa), much of which today exists in the region of Nakhichevan, Republic of Azerbaijan. In September 2007, when UNESCO officials visited northern Iran to survey the Armenian monuments, they were shown a military rifle range across the border in Azerbaijan. That rifle range, until December 2005, housed the world’s largest medieval Armenian cemetery – Djulfa.

UNESCO did nothing to stop or condemn the final destruction of Djulfa. Now UNESCO lists these churches in a silent acknowledgment that the world’s largest Armenian historic site was erased, and in an indirect suggestion to forget about the tragedy.

Instead of listing these three different churches as one protected site, UNESCO should have listed the church at old Djulfa as part of a larger UNESCO site (like they did in 2003 with the Bamiyan valley after the Buddhas were destroyed in 2001) – including that rifle range which was a cemetery only a couple of years ago.

Armenia: Ex-Presidential Candidate on Djulfa Destruction

Video snapshot: An Azerbaijani truck dumps ancient Armenian gravestones, khachkars, into the River Arax in December 2005. The destruction ammounted to the complete annihilation of the world’s largest medieval Armenian cemetery, Djulfa. For more photos see

Armenia’s ex-presidential candidate Vahan Hovhannisian from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) has said that the December 2005 destruction of Djulfa (Jugha) cemetery by Azerbaijan should have been the point for Armenia to pull out of negotiations with Azerbaijan over the conflict of Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh).

Hovhannisian is quoted in ArmeniaNow as saying: “The day Azerbaijan began to barbarically destroy the monuments in Jugha, we had to leave the negotiation process. You would see what would happen: they would try to keep us, would seek our forgiveness.”

I am not sure whether I agree with Hovhannisyan or not. Although I have devoted the last two years working for Djulfa awareness (and today received my University’s Outstanding Undergraduate Award largely for my work on Djulfa) and am currently writing my honors thesis on its legal implications, Azerbaijan might be looking for an excuse to militarily attack Armenia. 

The deputy is correct in the sense that the destruction and its aftermath should be in the top list of Armenia’s ongoing talks with Azerbaijan.

Snapshots of the Djulfa Destruction’s Suspected Supervisor

After closely watching the original tape of the December, 2005, destruction of the world’s largest medieval Armenian cemetery by Azerbaijan’s army, I was able to identify one – if not the only – participant of the destruction who wasn’t uniformed.

Taped on December 15, 2005, by members of the Armenian Church in Tabriz from Iran’s territory, the video showed a middle-age man – unlike the young soldiers – dress in a black suite and directly supervising the dumping of the Djulfa cross-stones to the River Araxes.

The same man was also taped on December 16, 2005, at the same location at this time avoiding directly looking toward the Iranian border. Several soldiers were spotted using binoculars to look toward the Iranian border – they had apparently noticed the film crew that was taping them from across the border.

The full post is available here.

Azerbaijani Reaction to the Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum

Azerbaijan’s “Azeri Press Agency” has posted an article, republished by, on the newly-opened Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum – that documents the deliberate destruction of the largest medieval Armenian cemetery in the world – stating that the project features “false reports and footages.”

It also quotes an Azerbaijani parliamentarian making a reference to my article on the Djulfa destruction in History Today which is widely featured in the Britannica Online Encyclopedia: “Armenians and their scientists posted articles covering these absurd and false claims against Azerbaijan in several encyclopedias, including Britanica (sic) encyclopedia.”

So, according to Azerbaijani nationalists, I have some sort of access to the Britannica website where I can post my “false” articles. Actually, I only found out that Britannica had republished my article after I did Google search on the History Today article. 

Here is the Azerbaijani reaction:

Armenians create website named Djulfa, Azerbaijani region and post false reports and footages (sic)

[ 18 Jan 2008 13:53  ]

“Website registered by Armenians falsifies the history of Nakhchivan, integral part of Azerbaijan, posts claims that this territory is an ancient Armenian land and false footages (sic) that Azerbaijanis destroy Armenian monuments in Djulfa,” parliamentarian Ganira Pashayeva told APA.

