Archive for the 'Djulfa' Category

Britannica Online on Djulfa Cemetery

Encyclopaedia Britannica Online has added my recent article on the destruction of Djulfa cemetery, published in History Today, in its “Related Articles” page on Azerbaijan available at and fully accessible to subscribers only.  The short summary of my article at Britannica is as follows:

Sacred Stones Silenced in Azerbaijan.

By: Maghakyan, Simon. History Today, Nov2007, Vol. 57 Issue 11, p4-5
The article discusses the destruction of Armenian monuments in Nakhichevan, Azerbajian. Cemeteries of memorial stones, known as khachkars, were allegedly destroyed by Azerbaijani troops as a reaction to war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno Karabakh region. Azeri officials have denied destroying the stones and denied Armenians ever lived in the region. Reading Level (Lexile): 1700;

Those of you who can’t afford subscribing to Britannica or History Today to read the article, send me an e-mail and I will share it with you with the understanding that you won’t republish it. 

Djulfa Documentary Goes to Congress

According to

“Djugha” documentary about demolition of the ancient Armenian cemetery in Old Djugha (Nakhichevan) was circulated in the U.S. Congress. Expert in Armenian architecture Samvel Karapetian told a PanARMENIAN.Netreporter that 2000 copies of the film were distributed by the Organization of Armenian Architecture Studies in the Congress and Los Angeles basing NGOs.

Mr Karapetian informed that copies of the documentary will be shown in Armenian, Russian, English, French and Turkish in 2008. “The documentary made a deep impression. After the Strasbourg screening some MEPs condemned Azerbaijan’s barbarian policy,” he said.


With all due respect to the work of Samvel Karapetian and RAA in documenting destruction of Armenian heritage in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, the “Djugha” documentary I have seen is quite difficult to follow, unprofessional (it uses shoots from a Soviet-era movie about Shah Abas – Persian ruler who deported Armenians from Nakhichevan to Iran in the early 17th century) and somewhat racist (it ends with a western quote that basically says all that “Turks” do is destruction).

I would suggest to Armenian organizations not to distribute this unproductive documentary, although the part on the actual December 2005 destruction is moving, depressing and unfortunately very real.

The story of Djulfa’s silenced stones is too sacred and important to mis-tell it.  And, quite honestly, there is no professional film on Djulfa that I have seen that adequately tells the story.

History Today: Sacred Stones Silenced in Azerbaijan

History Today, world’s premier and perhaps oldest history magazine, has my article about the Djulfa destruction in the November 2007 issue.

The printed magazine, that includes three more photographs, should be available in most western libraries and many bookstores.  The online version features the entire article with one photograph, but you have to pay to view the article in full. 

When, in the summer of 2005, Scottish researcher Steven Sim visited the region of Nakhichevan, an exclave of the South Caucasus republic of Azerbaijan, in order to study medieval Armenian monuments, he found out his trip was in vain – there was nothing there for him to research. After being detained and questioned by security police, Sim was asked why he expected Armenian Christian churches in a region where only Muslims lived. A villager, too, told him Armenians had never lived in Nakhichevan. When the researcher explained that a book had directed him to the ancient Armenian church in the village, an old man blasted out words in what Sim thought was German. The translator explained that the man was talking to him in Armenian, apparently to see if Sim was an Armenian spy. Knowing Armenian in a place where no Armenians ever lived seemed too awkward.
But Sim did not confront Azeris in Nakhichevan about history. Neither did he resist orders to put his camera away in a military zone at the Azerbaijani-Iranian border when his train was passing by world’s largest surviving Armenian medieval cemetery – Djulfa (Jugha in Armenian). Sim might have done otherwise if he knew back then he was going to be the last known outsider in this remote area – on the border with Iran – to glance at the thousands of sacred and beautifully ….

Grave Wars: Armenia and Azerbaijan

The wipe out of medieval Armenia’s largest cemetery in 2005 by the Azeri authorities has finally brought international attention, at least in media, to the protection of both Armenian and Azeri monuments in the region.

