The Ceasefire Agreement in 1994 and Attempts at Peaceful Solution

The Destruction of Historical traces and Historical Revisionism

The information war during the conflict intensified even more after the ceasefire agreement when each side tries to emphasize the right to Nagorno-Karabakh. It is hardly surprising that the argumentation has been politicized to further promote respective interests. However, the discussion of certain aspects has got out of hands and some have started presenting pure falsification of history to claim their historic right to the area. The Azeri argument has even gone beyond the borders of Karabakh, claiming that even present-day Armenia is actually historical Azerbaijani territory. This includes both Karabakh and Nakhichevan.[94] The argumention in these discussions are sometimes so weak and shallow that it hardly needs any deeper knowledge on the subject to realize that the arguments are rather strongly distorted or taken completely out of context.

As a complement to their insistence on the historical background, the Azeri side has also taken more drastic measures to erase the historical evidence, namely by physical eradication of all traces that can confirm an Armenian presence in the Karabakh region and its surrounding areas. The destruction of Armenian monuments and buildings began in the 1980s, but since 1998 the government of Azerbaijan has intensified this campaign and has implemented a systematic destruction of Armenian monuments on its territory to erase all traces of Armenian presence. This has been particularly implemented in Nakhichevan, in fear of that the Armenians, like in the case of Karabakh, should lay claim to Nakhichevan, which until 1923 when Stalin gave away to Azerbaijani SSR was part of Armenia.

A real tragedy occurred in December 2005 when the Azerbaijani Army, in a last stage, leveled the ancient Armenian cemetery in Joulfa, on the border with Iran. The cemetery was one of the richest collections of khatchkar (Armenian khatch-kar: cross-stone), a form of Armenian monuments. Hundreds of stone monuments dating back to as early as the 5th century were crushed by soldiers with excavators and then the broken pieces were removed in large trucks and the cemetery was converted into a shooting range. The whole process was filmed by an Armenian priest on the other side of the border in northwestern Iran.[95] According to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the government of Azerbaijan had in 1998 removed 800 khatchkar. Although the destruction was stopped after protests from the UN agency UNESCO, the campaign was resumed four years later and in January 2003, "the 1500-year old cemetery was levelled completely to the ground" according to ICOMOS. 2005 marked the final destruction of Joulfa.[96] Despite the existing evidence as footage and images, the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has called the allegations as "an absolute lie"[97], who later banned a truth-finding delegation from the European Parliament to visit the site.[98] On December 5, 2010, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), published a report on the destruction of the cemetery. By studying satellite images, AAAS could confirm that the cemetery with its khatchkars had been completely destroyed.[99] The Azerbaijani authorities continue to deny the incident.

Azerbaijan has on its part accused the Armenians of the corresponding deeds and asserts that Azerbaijani historical monuments in the territories under Armenian control have been destroyed. The basis for these allegations, however, are rather limited and can be summarized in a list that is used as evidence for very few international resolutions (UN and European Parliament), essentially signed by Azerbaijani and Turkish members.[100] This list includes numerous historical monuments, but also museums, libraries and other state institutions which have allegedly been destroyed. The difficulty with these accusations is the fact that there is no concrete evidence and proof of intent to distruction. Almost all of those objects are, in fact situated in areas hit by artillery shelling from both sides and places for close combat. Looking at pictures of the items presented in the Azerbaijani lists, one can clearly see that it is not only the described objects which are in ruins or are damaged, but the entire surrounding is in the same damaged condition. This would probably suggest that the damage to these famous or historical objects has occurred during the fighting and mutual bombardments and not by the Armenians after the ceasefire. The lack of construction and renovation of the war-ravaged buildings has obviously accelerated the isintegration even further, but this includes all buildings in the area and is not specific to the very valuable objects. It is imporant to emphasize that this does not mean that all Azeri accusations are false, but the lack of existing concrete evidence makes the Azerbaijani allegations of Armenian vandalism rather circumstantial evidence and generalization than concrete proof that the Armenians have deliberately destroyed monuments and buildings to wipe out Azeri traces in the area. In comparison, one can mention that the Armenian allegations are based on grapphic evidence in the form of photographs and videos to confirm the intentional destruction of the monumnets in peacetime, but more importantly, even outside the combat zone. E.g., the Joulfa Cemetery in Nakhichevan with the hundreds of historical cross-stones, was no where near the combat zone so their destruction can not be said to have occurred because of the fighting.

Azerbaijan also accuses the Armenians for another kind of eradication of Azerbaijani monuments, by claiming that the Armenian monuments and churches in the region belong in fact to Christian Albanians, i.e. the predecessors of today's Muslim Azeris. However, similar allegations lack any anchorage in reality and have hardly received any acknowledgement outside Azeri and Turkish circles, as reflected in the signatures in the aforementioned resolutions. A similar argument is used about the Blue Mosque (1786) in the Armenian capital Yerevan. During the second half of the 1990's, the Blue Mosque was renovated with grants from the Iranian government. The renovation has been criticized by the Azerbaijani side, which claims that the mosque is Azeri and has been deliberately altered to conceal its true origin.

Notes

94) See, among others, an article on Azerbaijani Parliament's decision on the creation of a commission to study the process of the creation of today's Armenia: Azerbaijan Parliament to Establish Commission to Study Historical Reasons of Giving Irevan to Armenia,Trend.az, 1 February 2008; http://en.trend.az/news/politics/1125093.html
95) For pictures and video seeArmenica.org Cultural vandalism or rape of the story?, 25 December 2005; http://www.armenica.org/history/se/old-jougha
96) Stephen Castle, 'Azerbaijan' flattened 'sacred Armenian site, The Independent, May 30, 2006, Sarah Pickman, Tragedy on the Araxes, inArchaeology.org, 30 June 2006; http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/djulfa/index.html
97) Ilham Aliyev, All historic, cultural monuments state-protected, statementAssa-Irada, 14 April 2006; http://www.bakutoday.net/aliyev-all-historic-cultural-monuments-state-protected.html
98) Stephen Castle, Azerbaijan 'flattened' sacred Armenian site, published inThe Independent, 30 May 2006; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/azerbaijan-flattened-sacred-armenian-site-480272.html
99) American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS),High-Resolution Satellite Imagery And The Destruction of Cultural Artifacts in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan, Washington DC, December 5, 2010; http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2010/1208azerbaijan.shtml
100) See, among others, Parliamentary Assembly,Destruction of Azerbaijani historic monuments, 22 January 2008; http://assembly.coe.int/Documents/WorkingDocs/Doc08/EDOC11501.pdf