She said that the website named Djulfa is the next subversion of Armenians against Azerbaijan and added that all should worry about the fact that Armenians have squatted some of the domains connected with the names of Azerbaijan, Karabakh, Baku, Sumgayit, Nakhchivan and the occupied regions.
“The measurers (sic) should be accelerated for returning such domains, including to Azerbaijan and informing the world community about subversion against Azerbaijan. The relevant bodies should work out the process of registration of domains connected with the name of Azerbaijan in order to prevent such a problem in future. We should inform the world community on the level of media outlets, different embassies and Foreign Ministry that the materials posted on this website are false,” the parliamentarian said.
Ganira Pashayeva said that Armenians are anxious about our informing world community about vandalism acts of Armenia and their destructing cultural-historical monuments belonging to Azerbaijanis in occupied Azerbaijani regions including Nagorno Karabakh and historical lands of Azerbaijan and areas called Armenian Republic today and Armenians want to confuse international community.
“Not touching upon Armenian church in Baku is the indicator of the position of Azerbaijan in such issues. But all religious monuments belonging to Azerbaijan were destructed in Armenia today. This fact is enough for criticizing Armenians. To our regret, Armenians and their scientists posted articles covering these absurd and false claims against Azerbaijan in several encyclopedias, including Britanica (sic) encyclopedia,” she said.
MP stressed necessity of establishing body under one of the relevant state organizations for removing and observing this aggressive policy of Armenia against Azerbaijanis virtually.
“Especially, special measures should be taken for eliminating aggressive propaganda of Armenia against Azerbaijani monuments dating back to Christianity period. We should not allow Armenians to falsify history of Azerbaijan and present it to world community,” she said. /APA/

Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum

Two years and a month after the destruction of Djulfa, we are announcing the Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum.  Here is the first official press release with special thanks to Armen Hovhannisyan from  

Aimed at spreading awareness about cultural cleansing in the Republic of Azerbaijan, a project to document the deliberate destruction of the world’s largest medieval Armenian archaeological site has been launched online.

The Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum (, announced in January of 2008, claims to be the foremost online resource on the medieval cemetery in old Djulfa (Jugha in Armenian), which was reduced to dust in December of 2005 by a contingent of Azerbaijan’s army. The destruction, videotaped by a film crew at the Iranian-Azerbaijani border, and condemned by the European Parliament, has been denied as “slanderous information” by officials in Azerbaijan.

The newly launched project includes film and reference material on the history and destruction of the Djulfa cemetery. The Photo section features a number of previously unpublished images of the cemetery taken by French-Lithuanian art critique Jurgis Baltrusaitis, who visited the site in 1928. A publication co-authored by Baltrusaitis has also been digitalized and posted on the website.

The Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum is maintained by volunteer staff and an advisory board. Learn about the annihilated sacred stones at

Political Correctness and Cultural Preservation

The current issue of The Armenian Reporter (January 5, 2008), a newspaper in the United States, has my latest article on the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery discussing the politically safe “both sides are guilty” argument and its effectiveness.

The article, with a front page preview, also features a satellite image from the Djulfa cemetery before its final destruction showing marks of pre-2003 destruction.  To see the satellite image and the article in the actual paper format, download the January 5, 2008 issue of The Armenian Reporter from

The full article is also available at the Djulfa blog.


While on a one-day visit to Nakhichevan last November, the U.S. Ambassador in AzerbaijanAnne Derse was confronted by angry Azeri students who were unhappy that an exhibit at Harvard Universityfeatured photographs of Armenian cultural heritage – today completely vanished – in Nakhichevan. During Mrs. Derse’s visit, the Nakhichevani branch of Azerbaijan’s National Academy of Sciences issued an official statement proclaiming that “there is no Armenian historical or cultural monument among those registered” in the region.

In fact, these Armenian monuments no longer exist. One of the largest – the medieval cemetery of Djulfa – was wiped off the face of the earth two years ago, in December 2005, in a well-documented case of vandalism that was condemned by the European Union.

And according to what Jonathan Henick, Public Affairs Officer at the American Embassy in Baku, told this writer, “[t]he Ambassador and others at the Embassy have raised the issue of the Djulfa cemetery with Azerbaijani officials.”

But during her short visit to Nakhichevan, Mr. Henick said, “The Ambassador did not have the opportunity to travel outside of the capital city. She did visit a number of interesting cultural monuments in Nakhichivan city, but our understanding is that none of those monuments were of Armenian origin.”

Perhaps the Ambassador missed a chance to visit the site where the world’s largest Armenian cemetery existed not too long ago. Instead, the American Embassy, as articulated by Mr. Henick, offered an important message to Armenia and Azerbaijan that “joint efforts to preserve monuments in both countries would serve the interests of safeguarding the shared cultural heritage of this fascinating region and might also be a valuable confidence- building measure in the ongoing efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict.”