Three articles from this week’s Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR)  issue deal with cultural protection in the South Caucasus – from another Armenian cemetery being erased by the Azeri authorities in Baku (that I wrote about in early June of this year); two mosques in Shushi being restored by Armenians to show off they are far from Azerbaijan’s official policy of cultural genocide, and a more realistic situation of Azeri graves neglected in Armenia.

One needs to applaud Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict expert Tom de Waal –  an IWPR editor – for his equal concern for Armenian and Azeri monuments.

Although rarely mentioned in these days, the unbelievable destruction of Djulfa has, perhaps, shook off people that cultural heritage protection is not a pr issue but a real concern.

The academic community seems to share the view. The world’s premier, and probably the oldest, history magazine, is interested in documenting cultural destruction. In its upcoming November issue, History Today will feature an article on the Djulfa destruction by this author.

State Department Report Fails to Mention Vandalism

In its second report (since the Djulfa destruction) on religous freedom in Azerbaijan, the U.S. State Department has failed again to mention the wipe out of the world’s largest Armenian Christian cemetery by the Azeri authorities in December of 2005.

Released on September 14, 2007, the International Religious Freedom Report on Azerbaijan is a copy-past of at least 6-year-old reports in regards to the condition of Armenian churches in Azerbaijan stating that “all Armenian churches, many of which were damaged in ethnic riots that took place more than a decade ago, remained closed.”

Even outside the Azeri exclave of Nakhichevan, where the Djulfa cemetery existed, the statement did not reflect actuality. A church in central Azerbaijan’s Nizh village, for instance, was reopened in early 2006 for the Udi Christian minority after a publicized restoration eliminated the Armenian letters on church walls and nearby tombstones.

What’s the purpose of the report?

The report is available at

The Road to Djulfa

Over a year and a half after Azerbaijan smashed to dust the largest medieval Armenian cemetery in the world (see “Djulfa” at the top of this blog), the Azeri authorities are preventing again European observers from visiting the site where the cemetery existed.

Whereas in April of 2006 Azerbaijan banned European observers from entering Djulfa with the pretext that accepting any possibilty of the “Armenian claim” that Djulfa is gone and, therefore, giving any credibility to anything that any Armenian says is the biggest crime any human being could make, now Azerbaijan has figured out the stupidest of all methods to prevent the delegation from monitoring cultural properties. It is saying that Europeans must enter Nagorno Karabakh from Azerbaijan otherwise they will not agree to the visit:


Azeri Press Agency
Aug 31 2007

The PACE Rapporteur for Cultural Heritage in the South Caucasus,
British MP, Edward O’Hara’s fact-finding travel to Azerbaijan,
Georgia and Armenia from August 28 through September 6 has been
postponed again, Milli Majlis press service told APA.

The statement reads that Azerbaijan has always supported this
initiative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,
and PACE Rapporteur Edward O’Hara’s fact-finding visit to the region,
including Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, Nagorno
Karabakh and the other territories occupied by Armenia.

Azerbaijan objected to Armenian side’s demand at PACE during
preparation for the visit that the fact-finding mission should travel
to Nagorno Karabakh through Armenia (by car from Yerevan).

Related to this issue, Samad Seyidov, head of Azerbaijani parliament
delegation to the PACE, informed the Secretary General Mateo Sorinas
of Azerbaijan’s official stance, underscoring recognition of the
country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty by the international
community and international organizations like UN, OSCE, NATO, CE etc.

Azerbaijan clearly announced its position that both domestic and
international missions and delegations have to seek permission of
official Baku to travel to its territory of Nagorno Karabakh and
other adjacent regions under occupation, and Azerbaijan will not
change its firm position in any condition.

As a result, PACE didn’t support Armenia’s unconstructive and baseless
stance and postponed the visit.

Now, how technically possible it is for European observers to visit Nagorno Karabakh from Azerbaijan is only for the pious Azerbaijani officials to figure out. What is Azerbaijan’s response to the fact that its own Ambassador to Russia visit Nagorno Karabakh, and logically through Armenia, in June of this year?

