Azerbaijan’s Destruction of Armenian Monuments Exceeds ISIS Crimes

Khachkars from Julfa, Nakhichevan, Azerbaijan by A. Ayvazyan (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Uploaded to before 19 December 2006)

“A groundbreaking forensic report tracks Azerbaijan’s destruction of 89 medieval churches, 5,480 intricate cross-stones, and 22,700 tombstones,” is the subtitle of an incredible article by Simon Maghakyan and Sarah Pickman, published in the Hyperallergic Newsletter last week. The article is titled: “A Regime Conceals its Erasure of Indigenous Armenian Culture.”

In April 2011, when the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan wanted to visit Nakhichevan, an Armenian territory classified by the Soviets as an “autonomous republic” of Azerbaijan, to verify the destruction of thousands of historical medieval Armenian khachkars (cross-stones), he was blocked by Azeri officials who told him that reports of their destruction was fake news.

Under Azeri oppression, the longstanding Armenian community of Nakhichevan had dwindled to zero! Not content with ethnic-cleansing, the Azeris proceeded to eliminate all traces of Armenian monuments, claiming that no Armenians had ever lived in Nakhichevan.

“In December 2005, an Iranian border patrol alerted the Prelate of Northern Iran’s Armenian Church that the vast Djulfa cemetery, visible across the border in Azerbaijan, was under military attack. Bishop Nshan Topouzian and his driver rushed to videotape over 100 Azerbaijani soldiers, armed with sledgehammers, dump trucks and cranes destroying the cemetery’s remaining 2,000 khachkars; over 1,000 had already been purged in 1998 and 2002,” reported Maghakyan and Pickman.

The flattened land, where the khachkars stood for centuries, is now a military rifle range. The “demolition was the ‘grand finale’ of Azerbaijan’s eradication of Nakhichevan’s Armenian past,” wrote the two authors.

Maghakyan and Pickman reported that “the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) employed remote sensing technologies in its pioneer investigation into cultural destruction. Their 2010 geospatial study concluded that ‘satellite evidence is consistent with reports by observers on the ground who have reported the destruction of Armenian artifacts in the Djulfa cemetery.’”

“Absolutely false and slanderous information … [fabricated by] the Armenian lobby,” proclaimed Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who makes frequent threats against Armenia and distorts its history.

The authors also quote from public decree No.5-03/S on December 6, 2005, by Nakhichevan’s “local autocrat” Vasif Talibov, a relative of Pres. Aliyev, “ordering a detailed inventory of Nakhichevan’s monuments. Three years later, the investigation was summed up in the bilingual English and Azerbaijani ‘Encyclopedia of Nakhchivan Monuments,’ co-edited by Talibov himself. Missing from the 522-page ‘Encyclopedia’ are the 89 medieval churches, 5,840 intricate khachkars, and 22,000 tombstones that [Armenian researcher Argam] Ayvazyan had meticulously documented. There is not so much as a footnote on the now-defunct Christian Armenian communities in the area—Apostolic and Catholic alike. Nevertheless, the official Azerbaijani publication’s foreword explicitly reveals ‘Armenians’ as the reason for No. 5-03/S: ‘Thereafter the decision issued on 6 December 2005 … a passport was issued for each monument … Armenians demonstrating hostility against us not only have an injustice [sic] land claim from Nakhchivan, but also our historical monuments by giving biassed [sic] information to the international community. The held investigations once again prove that the land of Nakhchivan belonged to the Azerbaijan turks [sic]….’”