The well-intentioned statement of the Embassy resonates with a popular Western sentiment that “both sides are to blame” for the cultural destruction that is happening. This argument is in a way a form of political correctness and seeks not to dehumanize any ethnic group.

Yet this approach avoids analysis of specific cases and unintentionally supports the prejudiced “barbarian” argument – “Azeris are barbarians they have always destroyed Armenian monuments,” and vice versa. It suggests that if we accept that a certain aspect of an ethnic conflict – such as destroying the other’s culture – may be an official policy or a norm among one side and not necessarily and equally among the other then this one side is more “civilized” than the other.

In reality, cultural destruction during ethnic conflict and who destroys how much and how it goes about destroying is not a reflection of “clash of civilizations,” but a representation of a slew of historical and social circumstances. These do not demonstrate the “humanity” of one people or another but whether one or the other perceives the opposite side as much human.


Armenia’s leaders have no such reasons to rewrite history and instead try to contrast their policies to what Azerbaijanhas done to Armenian monuments. The restoration of two mosques in Karabakh with government funding is the most recent such example.

A more realistic picture of Azeri monuments in Armeniais one of neglect and ignorance, as Vanadzor-based journalist Naira Bulgadarian reported for the IWPR Caucasus Report in September 2007. There is also an effort to present Muslim monuments on Armenian territory as belonging only to the Persians, and not the Azeris – while both groups, as well as Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs, can lay claims to these monuments.

Yet, as Ms. Bulgadarian reported, the Armenian government has also allocated funds to catalogue and to safeguard Azeri cemeteries. An exhibit in Stepanakert late last year featured photographs of about 30 Muslim monuments in Karabakh.

Azerbaijani officials and activists, on the other hand, have to a large degree ridiculed the discussion of monuments in the South Caucasus. Last October and November, as part of the effort to thwart the Nakhichevan exhibit at Harvard, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry distributed letters and statements claiming that “Armenians destroyed over 100,000 cultural monuments, hundreds of cemeteries and 1,000-2,000-year-old archaeological monuments in the occupied Azerbaijani territory.”[…]

Recreating the Bamiyan Buddhas in Laser Images

Afghanistan’s famed Bamiyan Buddhas, reduced to dust by the Taliban in 2001, may be returning in a few years.

Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata, according to Bamiyan Laser, is working on a project that in June of 2012 will display Buddha images at the site where the sacred monuments were destroyed by Islamic militants.

According to Yamagata’s website:

Over 250 laser systems installed 500m,1km and 5km in distance from the Bamiyan hills will project multiple layers of original Yamagata Buddha images drawn in striking colors.
The laser images will be projected for 1 hour after sundown, 6 days without friday.
The laser systems built specifically for this installation will shoot long range green beams and short range multiple color beams, designed to create a striking contrast to the purplish red hue of the Bamiyan sunset and the black mountain shadows.

The energy used by the laser systems will be produced by environmental friendly windmills and solar power plants. The power produced is also meant to provide light and electricity for the people of Bamiyan.

Although the Buddhas will be visible only at certain times of the year, the project is said to be sustainable and permanent:

The original Bamiyan Buddhas were created approximately 1500 years ago, as one of the most significant historical monuments of mankind. 

My artistic concept is to create original images of Buddha and project them with the most unique,powerful and cutting edge laser technology of today onto the site where once the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas stood.  Thus we will be able to revive the great creative spirit of mankind which produced the Great Buddha of Bamiyan centuries ago. A collaboration of ancient and new art will become a cultural icon of revived civilization in Afghanistan.
By permanently creating an artwork of laser system installation in Bamiyan, we intend to stimulate both the land and the people of Bamiyan.


But instead of the handful Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban, the laser project will have 160-240 Buddhas.  The figure gives hope that destroyed historic sites with hundreds of monuments can be “recreated” through laser imaging as well.  A similar project could be put together to memorialize the largest medieval Armenian cemetery reduced to dust in Azerbaijan in 2005.

What about “recreating” the New York Twin Towers with laser?

Image: UNESCO delegates looking at a new Azerbaijani military camp in September of 2007 where the Djulfa cemetery existed before December of 2005.  This site could become the world’s largest laser-powered museum with thousands of recreated tombstones

The cemetery should be recreated – whether on Azeri or Armenian territory – before the 10th anniversary of the destruction of Djulfa.  So there is much work to do until 2015.  Interestingly, that is also the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.  History repeats?

