Azerbaijan is one of the areas of earliest human settlement with a rich historical past and diverse cultural legacy. Different rock drawings, architectural monuments, samples of arts and crafts, as well as a great number of artefacts unearthed as a result of archaeological excavations testify to the country’s distant past, its vast cultural heritage.
The occupation of 20 per cent of the Azerbaijani territory has also had catastrophic consequences for the country’s cultural heritage in its occupied territories. More than 700 historical monuments, 22 museums, including 100 000 museum exhibits, 927 libraries, 58 archeological sites, 26 fortresses and fortress wall and other objects of the cultural heritage were destroyed, plundered or misappropriated by Armenia.
Architectural monuments of national importance in those territories include the sixth century Albanian Agoglan cloister and the fourteenth century Malik Ajdar tomb in Lachyn, the fourth century Albanian Amaras cloister and a considerable number of Albanian temples in Khojavand, the eighteenth century Asgaran castle, fourteenth century tombs and a number of Albanian temples dating back to the Middle Ages in Khojaly, the sixth century Albanian Saint Jacob and thirteenth century Albanian Khatiravang cloisters and the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries Lekh castle in Kalbajar, the Albanian cloister of the fifth to eighth centuries in Gazakh, the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries Mirali tomb and the seventeenth century caravanserai in Fuzuli, the fourteenth century tomb in Zangilan, the seventeenth century mosque complex in Jabrayil, the eighteenth-nineteenth centuries Yukhary and Ashaghy Govharagha and Saatly mosques, caravanserais and houses in Shusha, the nineteenth century mosque in Aghdam, and archaeological sites like Garakopaktapa, Khanta a, Gunashtapa, Uzuntapa, Meynatapa and Zargartapa, residential areas of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages in Fuzuli, the residential areas of Chyragtapa and Garaghajy, of the Bronze Age, and those of Gavurgala, of the Middle Ages, and Aghdam, Imangazantapa and Gyshlag mounds of the Bronze Age in Jabrayil, rock drawings of the Bronze Age in Kalbajar, the stone box necropolis of the Bronze and Iron Ages in Khojaly, the residential area and necropolis of the Bronze Age in Sadarak, mounds of the Bronze and Iron Ages in Lachyn, a cave of the Stone Age, a mound and stone box graves of the Bronze and Iron Ages in Shusha.
The monuments of world importance in the territories of Azerbaijan subjected to occupation of Armenia include the 11- and 15-arch medieval Khudafarin bridges and Niftaly mounds of the Bronze Age in Jabrayil, Albanian medieval Ganjasar and Khudavang cloisters in Kalbajar, the fourteenth century Gutlu Musa oghlu tomb and Uzarliktapa residential area of the Bronze Age in Aghdam, the Azykh and Taghlar caves of the Paleolithic Age in Khojavand, and mounds of the Bronze and Iron Ages in Khojaly.
Apart from its wealth of architectural and archaeological monuments and its spectacularly beautiful nature, Karabakh has been home to many talents, including in particular Vagif, Natavan, Nawab, Hajybayov and Bulbul, whose legacy, for their great contribution not only to the Azerbaijani but also to the world’s cultural heritage, has been recognized at the international level.
The policy of purposeful destruction of this legacy following the occupation has been and continues to be an irreparable blow both to Azerbaijani culture and world civilization. As has clearly been demonstrated in the deliberate change of the cultural look of Shusha and other towns and settlements of Karabakh, by destroying the monuments, changing architectural features and making “archaeological” excavations, Armenia pursued far-reaching targets of removing any signs heralding their Azerbaijani origins.
Analysis of the period of 26 years since the declaration of a ceasefire in 1994 reveals the fact that the Armenian military actions have not destroyed Azerbaijani monuments to the extent to which this was subsequently done by the Armenian authorities later.
