Azerbaijan: Cultural Destruction

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.

Another year has passed since the 1994 ceasefire put the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh on hold, but a lasting peace remains elusive. However, both countries continue to accuse the other of destroying cultural and historical monuments.

But, while the issue of the destruction of an ancient Armenian cemetery in the exclave of Nakhichevan is frequently raised, less is known about the cultural loss suffered by Azerbaijan. Gələcək Gün [AZ] details some of the destruction.

In Shusha alone, 8 museums, 31 libraries, and 8 cultural houses were destroyed. More than 300 items at the Hajibayov museum, 400 at the Bulbul Museum, 100 from Navvab, 2,000 from the Agdam museum, 3,000 from the Gubadli history museum, 6,000 from the Zengilan museum as well as 1,000 exhibits from the Karabakh History and Carpet museums were destroyed or sent to Armenia.

ƏN SON XƏBƏRLƏR, MƏQALƏLƏR [AZ] provides its readers with a list of Azerbaijani soldiers captured by Armenians during the war who were forced to participate in the destruction of monuments and graveyards in Shusha.

Mammadov Vugar […]: We were forced to destroy the Muslim graveyards, carrying [stone] by car to sell. All Muslim graveyards were destroyed. They wanted to destroy Shusha.

Kazimov Karim […]: Along with other captured soldiers, I was forced to destroy Ibrahim Khan's grave, Molla Vagifs graves […] and the Bulbuls and Hajibayov monuments and graveyards.

Gafarov Rauf: All the graveyards are destroyed. Probably they intended to take the gold teeth from the dead. They also put a church sign on the mosque.

Bagirov Sahib […]: The materials from the destruction were used to build a house for Samvel Babayan [formely imprisoned Karabakh Armenian military leader].

Mehdiyev Nazim: The materials were used to make a monument for [Armenian] General Andranik. In her interview to the Azartamartik newspaper, Nagorno Karabakh's Cultural Ministry Department Director, Janna Aleksanyan, said “we will destroy all the monuments belonging to Azerbaijanis during their occupation of Shusha.”

Salam, Xoş Gəlmisiniz [AZ} also comments on archeological digs conducted in the Azix cave, one of the earliest proto-human habitations in the region. The blog notes that the site is situated on Azerbaijan's territory.

“In 2003, on the Arminfo news site it was written that “archeological diggings continue in the Azix Cave.” It is one of the most ancient findings in Azerbaijan that dates back 1.5 million years. Armenians digging with other country scientists from Britain, Ireland and Spain violate national and international law with their unauthorized excavation.”

A Facebook page has been set up to protest the work while the Council of Europe's Secretary General, Terry Davis, visited the capitals of both countries in December 2008. However, an international mission to investigate the state of historical and cultural monuments in the region has been delayed.

I am very disappointed by the losses,” Davis is reported as saying. “Both Azerbaijan and Armenia suffered, and it is not only yours, [but also European] cultural heritage. […] They are our common values and we should protect them.

This post is part of our special coverage Caucasus Conflict Voices.


  • john

    just another turkisk BullShitter propagandist. these criminals commit all kind of mass murder turture of civilians and distruction of cultural heritage of not only Armenians but other minorities and makeup fictions and turnaround and paint themselves as victims to the gullible western public. STOP dirty TURKISH PROPAGANDA.

  • Bobby

    This is a typical example of the information war unleashed against the Armenian population in Nagorno Karabakh. As well as an excellent example how Azeris are turning everything upside down – while being busy destroying Armenian historical monuments themselves, they come out with hastily cooked “evidence” of the same being done by Armenians.

    Pay attention to lack of any independent source of information quoted in this article. And ask yourself – do you want to be fooled by cheap, hastily prepared propaganda?

    Now, here’s a *real* example of destruction carried out by Azeris:
    (and yes, I deliberately didn’t use any site which could be remotely connected to “pro-Armenian lobby”).

  • It’s such a shame that a nationalistic conflict is destroying heritage artifacts from a time period long before nationalism ever existed.