Some Djulfa Monuments in an Azerbaijani Museum?

In a post for the Djulfa blog, I raise the possibility that some monuments lacking inscriptions and Christian symbols from the famed Armenian cemetery of Djulfa – reduced to dust by Azerbaijan in December of 2005 – have been transferred to “The museum under opened heavens” in Nakhichevan City, Republic of Azerbaijan.

Hundreds of the Djulfa monuments were ram-shaped memorials that seem to originate in pagan Armenia.  Many of these didn’t have inscriptions on them, so it is likely that some of the Djulfa ram-shaped monuments have survived. 

In fact, the official website of Nakhichevan exclave’s Azerbaijani authorities mentionsthat in 2002, the year when Djulfa’s destruction was underway, a new museum was created where rock monuments were brought from different regions. 

The full post and a photograph from official Azerbaijani website of what appears to be a Djulfa monument is available here.

“Days of Azerbaijan” During Djulfa Anniversary

The selective Radio Free Europe report on a British Embassy-sponsored event called “Days of Azerbaijan” in Armenia has been brought upon fierce criticism from bloggers  after the U.S. State Department-sponsored news agency failed to mention that a group of bloggers in Armenia had protested the event by handing a soap to the Armenian organizers of “Days of Azerbaijan” as reported by sources such as and ArmeniaNow.

Giving the soap to the infamous organizers (some members of former president Ter-Petrosyan’s regime) of the event would be like giving a napkin to someone (in the United States culture) for cleaning a brown nose.  I wanted to emphasize this because one Armenian blogger has accused his colleagues of… homophobia for giving a soap (in the comments section of OneWorld Multimedia’s post).

Being one of the few bloggers that has spoken for Armenian and Azeri rehumanization, I still have to protest “Days of Azerbaijan” for my VERY PERSONAL reasons.

VERY PERSONAL, because I treat every medieval Armenian cross-stone that Azerbaijan reduced to dust two years ago as my own dead relative and I don’t want a group of idiots organizing “Days of Azerbaijan” in Armenia during the second anniversary of Djulfa cemetery’s destruction. 

And ironically, it doesn’t seem any Armenian blog commemorated the second anniversary of the loss of ancient Armenia’s largest historic artifact.  That includes me, but all I have been doing in the last 10 days is working on a project for Djulfa. 

If “Days of Azerbaijan” included commemoration and condemnation of Djulfa’s destruction I’d be for the event.  But since one of the organizers, Ashot Bleyan, has suggested in the past that Armenian students shouldn’t learn about the Armenian Genocide, one can’t expect much from morons like him. 

Work for peace, but don’t piss on the memory of the destruction of the world’s largest artifact of Armenian heritage.  And soap was good enough; I wouldn’t mind if the bloggers had used a sledgehammer-toy to “smash” the heads of the organizers like Azerbaijani soldiers reduced to dust thousands of sacred stones in Djulfa.  Maybe that would remind us all that this month is the commemoration of a vital loss of an ancient heritage.

Nakhichevan Armenian Heritage Commemoration Day

A columnist in Lebanon calls for establishing Commemoration Day for the Destruction and Desecration of Nakhichevan’s Armenian Heritage in an article on  the eve of the second anniversary of the world’s largest ancient Armenian cemetery’s demolition by the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Writing for Lebanon’s largest Armenian-language daily newspaper, Azdag Daily, columnist Avo Katrjian recalls in his December 12, 2007 (received in e-mail as .pdf) piece that two years ago this month Azerbaijani servicemen were videotaped as destroying cemetery memorials in an ancient Armenian site that testified to the long presence of the Armenian people in Nakhichevan.

The article draws parallels of Turkey’s treatment to Armenian monuments to that of Azerbaijan’s and concludes that there are the same.  It would be fair, nonetheless, to note that there are many Armenian monuments that still stand in Turkey while in the Republic of Azerbaijan every single one of them have been reduced to dust.

As Azerbaijan has been denying the destruction by claiming that there have never been Armenian monuments in Nakhichevan because Armenians didn’t live there, Katrjian reminds that Nakhichevan’s flag adopted in 1937 – when Nakhichevan was already part of Soviet Azerbaijan – had the word “Nakhichevan” written in Armenian and Azerbaijani.

Wikipedia has the 1937 Nakhichevan flag (said to be Soviet Nakhichevan’s very first) posted in its short entry on Nakhichevan ASSR (or the Nakhchivan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic).

The full post is available at Djulfa Blog.

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