Belligerent occupation of any territory is always a big tragedy for a certain nation and usually just an eye-catching newspaper headline for the rest of the world.
Military invasion is usually followed by ethnic cleansing, destruction of cultural and ethnic heritage, washing away the genuine history of the occupied place. And, this is precisely what happened in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan.
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had been globally considered as a regional dispute over the independence of a particular piece of land, emerged because of the collapse of the soviet regime. However, not many international sources mention that this conflict dates back to a long time ago before the dissolution of the union.
Nagorno-Karabakh was an integral part of the Azerbaijani territories with very diverse population. It has always been the cultural and historical center of the Azerbaijani heritage. At the time of occupation, 7 surrounding regions were completely cleansed from their residents along with the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian invasion showed no mercy either to women, or to children. The occupation killed over 20,000 Azerbaijanis, leaving almost 50,000 disabled and little below a million people displaced.
The physical occupation of the Azerbaijani territories got the ball of destruction rolling.
According to the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan dated August 2, 2001 on ‘The list of real historical and cultural monuments of world importance’, ‘The list of real historical and cultural monuments of national importance’, ‘The list of real historical and cultural monuments of local importance’, more than 900 historical and cultural monuments on the occupied territories were damaged. This number is believed to be much higher as only the registered monuments were included in the above-mentioned lists. Cyclops buildings – dated III millennium BC (Tatar village, Jabrayil), Hatem Malik Fortress (XII century, Aghdam), the 12th century cemetery (Ashagi Veysalli village, Fuzuli), Baba Yagub stone mausoleum (1282-1284, Horadiz settlement, Fuzuli) are among those ancient historical and cultural monuments whose fate was sealed by the illegal occupant forces. The libraries, the museums (including Aghdam Bread museum having more than 1,500 exhibits – the second bread museum in the world and the first in the USSR) were whether bombed or set on fire as they were no longer needed to the occupants wishing to erase the last trace of Azerbaijanis in the territories.
Not surprisingly, the Armenian occupants felt no guilt in desecrating and destroying ancient religious temples, mosques and cemeteries. Approximately 403 historical and religious relics had been exposed to the invaders; 67 of them were mosques and 144 temples. Along with this, about 1,192 pilgrimage sites were mainly destroyed.
A number of mosques in Shusha and other regions (including Juma Mosque, Aghdam – a surrounding region) were severely damaged and turned into pigsties and cattle barns, insulting the whole Muslim world, while the others were completely obliterated since their existence seriously doubted the myth of the “Armenian” Karabakh. At the same time, numerous Albanian temples and monasteries (including Ganjasar temples in Aghdara, Aghoghlan in Lachin, Khudavang in Kalbajar and others) were gregorianized. Converting a dyophysite temple into a monophysite church is considered apostasy and a crime against religion as much as breeding cows and goats in a mosque is regarded as blasphemy, which is condemned not only by all existing religions but also by social morality.
The Armenian delusional dream of embezzling the history of Nagorno-Karabakh was sweeping away every single pillar of Azerbaijani culture on its path. That is the reason why all Azeri toponyms were instantly changed into Armenian ones, including the name of the region – Karabakh (which literally means ‘The Black Garden’ in Azeri).
All above-mentioned acts of barbarity are against the Convention for the pacific settlement of international disputes (Hague, 1907); Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (Hague, 1954) and its I and II protocols; Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments (Roerich Pact, 1935); Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (UNESCO, 1972) and many other internationally adopted norms.
Nonetheless, coming back to the recent escalation of the conflict, it is crucial to stress, that provocative shells of the Armenian occupants demolished a lot of religious and historic relics far away from the conflict zone. Tartar has been repeatedly attacked during almost 30 years of illegal occupation. Bombings destroyed many religious and historic structures on its territory, keeping its civilians in constant fear. The civilians of Azerbaijan’s second biggest city Ganja, which is 100 km away from the conflict zone, were attacked 4 times in a row at the time of the recent escalation (Oct 4; Oct 8; Oct 11; Oct 17, 2020). Since all the missiles were fired at nighttime, the casualties accounted for toddlers, children and women.
While Azerbaijanis were mourning their deceased brothers and sisters from Ganja, Barda became the next target. Being almost a 100 km away from the zone of military operations, Barda was bomb shelled twice (Oct 27; Oct 28. 2020); what resulted in 26 civilian deaths, making it the deadliest attack. It is of great importance to mention that all attacks were fired by internationally banned SMERCH cluster missiles.
As the result of the recent provocative attacks of the aggressor on the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan (Ganja and Barda are at least a 100 km away from the epicenter of the conflict), 94 civilians were killed, 414 were injured, 512 infrastructural facilities and 120 multi-block apartment complexes were completely destroyed.
All the atrocities committed against civilian population of Azerbaijan are totally against 6 resolutions of the UN Security Council protecting children during armed conflict – 1261 (1999), 1314 (2000), 1379 (2001), 1460 (2003), 1539 (2004) and 1612 (2005); Geneva convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war (Aug 12, 1949) and its protocols; UN Human Rights Council’s Resolution Protection of the human rights of civilians in armed conflict (Geneva 2008) and many other international documents.
During almost 30 years of a frozen territorial conflict, the Armenian occupants tried to wash away the Azerbaijani heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh and 7 surrounding regions. However, on November 10, 2020 Azerbaijan could finally restore its territorial integrity and neither changed toponyms nor banned weaponry could prevent justice from prevailing.
Azerbaijan is proud to be a home to a number of functioning churches (Nagorno-Karabakh and 7 surrounding regions not included) and synagogues, the majority of which either have been built or restored by the government. Mutual respect and peaceful co-existence in Azerbaijan have never been jeopardized by cultural, ethnic or religious differences in the society.
The biggest lesson to be learned from the example of Nagorno-Karabakh is that the deceptive opinion of ‘when you believe, it becomes a reality’ does not really work as no truth stays buried forever.
* Irada Hasanova is an independent journalist and scholar of European Politics. She is the author of many white papers focused on the geopolitics and multicultural matters of the Caucasus and Eastern Europe.