No:479/20, Commentary of the Press Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the UNESCO press release on sending of a mission to Azerbaijan

The Azerbaijani side has always been committed to cooperation with UNESCO, to fulfill its obligations under conventions to which it is adhered to, and in particular its commitments to protect cultural heritage.

For many years, our country has made significant contributions to the activities of the Organization in the restoration and conservation of cultural heritage, both in Azerbaijan and globally. Thus, the protection of cultural heritage is one of the important directions of state policy in Azerbaijan. The successful hosting of the last session of the World Heritage Committee in 2019 is a vivid indicator of the importance that Azerbaijan attaches to the protection of cultural heritage, as well as the confidence and trust of Member States in Azerbaijan. The first-ever UNESCO publication of the Military Manual on "Protection of Cultural Property in times of Armed Conflict " upon the initiative and support of the Republic of Azerbaijan is a clear example of the commitment of our country to the UNESCO values.

However, it has to be regretfully noted that during the 30 years of Armenia's military aggression against Azerbaijan and the occupation of our lands, our appeals to UNESCO to investigate war crimes such as the deliberate destruction, misappropriation, alteration of our cultural heritage, as well as illicit removal of our cultural properties by Armenia have been ignored and the UNESCO Secretariat has not demonstrated determination in this regard.

UNESCO has been repeatedly informed that Azerbaijan is considering the proposal of the organization to send a mission to the Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It should be underlined that a number of factors, including providing security in the area, weather conditions and difficult terrain must be taken into account while organizing a UNESCO mission to the region to assess the damage to our cultural property. As it is known, the territories of Azerbaijan were mined by Armenia during the occupation (since the statement of November 10 on the cessation of hostilities 6 civilians and 6 military servicemen were killed and 7 civilians and 14 military servicemen injured by landmines) and Armenia mined the area around historical and cultural monuments and turned the area into a dangerous zone while withdrawing its armed forces from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Azerbaijan has launched preliminary monitoring of cultural property in the liberated Azerbaijani lands and the results of the initial monitoring have been officially submitted to UNESCO. The monitoring report has also included photos of the destruction of all our religious and cultural monuments as well as the desecration of our mosques in the territories once occupied by Armenia. We hope that UNESCO will not remain silent about the war crimes indicated in the abovementioned monitoring report.

We believe that UNESCO must fulfill its mandate in an independent and objective manner and not allow the issue of protection of cultural heritage to be politicized. Such statements by UNESCO do not comply with the spirit of cooperation between Azerbaijan and UNESCO.

Azerbaijan is open to a constructive dialogue with UNESCO in order to discuss the details of the mission and reiterates its readiness to cooperate with UNESCO based on the respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the internationally recognized borders of the Member States.

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