May 30, 2006 - 20:15 AMTPanARMENIAN.Net
- Fears that Azerbaijan has systematically destroyed hundreds of 500-year-old Christian artefacts have exploded into a diplomatic row, after Euro MPs were barred from inspecting an ancient Armenian burial site
, the Independent writes. The predominantly Muslim country's government has been accused of "flagrant vandalism". The claims center on the fate of rare "khachkars", stone crosses carved with intricate floral designs, at the burial ground of Djulfa in the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan, an enclave separated from the rest of the country by Armenia. The works - some of the most important examples of Armenian heritage - are said to have been smashed with sledgehammers last December as the site was concreted over. The Azerbaijan government, which denies the claims, is now at the center of a row with MEPs, some of whom it accused of a "biased and hysterical approach".
Some MEPs believe that, boosted by its oil revenues, Azerbaijan is adopting an increasingly assertive stance in the region. Charles Tannock, Conservative foreign affairs spokesman in the European parliament, argued: "This is very similar to the Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban. They have concreted the area over and turned it into a military camp. If they have nothing to hide then we should be allowed to inspect the terrain." Hannes Swoboda, an Austrian socialist MEP and member of the committee barred from examining the site, said he hopes a visit can be arranged in the autumn. He added: "If they do not allow us to go, we have a clear hint that something bad has happened. If something is hidden we want to ask why. It can only be because some of the allegations are true." And he warned: "One of the major elements of any country that wants to come close to Europe is that the cultural heritage of neighbors is respected."