Any Azerbaijani who dares to speak out in defense of Armenians is also attacked as an enemy of Azerbaijan. A courageous Azerbaijani writer, Akram Aylisli, paid a hefty price for telling the truth about the destruction of Armenian monuments in his hometown of Agulis (known today as Aylis). The well-known novelist was furious that the Azeri government was destroying Armenian churches. In his novel, “Stone Dreams,” the protagonist, an intellectual from Agulis, refers to memories of the town’s eight of the 12 medieval churches that had survived until the 1990’s, and protects a victim of anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. Aliyev revoked Aylisli’s pension and title of “People’s Writer.” His writings were removed from school curricula, his books were publicly burned, and his family members were fired from their jobs. He has been under de facto house arrest since the release of his novel. Aylisli protested the destruction of the Armenian churches in Agulis and resigned from his position as Member of Azerbaijan’s Parliament. He fearlessly sent a telegram to Pres. Heydar Aliyev in 1997, calling the destruction of the Armenian churches in Aylis an “act of vandalism being perpetrated through the involvement of armed forces and employment of anti-tank mines.”

The two authors spoke with Russian journalist Shura Burtin who after interviewing Aylisli in 2013 traveled to Nakhichevan and reported that he didn’t see “a trace of the area’s glorious past.” Burtin concluded: “Not even ISIS could commit such an epic crime against humanity.”

The authors reported that Aylisli’s 2018 non-fiction essay in Farewell, claimed “that a mosque built five years ago on the site of one of the destroyed churches has been boycotted by locals because ‘everyone in Aylis knows that prayers offered in a mosque built in the place of a church don’t reach the ears of Allah.’”

Argam Ayvazyan, a native of Nakhichevan who spent decades photographing the local Armenian monuments before their destruction, was quoted by Maghakyan and Pickman as decrying the world’s silence: “Oil-rich Azerbaijan’s annihilation of Nakhichevan’s Armenian past make it worse than ISIS, yet UNESCO and most Westerners have looked away.” ISIS-demolished sites like Palmyra can be renovated, Ayvazyan argued, but “all that remain of Nakhichevan’s Armenian churches and cross-stones that survived earthquakes, caliphs, Tamerlane, and Stalin are my photographs.”

Harut Sassounian

Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh one billion dollars of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.


  1. A large part of the blame here goes to the traitor Armenian “government” headed by a bunch of self-serving Clown Apparatchiks who have no opinions, ideas or standards of their own, but rely 100 percent as to what some drunk bozo in the Kremlin tells them. Imagine for example that this was in Israel and the ISIS types started doing this. All hell would break loose, with a full scale war. But wait a minute, we are talking about “Armenian Leadership” here. A bunch of lazy, self-serving, incompetent CROOKS who have no desire to make any waves so that their THIEVERY would go unnoticed. These incompetent Apparatchiks sat idly by and watched Armenian culture and history get erased. Their scam finally got exposed when Azerbaijan actually took some lands from Artsakh. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the Armenian Apparatchik Traitors even had agreements with Azerbaijan to let them take over some lands. Just like Russia was taken by surprise in 1994 that the Armenians were starting to win and thus had to be forced to stop, these Apparatchiks were again surprised that the Azeri offensive failed in 2016, and the Armenian volunteers were getting ready to take care of business. They had to be stopped in order to serve the interests of the “Turkey and Russia Friendship” just like the first time around. Armenian “leadership” = Traitors.

    • Surely, Zatir exaggerates about the inadequacies and negative factors exhibited by Armenian governments in power; also, the current government isn’t representative of what preceded it. Of course, Armenia has suffered from internal corruption, it has made blunders, and it hasn’t always governed effectively, but to say that it has been traitorous is hyperbolic and misleading.

      Another thing: The tide of the Karabakh War (1988-1994) had already shifted favorably for Armenia in 1992. The Kremlin of the USSR favored Azerbaijan, but the Kremlin of Yeltsin’s Russia favored Armenia (after the collapse of the USSR). By 1992, Armenia’s Karabakh Stronghold was enjoying an unbroken string of victories, and they only ended when the war ended in 1994. Azerbaijan was whipped, and appealed to Russia to intervene for a ceasefire. Yes, it’s true that Azerbaijan’s military operations were on the verge of collapse and a complete route, in 1994.

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