    It seems like one great way to make more awareness about the loss and endangerment of heritage artifacts would be to supplement the current protest campaign with an online map mashup of descriptions, photos, and videos related to the endangered monuments and artifacts. If anyone is interested in starting such a project please consider applying for a Rising Voices microgrant.

  • David’s email to the GV author list made it clear that his idea is open to both Armenian and Azerbaijani bloggers. Just wanted to clarify that, but also to say that it would be quite positive to see a cross-border initiative between both to raise awareness of the plight of monuments and historical sites in both countries. Maybe we’re not there yet, but it would be encouraging to see.

  • “8 museums, 31 libraries, and 8 cultural houses were destroyed”

    I always see numbers like this out of Azeri propaganda but find them highly suspect. Shusha was not a large town even before the war. A 1989 estimate says 23156 people lived there, mostly Azeris. I am curious what the definition of “museum” or “library” is because at a rate like that there was one library in Shusha per 746 people. I don’t know what the number of libraries per capita is in western nations but 31 libraries in one village of only 20,000 people seems exorbitantly high. Does this include private collections in regular households? There is no way there were 31 public libraries in one village. Same goes for 8 museums, what types of places were they? How much did they actually contain and how much of it was actually destroyed and how much is just deemed lost because it is no longer in Azeri hands? I’ve seen similar figures for the other regions held by Armenians as well. Shusha seems like a metropolis when compared to some of those villages yet I recall similarly exorbitant number of institutions are listed as having been destroyed in those areas as well.

  • Well, I have to be honest, there’s nothing much standing in Shusha apart from one Armenian church, one Russian church, and one (Persian, according to Armenians) mosque. There are two other mosques in the town which are badly damaged along with much of the town after it was taken.

    In fact, I know some Armenians who were kicked out when they tried to prevent Shushi being purposely destroyed and buildings set on fire by Armenian forces. Every other Azerbaijani village and town met the same fate. For me, the homes of people means more than cultural monuments, but anyway.

    Incidentally, Bobby, here’s another article from IWPR on the mutual destruction. Who did more is not the issue. Indeed, unlike others (both Armenian and Azerbaijani), Emil is saying they ALL need to be protected. The same goes for civilian casualties. No civilian populations should have been targeted.

    Both sides have since told and retold stories describing the “aggression” of the other, and playing down the violence which they themselves committed.

    […] And while a beautiful 18th century mosque has recently been restored in Yerevan, few of its citizens recall that a small Azerbaijani mosque on what is now Vardanants Street was demolished by a bulldozer in 1990.

    Anyway, until that independent monitoring mission comes, I guess we’ll not know the real state of things as it will be subjective claims from both sides. Meanwhile, I would ask you not to insult authors and accuse them. Follow West of Igdir’s example, and engage in discussion.

    This especially means you, John. Any further insults rather than reasoned comments will see you banned as the commenting rules of GV dictate: “Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.”

    Just one story to end, though. I remember driving up from Lachin towards Kelbajar in 2001. Stopped off at Melikashen, a formerly Azerbaijani village, where a handful of new Armenian settlers decried the Azeris using the church as a cattle-shed.

    Terrible, they said. Traveled then to Herik (formerly Azeri village of Amadlu). Guess what, new Armenian population of a few families, but the village head had locked down the local church with huge amounts of chains and padlocks. Why?

    Well, the new Armenian population were using it as a cattle-shed. It’s the same thing, isn’t it?

    In that sense, I wonder whether much of this “cultural damage” isn’t down to a lack of appreciation of historical monuments by both Armenians and Azerbaijanis. For example, remember this story from Hetq?

    Stone fragments with Armenian letters inscribed on them were scattered on the ground. Two huge heaps of headstones not far from each other. No, this scene was not in liberated Kelbadjar, nor in Nakhidjevan.

    It was in Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia, in April 2006. This construction site was on Aygegortsneri Street, on the road between the Nork and Nor Nork districts.

    Yes, not on the scale of Nakhichevan, but that’s not the point. The fact is that Armenians are defacing Armenian churches in Hadrut and khachkars in Armenia. And while Djulfa has gone, I’d like to know where the Azerbaijani mosques are in Armenia.