Of course the one and only logic behind any of the illogical Azerbaijani attempts to stop the monitoring of cultural rights in both Armenia and Azerbaijan is because they know they have smashed Djulfa to dust and can’t cover it up. For one reason they know there are satellite images, that are as objective as anything else can get in the world, that show the cemetery before the destruction. For another reason, they can’t admit that they committed an act of cultural vandalism, or cultural genocide, against a people they consider the creators of all evil on Earth. And most badly, they have lied so many times on the destruction of Djulfa that accepting they lied would undermine their very authority.

Anyhow, although I have been in touch with Mr. O’Hara (the head of the delegation who was supposed to visit and of course never will) and although he doesn’t sound interested in the faith (well, I guest in the past a lot) of Djulfa, I still believe it is to much extent the fault of Armenians that the world doesn’t know about the silenced story of Djulfa.

Well, I should go back to my homework. That’s the best I can do for Djulfa at this minute. But of course there is a reason I have not been really active on the blog recently. So yeah, Azerbaijan, I don’t know about the rest of my kin, but I have not forgotten Djulfa and never will.

Djulfa: Sacred Stones Reduced to Dust

After a friend of mine from Amsterdam thanked me yesterday for my latest article on the destruction Djulfa, I promised him never to forget Djulfa and not let others forget it either.

As part of my promise, I just set up

Int’l Reaction to Djulfa Cemetery: Only Words

This week’s Reporter (June 30, 2007) has my newest article on the destruction of Djulfa cemetery that I just wrote for them using much information from my last semester’s research.

You can download the PDF version of current issue’s Section A – where my piece is – from here.

Here is the article in full:

International Reaction to Djulfa cemetery destruction has been only words and no action

by Simon Maghakyan

June 30, 2007

DENVER, CO. – After several failures to visit Djulfa (Jugha), where the largest medieval Armenian cemetery was reduced to dust by Azerbaijan’s military a year and a half ago, officials at international organizations are talking again about sending experts to the region.

      While reports about plans to send a mission by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to Armenia and Azerbaijan have again appeared in the media, words are all that have reached so far the remote shores of the Araxes where an archeological monument with thousands of ancient Armenian burial stones, khachkars, existed not too long ago.

      Still a UNESCO spokesperson says their talks are serious and, according to Armenpress, the organization is now working out the details of a visit both to Nakhichevan – where Djulfa is located – and Karabakh, where Azerbaijan alleges Armenians have destroyed Azeri monuments.

      And this week, the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian said that UNESCO has already determined the make-up of its monitoring group and that currently the issue is with the visits’ timing.

      Armenians and others have long urged UNESCO to interfere in the destruction of the Djulfa cemetery and other Armenian monuments.

      In October 2006, an international group of parliamentarians from Canada, France, Greece, the United Kingdom, Russia and Switzerland traveled to UNESCO’s Paris headquarters in order to request that Director-General Koїchiro Matsuura take up an investigation in Djulfa.

      Canadian Parliamentarian Jim Karygiannis, a member of the delegation to Paris, this week told this author that he still has not heard back from UNESCO.


      In addition to UNESCO, the Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis has expressed interest in sending experts to monitor cultural sites whenever a relevant agreement with Armenia and Azerbaijan is reached.

      But efforts by the European Parliament to send a delegation to Djulfa, headed by British MP Edward O’Hara, first in 2006 and again in April 2007 have been unsuccessful. This was despite the February 16, 2006 European Parliament resolution condemning the destruction of Djulfa and calling on Azerbaijan to allow “a European parliament delegation to visit the archaeological site of Djulfa.”

      O’Hara told this author that no party but himself is to blame for this year’s postponement which was “entirely due to domestic commitments.” This explanation is different from last year’s cancellation, which as The Art Newspaper (London) reported in June 2006, was due to Azerbaijan’s refusal to allow ten delegates to enter its territory.

      Meantime, there has been no reaction towards claims by Azeri officials and nationalist historians that the cemetery did not exist or was not Armenian. Foreign diplomats and organizations with presence in Baku have also been quiet toward Azerbaijan’s anti-Armenian activities. Former Norwegian Ambassador Steinar Gil, who publicized a case of vandalism at an Armenian church in central Azerbaijan, remains the only exception.