Thus, immediately following military operations in early 1990s architectural monuments in Shusha city, such as the Yukhary and Ashaghy Govharagha mosques with their madrasahs, the mausoleum of Vagif, and the house of Natavan and caravanserais, were destroyed, burnt and plundered.
As for other districts, the “Imarat of Panah khan” complex, mosques in Aghdam town, Abdal and Gulably villages, the tomb of Ughurlu bay and the home museum of Gurban Pirimov in the Aghdam district, fourteenth century tombs in the Khojaly district, mosques in the Bashlybel and Otagly villages, ancient cemeteries in the Moz, Keshdak and Yukhary Ayrym villages and Kalbajar town in the Kalbajar district, mosques in the Zangilan, Gyrag Mushlan, Malatkeshin, Babayly and Ikinji Aghaly villages, medieval cemeteries in the Jahangirbayli, Babayly and Sharifan villages in the Zangilan district, ancient cemeteries in the Gayaly and Mamar villages, the mosque in Mamar village in the Gubadly district, the mosque in Garygyshlag village and the ancient cemetery in Zabukh village in the Lachyn district, the mosque complex in Chalabilar village and the ancient cemetery in Khubyarly village in the Jabrayil district, mosques in Fuzuli town and the Gochahmadli, Merdmli and Garghabazar villages in the Fuzuli district, the cemeteries of the Khojavand, Akhullu, Kuropatkino, Dudukchu and Salakatin villages and the old cemetery of Tugh village in the Khojavand district, the ancient hammams in Umudlu village in the Tartar district and the cemetery of Karki village in the Sadarak district, were destroyed, burnt down and plundered.
The Museum of History in the Kalbajar district with its unique collection of ancient coins, gold and silverware, rare and precious stones, carpets and other handicraft wares, museums in Shusha, the Lachyn Museum of History, the Aghdam Museum of History and the Bread Museum and others also were destroyed, plundered, and their exhibits put on sale in different countries. For example, the bronze statues of the poetess Natavan, the composer Uzeyir Hajybayov, the singer and musician Bulbul were going to be sold as bronze scrap metal in Georgia if the Azerbaijani Government had not bought them for $500,000 and taken them to Baku. Similarly, a silver handbag from the Lachyn Museum of History was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in London for $80,000.
Acts of barbarism were accompanied by different methods of defacing the Azerbaijani cultural image of the occupied territories. Among them were large-scale construction works therein, such as, for example, the building of an Armenian church in Lachyn town, the extension of the flight line of the Khojaly airport by destroying the children’s music school, library, social club and infrastructure facilities. Another widespread practice employed was the change of the architectural details of different monuments, such as the Saatly mosque and Khanlyg Mukhtar caravanserai in Shusha city, as well as replacement of the Azerbaijani-Muslim elements of the monuments with alien ones, such as the Armenian cross and writings, which have been engraved on the Arabic character of the nineteenth century Mamayi spring in Shusha town.
Armenia has conducted “archaeological excavations” in the “Azykh” cave in the Khojavand district since 2003 and in the area near the city of Aghdam since March 2005.
Grave robbery, uncovering tombs and graves to steal artefacts or personal valuables were a widely reported practice in the territories of Azerbaijan subjected to occupation of Armenia.
As for the fate of the Azerbaijani historical and cultural heritage in Armenia, those monuments which survived until the beginning of the conflict have since been destroyed, such as the Damirbulag and Goy mosques of Yerevan. The former was razed to the ground, while the latter has been “restored” to alter its original authenticity. The mosques and other Azerbaijani monuments in other places of Armenia have also shared the same fate as the above-mentioned two, together with ancient or modern Azerbaijani cemeteries and toponyms of Azerbaijani origin, which have been erased from present-day Armenia.
Above-mentioned actions of Armenia constitute a serious violation of its obligations under international law to respect and protect the cultural heritage of the occupied territories.
For more information on damage to cultural heritage, please, consult the following research:
War against Azerbaijan: Targeting Cultural Heritage