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 Friday, October 13 2023 19:01

What cultural genocide looks like for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh -  TIME

What cultural genocide looks like for Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh -  TIME

ArmInfo. Below is an article by Christina Maranci, Professor of Armenian Studies in the Department of Near  Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the Department of the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University, posted by the TIME Magazine. 

September 2023 saw the tumultuous and traumatic departure of over  100,000 Armenians from Nagorno- Karabakh. This mass exodus of an  indigenous people from their homeland followed nine months of  starvation-by-blockade, which culminated in a murderous military  assault on Sept. 19.

These men, women, and children, terrified for their lives, left  behind entire worlds: their schools and shops; their fields, flocks,  and vineyards; the cemeteries of their ancestors. They also left  behind the churches, large and small, ancient and more modern,  magnificent and modest, where they had for centuries gathered  together and prayed. They also left behind bridges, fortifications,  early modern mansions, and Soviet-era monuments, such as the beloved  "We are Our Mountains" statues. What will happen now to those places?   There is no question, actually.

We know well what happened in Julfa, in Nakhichevan: a spectacular  landscape of 16th-century Armenian tombstones was erased from the  face the earth by Azerbaijan over a period of years. We know what  happened to the Church of the Mother of God in Jebrayil and the  Armenian cemetery in the village of Mets Tagher (or B”yk  Taglar)-both were completely scrubbed from the landscape using  earthmoving equipment like bulldozers. And we know what happened to  the Cathedral of Ghazanchetsots in Shushi, which was, in turn,  shelled, vandalized with graffiti, "restored" without its Armenian  cupola, and now rebranded as a "Christian" temple. The brazenness of  these actions, as journalist Joshua Kucera wrote in May 2021,  "suggests a growing confidence that [Baku] can remake their newly  retaken territories in whatever image they want."

The annihilation of millennia of Armenian life in Arstakh was enabled  by the inaction and seeming indifference of those who might have  prevented it. The United States and the European Union speak loftily  of universal human rights, but did nothing for nine months while the  people of Arstakh were denied food, medicine, fuel, and other vital  supplies. They did nothing to enforce the order of the International  Court of Justice demanding back in February 2023 that Azerbaijan end  its blockade. That inaction clearly emboldened Azerbaijan to  attack-just as it will encourage others to do the same elsewhere.

It's important to understand the stakes of this kind of cultural  erasure: These monuments and stones testify to the generations of  Armenians who worshipped in and cared about them. To destroy them, is  to erase not only a culture, but a people. As art historian Barry  Flood observed in 2016 about the destruction of cultural heritage by  the so-called Islamic state since 2014, "the physical destruction of  communal connective tissues-the archives, artifacts, and monuments in  which complex micro-histories were instantiated- means that there are  now things about these pasts that cannot and never will be known."  The Julfa cemetery is a tragic example of such loss.

If history is any indication, ethnic cleansing tends to be followed  by all kinds of cultural destruction, from vandalism to complete  effacement from the landscape. The latter tactic will be used with  smaller, lesser- known churches. It will be a sinister way to remove  less famous Armenian monuments, which will serve the narrative that  there were no Armenians there in the early modern period to begin  with.

Falsification will also occur, in which Armenian monuments are  provided with newly created histories and contexts. The 13th-century  monasteries of Dadivank (in the Kalbajar district) and Gandzasar (in  the Martakert province), both magnificent and characteristic examples  of medieval Armenian architecture, have already been rebranded as  "ancient Caucasian Albanian temples." Expect these and other sites to  become venues for conferences and workshops to highlight "ancient  Caucasian Albanian culture." As for the countless Armenian  inscriptions on these buildings, khachkars, and tombstones: these, as  President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev announced in February 2021, are  Armenian forgeries, and will be "restored" to their "original  appearance" (presumably through gouging, sandblasting, or removing of  Armenian inscribed stones, as was done in the 1980s).

Finally, there will be a celebration of the "multiculturalism" of  Azerbaijan. "Come to Karabakh, home of ancient Christians," people  will say. "Please ignore the gouged-out letters on that stone wall,  for it is not an Armenian inscription. There were never Armenians  here!" Except for soldiers and invaders, like the ones depicted in a  reprehensible museum in Baku, featuring waxen figures of dead  Armenian soldiers-a sight so dehumanizing that an international human  rights organizations, including Azerbaijani activists, cried out for  its closure.

This is how cultural genocide plays out. A little more than 100 years  ago was the Armenian Genocide waged by the Ottoman Empire, followed  by largescale looting, vandalization, and destruction of Armenian  sites across what is now modern-day Turkey. The prospect of a second  cultural genocide is now on the table. Except now, Armenians will  watch the spectacle unfold online, enduring the trauma site by site  and monument by monument.

In 2020, Armenian activists called for international monitoring of  vulnerable sites in Nagorno-Karabakh by UNESCO and other heritage  organizations. Nothing happened. Now is the time for the world to  protect what Armenian culture remains in Nagorno-Karabakh. If we  don't, what culture will be next to go?  

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