September 2023 noticed the tumultuous and traumatic departure of over 100,000 Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh. This mass exodus of an indigenous folks from their homeland adopted 9 months of starvation-by-blockade, which culminated in a murderous army assault on Sept. 19.
These males, ladies, and youngsters, terrified for his or her lives, left behind complete worlds: their colleges and outlets; their fields, flocks, and vineyards; the cemeteries of their ancestors. In addition they left behind the church buildings, massive and small, historical and extra fashionable, magnificent and modest, the place they’d for hundreds of years gathered collectively and prayed. In addition they left behind bridges, fortifications, early fashionable mansions, and Soviet-era monuments, such because the beloved We’re Our Mountains statues. What is going to occur now to these locations? There isn’t any query, truly.
We all know properly what occurred in Julfa, in Nakhichevan: a spectacular panorama of Sixteenth-century Armenian tombstones was erased from the face the earth by Azerbaijan over a interval of years. We all know what occurred to the Church of the Mom of God in Jebrayil and the Armenian cemetery within the village of Mets Tagher (or Byk Taglar)each had been utterly scrubbed from the panorama utilizing earthmoving tools like bulldozers. And we all know what occurred to the Cathedral of Ghazanchetsots in Shushi, which was, in flip, shelled, vandalized with graffiti, restored with out its Armenian cupola, and now rebranded as a Christian temple. The brazenness of those actions, as journalist Joshua Kucera wrote in Might 2021, suggests a rising confidence that [Baku] can remake their newly retaken territories in no matter picture they need.
The annihilation of millennia of Armenian life in Arstakh was enabled by the inaction and seeming indifference of those that may need prevented it. The USA and the European Union converse loftily of common human rights, however did nothing for 9 months whereas the folks of Arstakh had been denied meals, medication, gasoline, and different important provides. They did nothing to implement the order of the Worldwide Court docket of Justice demanding again in February 2023 that Azerbaijan finish its blockade. That inaction clearly emboldened Azerbaijan to attackjust as it would encourage others to do the identical elsewhere.
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Its essential to grasp the stakes of this type of cultural erasure: These monuments and stones testify to the generations of Armenians who worshipped in and cared about them. To destroy them, is to erase not solely a tradition, however a folks. As artwork historian Barry Flood noticed in 2016 concerning the destruction of cultural heritage by the so-called Islamic state since 2014, the bodily destruction of communal connective tissuesthe archives, artifacts, and monuments by which complicated micro-histories had been instantiatedmeans that there are actually issues about these pasts that can’t and by no means will likely be recognized. The Julfa cemetery is a tragic instance of such loss.
If historical past is any indication, ethnic cleaning tends to be adopted by all types of cultural destruction, from vandalism to finish effacement from the panorama. The latter tactic will likely be used with smaller, lesser-known church buildings. Will probably be a sinister option to take away much less well-known Armenian monuments, which is able to serve the narrative that there have been no Armenians there within the early fashionable interval to start with.
Falsification will even happen, by which Armenian monuments are supplied with newly created histories and contexts. The 13th-century monasteries of Dadivank (within the Kalbajar district) and Gandzasar (within the Martakert province), each magnificent and attribute examples of medieval Armenian structure, have already been rebranded as historical Caucasian Albanian temples. Count on these and different websites to change into venues for conferences and workshops to focus on historical Caucasian Albanian tradition. As for the numerous Armenian inscriptions on these buildings, khachkars, and tombstones: these, as President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev introduced in February 2021, are Armenian forgeries, and will likely be restored to their authentic look (presumably by means of gouging, sandblasting, or eradicating of Armenian inscribed stones, as was achieved within the Nineteen Eighties).
Lastly, there will likely be a celebration of the multiculturalism of Azerbaijan. Come to Karabakh, dwelling of historical Christians, folks will say. Please ignore the gouged-out letters on that stone wall, for it isn’t an Armenian inscription. There have been by no means Armenians right here!” Aside from troopers and invaders, like those depicted in a reprehensible museum in Baku, that includes waxen figures of lifeless Armenian soldiersa sight so dehumanizing that a world human rights organizations, together with Azerbaijani activists, cried out for its closure.
That is how cultural genocide performs out. A bit of greater than 100 years in the past was the Armenian Genocide waged by the Ottoman Empire, adopted by largescale looting, vandalization, and destruction of Armenian websites throughout what’s now modern-day Turkey. The prospect of a second cultural genocide is now on the desk. Besides now, Armenians will watch the spectacle unfold on-line, enduring the trauma web site by web site and monument by monument.
In 2020, Armenian activists referred to as for worldwide monitoring of weak websites in Nagorno-Karabakh by UNESCO and different heritage organizations. Nothing occurred. Now could be the time for the world to guard what Armenian tradition stays in Nagorno-Karabakh. If we dont, what tradition will likely be subsequent to go?
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The unique model of this story misstated the president of Azerbaijan’s title. It’s Ilham Aliyev, not Ilhan Aliyev.