      Thomas de Waal, an expert on Armenian-Azerbaijani relations says that “foreign investors and diplomats in Azerbaijan are very sensitive towards anything that touches on the Armenian-Azerbaijani issue and the peace process and are therefore very timid about raising the issue of the destruction of cultural monuments.”


      Azerbaijan’s continuing military build-up and threats to launch a new war to win control over Nagorno Karabakh add on to the concern for the peace process. But Human Rights Watch has also blamed the West, especially the United States, for trading human rights for oil in Azerbaijan for inaction to condemn broad range of human rights violations.

      The U.S. State Department did not react on the Djulfa vandalism until pressed for comment. Following a congressional hearing on February 16, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a written response to Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) acknowledging U.S. awareness of “allegations of desecration of cultural monuments” and urged Azerbaijan to “take appropriate measures to prevent any desecration of cultural monuments.” She also said the U.S. has “encouraged Armenia and Azerbaijan to work with UNESCO to investigate the incident.”

      During a visit to Armenia in March 2006, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza called the destruction a “tragedy.” He said: “it’s awful what happened in Djulfa. But the United States cannot take steps to stop it as it is happening on foreign soil. We continually raise this issue at meetings with Azeri officials. We are hopeful that the guilty will justly be punished.”

      Later that month, Bryza’s State Department manager, Assistant Secretary Dan Fried, told the Armenian Assembly of America conference in Washington that he “would be happy to raise issues of Armenian historical sites” with Azerbaijani officials because respect and protection for cultural sites is “a universal policy of the United States.”

      And in her May 12, 2006 response to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), U.S. Ambassador-designate to Azerbaijan Anne Derse noted that the U.S. is “urging the relevant Azerbaijani authorities to investigate the allegations of desecration of cultural monuments in Nakhichevan. If I am confirmed, and if such issues arise during my tenure, I will communicate our concerns to the Government of Azerbaijan and pursue appropriate activities in support of U.S. interests.”


      The destruction of Djulfa, nonetheless, did not make it into the State Department’s 2006 International Religious Freedom Report on Azerbaijan released on September 15, 2006. The report only repeated the previous years’ language that “all Armenian churches, many of which were damaged in ethnic riots that took place more than a decade ago, remained closed.”

      Likewise, the report failed to notice the words of the Norwegian Ambassador that a church in the village of Nizh was in early 2006 “restored” with Armenian lettering eliminated from its walls and nearby tombstones. That “restoration” was part of the Azerbaijan’s effort to present the Armenian cultural heritage on its territory as “Albanian” – that is belonging to a culture that became extinct hundreds of years ago – and therefore not Armenian.


      The most detailed outsider’s account of Nakhichevan’s Armenian heritage remains that of Steven Sim, a Scottish architect who visited the area in the summer of 2005. During his visit he found no trace of a single medieval Armenian church he had travelled to research, with local interlocutors denying there were any churches there in the first place.

      Still, while traveling along the border with Iran, Sim did manage to see the Djulfa khachkars from his train before the hand-crafted stones were erased from the face of the Earth in less than half a year.

      More than 350 years ago before Sim’s visit, a foreign traveller to Djulfa had estimated 10,000 khachkars in the cemetery. By 1998, less than seven decades after a Soviet agreement with Turkey placed Nakhichevan under Azerbaijan, there were only 2,000 khachkars remaining while the entire Armenian population had disappeared.

      According to eyewitness reports cited by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), Azeri authorities made efforts to destroy much of the Djulfa cemetery in 1998 and again in 2002. Describing what he saw in Djulfa in August 2005, Sim reported “what I saw was real savageness, but I cannot say that they did not leave anything, since there are still lying khachkars.”

      Four months later, on December 15, 2005, Russia’s Regnum News Agency was the first international outlet to quote reports of approximately “100 Azerbaijani servicemen penetrate[ing] the Armenian cemetery near Nakhichevan… using sledgehammers and other tools… to crush Armenian graves and crosses.”