    Let’s face it, there was a population of 200,000 Azerbaijanis in Armenia in 1989. Where are the mosques and their graveyards? Why can I see only two relatively intact mosques in Karabakh and ironically, the ones Armenians say were “Persian.”

    True, I’ve seen intact Azerbaijani graveyards in Karabakh and close to Lachin, but only two.

    Basically, I’d like to visit to see what condition the others are in and especially in Armenia so if anyone knows, please let me know where. And yes, with over 300,000 Armenians in Azerbaijan at the same time, I’d like an Azerbaijani to be interested in the condition of any churches and graveyards there.

    That seems to be the point you’re all missing about this post, but which is ultimately the conclusion.

    “I am very disappointed by the losses,” Davis is reported as saying. “Both Azerbaijan and Armenia suffered, and it is not only yours, [but also European] cultural heritage. […] They are our common values and we should protect them.“

  • And btw, Bobby, you obviously missed it, but Emil linked to a post on the destruction of Djulfa from this one. And also btw: that post was written by an Armenian.

    So, you were wrong in thinking he overlooked it and indeed, his point is that monuments were destroyed by both sides, which they were. Who did more is rather an issue for discussion and debate.

    Also, I think Terry Davis’ reference to mutual destruction (although who did more damage is not known) can be considered pretty “independent” until a fact-finding mission comes over, no?

  • Farhad Aghayev

    I am getting the impression that some of us here got too overwhelmed by the countless info on destructed monuments. Let’s not forget about all the human casualties. What purpose does a historical monument serve if there’s no one around to appreciate it? As Onnik Krikorian noted, homes of people mean more than monuments.

  • R

    Perhaps the biggest destroyers of churches, mosques and religious structures generally, throughout the Soviet Union, were the communists. I am always surprised at how few churches there are in Yerevan for example.

  • Bobby


    It’s cool that you brought up the “beautiful 18th century mosque” – I am not sure though how can you compare that with destruction of 2000 khachkars of Jugha cemetery – but nevertheless… Note, however, that the same story claims “Russians, after initially helping both sides, began to help the Armenians more.”. If you are not an ignorant, you should know, that the only side Russians took an active military action for are Azeris – it was Russian army’s “koltso” operation which resulted in ethnic cleansing of Armenians from ex-Sovier Azerbaijan Republic’s Shahumian region. If I dig into the article (I am sure I read it when it was published) I’d come out with even more “inconsistencies”. Thomas De Waal is actually well known by his “juxtaposing by force” techniques – for the sake of wrongly understood “neutrality”, if there wasn’t any mosque – he’d come out with one just to “balance” Azeri pogroms of Armenians. As to Terry Davis … tell me, do you really believe in his impartiality?

    Like the other commenters – I doubt highly the information quoted from Azeri sources. Until the information is a) concrete and b) confirmed by an independent source – I am not buying it – and nor advise anybody else (interested in truth) do so. Shushi had “8 museums, 31 libraries, and 8 cultural houses”? If you believe in these numbers you are either very ‘interested’ in Azeri side of the story or very naive” (paraphrasing the famous saying that “if you are a republican you are either very rich or very stupid”) . Besides – why don’t you question – what’s the reason for Armenians to destroy “cultural houses” of already mostly destroyed Shusha (which had been used as an artillery bridgehead to bombard Stepanakert’s civilian population). Were these “houses” Azeri historical monument? Are you *that* naive?

    …Or are you *that* naive to claim that the article is well-balanced because it “mentioned” the Azeri destructions as well? The article is nothing that so-familiar Azeri propaganda with ostensibly precise numbers of buildings destroyed by Armenians and “quotes” from captured Azeri soldiers. Onnik, I actually admire your stance – however confused or disinformed you might be. The problem I have is that – being an active reader of many blogs and forums – I haven’t seen a single Azeri who would assume the same “truth above everything” approach. For mammadovs don’t usually hesitate, even Turks… 27.000 of them will come out with semi-apology for murdering almost the whole nation and grabbing almost whole historic Armenia, but Azeris… they will use every forum, every occasion, every mean to destroy us, Armenians. Make no mistake about it.

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