U.S. govt report highlights Azeri destruction of Armenian heritage cites

U.S. govt report highlights Azeri destruction of Armenian heritage cites

PanARMENIAN.Net - The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released an update on religious freedom conditions in Azerbaijan, also weighing in on Azerbaijan's destruction of Armenian heritage sites in Nagorno-Karabakh.

During the 44-day war unleashed by Baku against Karabakh, September Azerbaijan purposefully shelling the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in the city of Shushi. The cathedral was hit twice by precision missile strikes that severely damaged the roof and interior of the building.

The USCIRF report cited a Human Rights Watch conclusion that the attack was intentional, constituting a war crime that should be investigated and prosecuted.

"The announcement of a ceasefire in early November formalized the territorial gains Azerbaijan had made militarily, and it set a staggered timeline for the cession of additional territories to Azerbaijan—raising concerns about the protection of various churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and other religious and cultural sites scattered throughout the region," the Commission's report said.

"President [Ilham] Aliyev reportedly gave assurances to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the country would protect Christian churches in these areas; however, some sites, such as a cemetery situated alongside an Armenian church in Hadrut, have already been vandalized."

In late November, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization reiterated a call for the protection of heritage sites in the area, and it proposed dispatching a preliminary field mission to produce an inventory of such sites “as a prerequisite for effective protection of the region’s heritage.”

Aliyev visited the region of Hadrut in territories occupied by Azerbaijan and declared his intention to "renovate" a 12th century Armenian church, which he claimed to be "an Albanian church". Aliyev went as far as to accuse Armenians of leaving "fake inscriptions" in the Armenian language.

Concerns about the preservation of cultural sites in Nagorno-Karabakh are made all the more urgent by the Azerbaijani government’s history of systemically destroying indigenous Armenian heritage—acts of both warfare and historical revisionism. The Azerbaijani government has secretly destroyed a striking number of cultural and religious artifacts in the late 20th century. Within Nakhichevan alone, a historically Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani forces destroyed at least 89 medieval churches, 5,840 khachkars (Armenian cross stones) and 22,000 historical tombstones between 1997 and 2006.

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