      This final stage of destruction, which also amounted to desecration of Armenian remains underneath the burial monuments, had reportedly started on December 14 and lasted for three days, leaving no trace of a single khachkar.

      An Armenian film crew in northern Iran, from where the cemetery was visible, had videotaped dozens of men in uniform hacking away at the khachkars with sledgehammers, using a crane to remove some of the largest stones from the ground, breaking the stones into small pieces, and dumping them into the River Araxes using a heavy truck.

      Nevertheless, Azeri president Ilham Aliyev told the Associated Press that the reports of the destruction are “an absolute lie, slanderous information, a provocation.”

      By March 2006, photographs of the cemetery site showed that it had been turned into an army shooting range. An Azerbaijani journalist who visited the area on behalf of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting in April 2006 similarly found no traces of the cemetery left.

Toronto reportings

Upon insistence of of my girlfriend, I am posting a summary of my recent talk in Toronto by one of the organizers of the event.  I have the cold. 🙁

This is me and Hon. Jim Karygiannis, a Toronto MP (like the national Canadian representative) who joined us at the end of the lecture.  I had e-mailed him a few days before the talk and he made the commitment to attend.  I am shocked with the accessibility of Canadian elected officials.  My own American representative, the Tom Tancredo, would never attend such a meeting even though he has paid tribute to me in the U.S. House a few years ago.  Wow, a lesson for us Americans to learn.

Simon Maghakyan, a 20 year old student at the University of Colorado, flew to Toronto and in the span of three days, he participated in an Armenian Genocide related Workshop in Montreal over the weekend, then gave an excellent talk on the destruction and vandalism of Djulfa khatchars.  His talk took place on Monday, March 19, 2007, at 8:00pm, in the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Toronto.  Without the help of Rev. Arch Father Zareh Zargarian, the pastor of the Church, this event would not have taken place.

Simon began his presentation with his 5-minute film – “The New Tears of Araxes” – that documents the destruction of thousands of khatchkars.  The film was followed by his talk on the destruction discussing its connection to oil, politics and cultural rights.  At the end, his PowerPoint presentation showed satellite images of the Djulfa cemetery before its 2005 final destruction. These images had not been shown to the public before

Simon’s talk was enthusiastically received by the audience, as evidenced by the lively question and answer period at the end.  Here is a comment from one of the attendees.

Simon’s lecture was enlightening and he inspired hope in our new generation. God bless him and hope it will inspire other youth to go  in his footsteps. We the grown ups should keep an eye on these youth, help them every which way, so they will be encouraged.”

The Toronto Armenian youth was conspicuous by its absence.  Perhaps this was due to excusable circumstances, such as bad timing, late advertising, etc.  Here are some other comments from other members of the audience.

  …he [Simon] has all the qualities to become a scholar.  We thank all those who helped organize the special event.

Just wanted to say that I enjoyed Simon Maghakyan’s lecture yesterday, he had strong and energetic presentation skills at that young age with the knowledge of someone twice his age, a very bright young man, and he wasn’t shy at all, may he have a very successful future, my heartiest congratulations to him. I just wish that this lecture was advertised sooner.. as I believe there would’ve been a larger audience attending.

Thank you Simon.

Artin Boghossian, Toronto

A Survivor from Geneve

A thread I started in the Virtual Ani forum, that deals with the survived Jugha (Djulfa) khachkars, will have a  new addition now.  The idea of gathering the survived khachkars doesn’t belong to me, but to Steven Sim, a Scot architect and the last person to see Djulfa before its December 2005 annihilation.

I have just received a photo of one of the few (between 9 and 15) surviving khachkars from Jugha.  This particular one is in Geneva (Geneve):

The St Hagop church in Geneva has been inaugurated in 1969 and I reckon the khatchkar monument has been erected on this occasion. I settled down in Geneva on 1972 and the khatchkar already existed at that time. If I am not mistaken, it had been brought from Nor Jugha/Djulfa, Iran (and not from [Old] Jugha)… You will find attached a scanned picture of the khatchkar taken in 1994.

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