“Those who cannot remember the past are bound to repeat it,” said George Santayana, a writer and philosopher of Spanish origin. This statement is especially relevant in these times of alternative facts and distortion when historical and cultural negationism is on the rise. The term is used to describe a phenomenon when impermissible methods, such as presenting known falsified papers as authentic, ascribing conclusions to sources that contradict them, altering data to favor a specific point of view, and intentionally mistranslating texts, are conducted with the goal of promoting a specific political agenda.
Condemned by many, historic negationism is widely used in Azerbaijani state-sponsored “research,” with the aim of ascribing Caucasian Albania as the alleged ancestor of modern-day Azerbaijan and cleansing information about the millennial-old Armenian presence and its heritage in the region, especially in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh). The process started back in the 1960s in Soviet Azerbaijan when primary sources on the history of the region were revised by excluding any mentions of Armenian heritage or attributing it to Caucasian Albania. These actions were followed by the same dishonest practices in modern-day Azerbaijan, regarding the Albanization of Armenian khachkars and much more.
According to Azerbaijani historiography, Armenians arrived in Transcaucasia only after 1828, when the region was handed to Russia. Nonetheless, a vast number of Persian, Russian, Arab and other primary sources document a major Armenian presence in the region, particularly in Artsakh. George Bournoutian’s research showcases that the greatest annoyance among Azerbaijani historians was the fact that even Muslim primary sources on South Caucasus, who lived in the present-day Azerbaijani territories, such as Abbas Quli Bakikhanov (Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan is named after him), clearly mention solid Armenian presence in Artsakh. To counteract this, Azerbaijani historians started to republish primary sources, by simply removing any mention of Armenians. One such example is the re-publication of Mirza Jamal Javanshir’s book Tarikh-e Qarabagh (A History of Karabakh) by Nazim Akhundov, where in the sections presenting the Armenian holdings in Artsakh, the word Armenian is systematically removed.
This does not go unnoticed by Armenian and international historians, who pinpoint the unethical wrongdoings of Azerbaijani historians, who falsify history by state orders. Historians Willem Floor, Hasan Javadi, Victor Schnirelmann, Robert Hewsen and many more have spoken about the phenomena of historic negationism in Azerbaijan on multiple occasions. Conversely, the position of Azerbaijan is that the scholars of other countries are distorting the history, to the extent that in 2007 the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Russia accused the Great Russian Encyclopedia of falsifying facts and demanded to stop the circulation of the books. Russia ignored these demands.
The historic negationism and propaganda reached new heights after the 44-day war raged by Azerbaijan on the indigenous Armenians of Artsakh. After taking control over parts of Artsakh, Azerbaijani government representatives started the active Albanization of historic Armenian churches and monuments, first by removing the Armenian scripts from the walls of churches, alongside the distraction of numerous centuries-old monasteries and monuments of historic value. Later on and to this day, Azerbaijani state officials and institutions continue distorting facts by presenting Armenian churches as Azerbaijani both in social media, as well as advertising Armenian medieval monasteries as Albanian in various cities across Europe.
The most recent such cases are the posts by Azerbaijani officials, presenting the Gandzasar monastery as the center of the Caucasian Albanian Catholicosate, or using photos of Armenian Dadivank on the occasion of Christmas to showcase Azerbaijan as a “multicultural” country with respect to Christian monuments of Caucasian Albania. In 2020, a number of billboards appeared in Thessaloniki in Greece, showcasing Ghazanchetsots cathedral of Shushi as part of Azerbaijani rich history, which were removed due to the efforts of the local Armenian community and the Armenian Embassy.
Using historical negationism to create “national identity” and cleanse Armenian heritage seems like a state strategy of the Azerbaijani government, against which Armenians all over the world are fighting. However, it’s not always easy to withstand the oil money and caviar diplomacy of the autocratic regime of Azerbaijan. It seems there is a need for a systemic response strategy from the government of Armenia; otherwise, when one tells the same lie too many times, it becomes the new “reality.”