Armenian National Commission for UNESCO condemns post-conflict church demolition in Nagorno-Karabakh

29 March 2021

The Armenian National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has condemned the alleged demolition of a church building in Mekhakavan, Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan.

A statement by the Commission described the demolition as “another act of cultural crime by Azerbaijan”.

The Armenian church in Mekhaven was demolished by Azerbaijani forces after the end of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh [Credit: BBC]

“Armenian monuments of Artsakh [Nagorno-Karabakh] under Azerbaijani occupation are vandalised and destroyed in ISIS-style,” the statement continued, referring to vandalism of religious sites undertaken by the Islamic State (IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) terrorist group in other parts of the world.

The town of Mekhakaven came under Azerbaijani control after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war between the Republic of Armenia and Turkish-backed Azerbaijan. The conflict was ended by a Russian-brokered peace agreement, which allowed Azerbaijan to hold on to the territory they had just taken from the Armenians and also awarded them further sections of territory that Armenia had taken from Azerbaijan some three decades earlier but which had been Armenian for many centuries until 1923.

A BBC News report demonstrated that the church building remained standing after the area had been taken by Azerbaijan and therefore was not destroyed during the conflict. The report included a video which showed Azerbaijani soldiers, including one standing on top of the church, shouting “Allahu Akbar”.

The news emerged a week after reports of the alleged destruction of a 200-year-old church in the city of Shushi, which had also come under Azerbaijani control. During the conflict advancing Azerbaijani forces were accused of launching an attack on Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, also in Shushi.

On a visit to Nagnorno-Karabakh on 15 March, President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev ordered the removal of medieval Armenian inscriptions from churches and other monuments, claiming that the inscriptions were not genuine.

“All these inscriptions are fake – they were written later,” said Aliyev. “They have created a false history for themselves in our ancient lands.”

Nagorno-Karabakh (mountainous Karabakh) is part of the historic homeland of the Armenian people, who around 301 AD became the first Christian nation, and the region still contains many ancient churches and monasteries. Karabakh was placed within Azerbaijan by the USSR in 1923.

Azerbaijan has been accused of committing war crimes against both military prisoners of war and civilian detainees during and after the 2020 conflict.

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