The image above shows what no longer exists—the pre-destruction site of Old Julfa cemetery.
The largest khachkar cemetary in the world was located in Jugha (or Julfa, located today in Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan). The numbers were vastly reduced from the approximately 20,000 (monasteries, churches, tombstones, khatchkars, other cultural artifacts) that once stood during Soviet times to a mere few thousand, and after independence, Azerbaijan began to systematically destroy them. After an international outcry, the destruction was halted a few years, until 2005 when the entire cemetery was bulldozed completely clear.
Artist Lusik Aguletsi, a Nakhichevan-born Armenian, also last visited the cemetery in 1987, although she was under escort.
“There is nothing like it in Armenia,” she said. “It was a thrilling sight. Two hills completely covered in khachkars. We weren’t allowed to draw or photograph them.”
Armenian experts now accuse Azerbaijan of a deliberate act of cultural vandalism.
“The destruction of the khachkars of Old Jugha means the destruction of an entire phenomenon in the history of humanity, because they are not only proof of the culture of the people who created them, they are also symbols that tell us about a particular cultural epoch,” said Hranush Kharatian, head of the Armenian government’s department for national and religious minorities.
“On the entire territory of Nakhichevan there existed 27,000 monasteries, churches, khachkars, tombstones and other Armenian monuments,” said Aivazian. “Today they have all been destroyed.”
Although the historical provenance of the cemetery is disputed in Azerbaijan, its cultural importance is confirmed by the 1986 Azerbaijani book “The Architecture of Ancient and Early Medieval Azerbaijan” by Davud Akhundov, which contains several photographs of the cross-stones of Jugha.
Between 1998 and 2006 the entire cemetery was destroyed. The various stages of the destruction process have been documented by photographic and video evidence taken from the Iranian side of the border. Government and state officials of Azerbaijan have denied that any destruction has taken place, stating that an Armenian cemetery never existed on the site and that Armenians have never lived in Julfa. Azerbaijan has, to date, refused neutral observers access to the site. (Gee, you think they’re hiding something?) The European Parliament has formally called on Azerbaijan to stop the demolition as a breach of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. According to its resolution regarding cultural monuments in the South Caucasus, the European Parliament “condemns strongly the destruction of the Julfa cemetery as well as the destruction of all sites of historical importance that has taken place on Armenian or Azerbaijani territory, and condemns any such action that seeks to destroy cultural heritage.” (Yet they did absolutely nothing to stop the destruction). In 2006, Azerbaijan barred the European Parliament from inspecting and examining the ancient site, stating that by passing the previously-mentioned resolution the Parliament had committed a hostile act against Azerbaijan. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting reported on April 19, 2006 that “there is nothing left of the celebrated stone crosses of Jugha.”
Image: 517design, view rest of set (taken from 1903-1987)
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