98% of Armenian heritage sites in Nakhchivan destroyed by Azerbaijan

98% of Armenian heritage sites in Nakhchivan destroyed by Azerbaijan
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At least 108 Armenian cultural heritage sites have been demolished or blown up by Azerbaijani authorities

A new report by the Caucasus Heritage Watch investigated the Armenian cultural heritage sites in Nakhchivan. According to the study, at least 108 Armenian monasteries, churches, and cemeteries were destroyed between 1997 and 2011.

“By 2011, all physical traces of Armenians in Nakhchivan were effectively gone, with rare exceptions appearing to have resulted from oversight rather than intent,” the report says.

Within the Armenian cultural heritage sites located by the CHW, 98% have been completely wiped out. The rest of the undestroyed sites were in such bad shape that the Azerbaijani authorities could not identify them as Armenian, the report’s authors said.

The report is the first time conclusive evidence of the systematic cultural erasure by Azerbaijan was presented.

Titled, “Silent Erasure: A Satellite Investigation of the Destruction of Armenian Cultural Heritage in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan,” the authors of the report are Lori Khatchadourian, Adam T. Smith, Husik Ghulyan, and Ian Lindsay.

Khatchadourian said that the silent erasure took place many years ago, but the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War gives it a new urgency since after the war, hundreds of Armenian monasteries, churches, and cemeteries are now in Azerbaijani territories. She said that there are reasons to fear that what happened in Nakhchivan could happen again.

Between 1998 and 2005, more than 3,000 Armenian khachkars (cross-stones) were destroyed. Simon Maghakyan, a Denver-based analyst, activist, and lecturer in political science referred to the systematic destruction of the thousands of UNESCO-protected ancient stone carvings as “the greatest cultural genocide of the 21st century.”

In 2005, when Steven Sim, a Scottish specialist in Oriental Art History wanted to investigate the condition of the Armenian monuments, he was told that “there never were any Armenian churches anywhere in Nakhchivan” because “There were no Armenians ever living here, so how could there have been churches here?”

Adam T. Smith, a professor of Arts and Sciences at Cornell University said that “The destruction of Armenian heritage in Nakhchivan highlights a worrying new model of cultural erasure.” He added that this destruction is driven by an exclusionary political ideology. Heritage destruction becomes the policy of the state and the institutions of the government try to ensure that the “erasure is total, secret, and then denied.”

“Our report also demonstrates the fragility of state-sponsored historical revisionism.” Representatives of the government of Azerbaijan maintain that there were never Armenians in Nakhchivan, but “decades of satellite imagery, not to mention historical and ethnographic documentation, easily unravel the official fiction,” Smith said.