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Cultural reconciliation is possible in Karabakh .. Will Azerbaijan present a new model in protecting heritage?

Since ancient times, Karabakh, like all the regions of the Kura and Aras rivers in the Caucasus, have been a center of civilization and culture, and many ancient monuments that date back to the era of the Caucasian Albanians (Aran) from the fourth century BC to the beginning of the eighth century, and the ensuing periods of Azeri, Armenian and Mongolian And Turkey until the modern era remains in the area, which is described as being more like an open museum that includes many monasteries, churches, shrines, mosques and ancient houses.

In a report published by the American newspaper “The New York Times”, writer Hugh Aiken says that Armenian forces destroyed the Azerbaijani city of Aghdam in the 1990s, while the Azerbaijani government affirms that mosques and Islamic sites that were under Armenian control were neglected or desecrated. On the other hand, the Azerbaijani government launched a destructive campaign against the Armenian heritage in Nakhjuan between 1997 and 2006.

At the moment when Azerbaijan has regained the lands that it previously lost, the writer says that there is a special problem that imposes itself: How can a government be persuaded to take care of the heritage of another people who do not share the same beliefs?

The Hague Agreement

In this context, the author believes that in any war or conflict between different sects, the preservation of antiquities should be an urgent necessity, and it should come on top of priorities immediately after saving lives and protecting human well-being, as the fate of sites with a cultural dimension is important to support peace efforts in the long run. .

For a long time, international efforts have focused on protecting antiquities during wars and armed conflicts. After the widespread destruction of museums, libraries and artworks during the Second World War, the Hague Convention was signed in 1954 for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, and more than 130 countries have ratified it.

Deliberate attacks on monuments, such as the Croatian bombing of the Old Mostar Bridge in Bosnia in 1993, and the Taliban’s bombing of a statue of Buddha with dynamite in Afghanistan in 2001, prompted world leaders and international organizations to work to strengthen the legal framework for protecting cultural heritage.

In 2002 the International Criminal Court was established to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage was classified as a war crime.

In 2008, after widespread anger over the looting and destruction of Iraqi archaeological sites following the US invasion, the Senate approved the US accession to the Hague Convention.

The author adds that UNESCO recently launched a high-level campaign to counter what Irina Bokova, the former director-general of the organization, described as “cultural cleansing” by extremists. In 2016, the International Criminal Court indicted a Malian jihadist for war crimes over attacks on the 14th-century Djingarbir mosque, and other sites in Timbuktu, northern Mali.

In the same year, several governments called for the creation of an “international network of safe havens” to protect cultural property at risk of imminent attacks. The threat of US President Donald Trump last January to target cultural sites in Iran caused a sensation and reactions from within the Pentagon.

Governments are involved, too

According to the author, the destruction of cultural sites is not limited to extremist groups or military forces during armed conflicts. Rather, some governments have systematically carried out such practices.

This includes what China did against the Tibetan monasteries in the era that followed its control of the region. Since 2012, the Myanmar army has demolished hundreds of mosques and Islamic schools in the Rakhine region, as part of its brutal campaign against the Rohingya Muslims. A few months ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for his Hinduism, laid the foundation stone of a Hindu temple on the site of the Babri Mosque, which dates back to the 16th century, which was destroyed by a group of Hindus in 1992.

In 1992 Georgian forces destroyed several Abkhaz cultural sites, including the archive documenting an important part of the region’s history. In the midst of all this, the writer says that the United Nations, the United States and European countries are content with silence, and UNESCO does not interfere, especially since part of its funding comes from governments that carry out these practices.

Historical examples of archaeological sites protection

The author believes that the historical treasures and archaeological sites in Nagorno Karabakh should not be subject to destruction after the end of the last war, and should be transferred without problems from the Armenian control to the control of the Azerbaijani government, as happened previously to prominent historical landmarks.

The writer mentions in this context the temple of the Pantheon in Rome, which is among the most important pagan temples in ancient times, and which has remained steadfast to this day thanks to the Catholic Church, which adopted it in the seventh century AD. After the conquest of Constantinople, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror maintained the Hagia Sophia as a mosque. During the “Protestant Reformation”, Martin Luther opposed the destruction of the monuments of Catholic art in Germany, despite his efforts to eradicate the Catholic faith.

The author asserts that residents of the opposition-controlled Syrian province of Idlib have protected, during the current years of the war, mosaic paintings that date back to the pre-Islamic period and ancient buildings, and considered them an integral part of their identity.

In Cyprus, a joint committee was established in 2012 between the two halves of the island to take care of the threatened antiquities. With funding from the European Union and the United Nations Development Program, the two parties participated in the restoration of churches, mosques, baths, canals and old fortifications. The Greek Orthodox community was also quick to condemn the attacks that targeted a number of mosques on the territory of Greek Cyprus.

And in Nagorny Karabakh, cultural reconciliation is still possible – according to the author – despite the wars that the region has witnessed over the past three decades, as the two sides showed their awareness of the value of cultural sites and cultural heritage. In 2019, Armenians restored a famous 19th-century mosque in Shusha. In his last speech, Aliyev acknowledged the importance of the churches in the region, even if he denied their Armenian origin (stressing that the churches belong to the ancestors of the ancient Azeris).

In order to secure cultural sites in the region, Russia has deployed peacekeepers in Dadivank Monastery, and is pressuring Azerbaijan to protect other Armenian monuments under its control under the recent agreement, according to the author’s article.

Conflict origins

The origin of the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century. During the era of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin decided to establish an Armenian Autonomous Region in Karabakh, within the borders of the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic.

At the time, Stalin resettled many Armenians in different regions of “Karabakh”, so that this Russian policy began to bear its bloody fruits in the 1990s.

When weakness began to apply in the structure of the Soviet Union, the Armenians demanded the transfer of “Karabakh” from the sovereignty of Soviet Azerbaijan to Soviet Armenia, so the conflict between the two sides turned into a full-scale war in the early 1990s.

With the support of Moscow, the Armenians occupied the Azerbaijani city of Khankendi (Stepanakert) (the largest city in Karabakh) in 1991, then the cities of Shusha and Khojaly in 1992.

After that, the Armenians captured Lajin, Khoja Wend, Kalbjar and Agdarha, and they entered Agdam in 1993, followed by the occupation of the governorates of Gabriel, Fozuli, Qubadli and Zinkelan, before the last war redrawn the map of the region and its inhabitants.

Source : Al Jazeera + American Press + The New York Times

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