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22 09 2007 - “Karabakh Mosques Restored” & “Armenia: Sad Fate of Azeri Graves”
2 article in one -
Karabakh Mosques Restored
Officials want to refute Baku’s claims that Muslim monuments are being systematically destroyed.

By Karine Ohanian in Nagorny Karabakh (CRS No. 411, 20-Sept-07)

Armenian experts are finishing the restoration of the two mosques in the town of Shushi (known to Azerbaijanis as Shusha) that were damaged during the war over Nagorny Karabakh.

Efforts are focused on the large Sunni Upper Mosque in the centre of the town, next to the main market - a striking building of multi-coloured stone that dates back to 1884. This follows the restoration of the older and smaller Shia Lower Mosque and the medressa in the town last year.

Both projects were organised by the French branch of Shen, an Armenian charitable organisation.

Architect Oshin Yeghiazariants, who is overseeing the restoration work, says he wants to see the mosque become a cultural centre containing an art gallery, where representatives of different religions can meet.

The town, once one of the great cultural and trading centres of the Caucasus, had an Azerbaijani majority population in Soviet times. It fell into Armenian hands in 1992 at the height of the war over Nagorny Karabakh, and most of its buildings are still semi-ruined and abandoned.

The towering 19th century Ghazanchetsots church in the town has already been restored.

Following the end of the Karabakh conflict in 1994, another fight began between Armenian and Azerbaijani ethnographers and historians each claiming that the other side was systematically destroying monuments that had belonged to the other community.

It remains a highly controversial subject, but attitudes are changing slowly. In June, a joint delegation of Armenian and Azerbaijani intellectuals visited Nagorny Karabakh, Baku and Yerevan, inspecting all the cultural monuments.

The Karabakh Armenians’ restoration of the two mosques - the two main Muslim monuments in Nagorny Karabakh - was designed to refute Azerbaijani allegations and generate good publicity for the Armenian side.

Sarasar Sarian, who fled from Baku but now lives in Shushi, said, “When it comes to the monuments of Muslim architecture being restored in Shushi, I think that by respecting the culture of our neighbouring people we are showing a positive example which others ought to follow.”

Slava Sarkisian, who heads the department for the protection and study of monuments in Nagorny Karabakh’s culture ministry, told IWPR that there are around 10,000 monuments in Karabakh and an inventory of them is underway that will last many years.

Sarkisian said that around ten of the monuments were Muslim. “It makes no difference for us whether it’s a Christian or Muslim monument,” he said. “We take the same approach to them - they are all under the protection of our state and have a historical and cultural value.

“I couldn’t say today that Christian monuments are in a better condition than Muslim ones. There are villages where ancient Christian buildings are being used as cow-sheds. I think it’s mainly a matter of people not caring or being badly brought up.”

The de facto Karabakh Armenian authorities say that the Muslim cultural monuments are under their protection.

“In conditions of conflict in our region, adopting a respectful attitude to monuments of ‘not our own’ culture can serve as a means of establishing trust between the conflicting parties,” Masis Mailian, deputy foreign minister, and losing candidate in the recent presidential elections, told IWPR.

Manushak Titanian, an architect and head of the non-governmental organisation Art for Peace and Development, has been studying the Muslim monuments and intends to publish a booklet with photographs of them. He says their deterioration is largely the result of neglect.

“I have an extremely positive attitude to the idea of restoring the Shushi mosque, because as an architect I think that a variety of cultures in one town makes it very attractive, both for its residents and for many tourists,” she said.

Karine Ohanian is a correspondent for Demo newspaper in Nagorny Karabakh. She is a member of IWPR’s Cross Caucasus

Journalism Network. The terminology used in this article was chosen by IWPR, not by the author.


Armenia: Sad Fate of Azeri Graves

Government won’t fund restoration of Azerbaijani cemeteries, saying they do not have any intrinsic cultural value.

By Naira Bulghadarian in Saral (CRS No. 411, 20-Sept-07)

In a forgotten cemetery in the village of Saral, in the Lori region of Armenia, lies the grave of Anagiz Alieva, who died at the age of 104. Her headstone reads “Alieva Anagiz Mammad Gizi 1880-1984”.

The old Azerbaijani woman had the good fortune to die four years before the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute over Nagorny Karabakh engulfed the Caucasus, as a result of which almost all Azerbaijanis fled Armenia and almost all Armenians fled Azerbaijan.

As the conflict escalated, monuments - principally graveyards - suffered in both countries. The two Azerbaijani cemeteries of Saral - one of 20 Azerbaijani villages in Lori region - are now abandoned, with many of the headstones broken.

Last year, the Armenian non-governmental organisation the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly did a study of the Azerbaijani cemeteries in the region. It showed that they were mostly in a state of ruin and a decision was made to use grant money from the organisation to restore them.

The Armenians who now live in Saral came here from the village of Gushchi in the Khanlar region of Azerbaijan, at the same time as the Azerbaijanis of Saral fled to the former Armenian village of Chardakhlu. The incoming Armenians renamed the village Nor Khachakal. They insist that they did not destroy the graves and the cemetery had already been ruined by the time they arrived.

The head of Nor Khachakal village administration, Surik Truzian, recalls that people arrived from other parts of Armenia, loaded Azerbaijani gravestones into a vehicle and took them away to re-work or re-sell them. He also says that he saw someone taking photographs of the cemetery last autumn - probably at the request of the former villagers.

The Armenian villagers say they welcomed the idea of the restoration of the cemetery, remembering the village they had left behind.

“On the place where our graves are they now sow potatoes,” said 70-year-old Seda Pruzian. Azerbaijani acquaintances had sent a video-cassette showing that headstones had been broken and graves had disappeared in the old cemetery in Gushchi.

Despite the restoration work in Saral, there are still vandals about. Truzian promised that the graveyard would be restored but was dismayed to come back to find a year later that the sign announcing the restoration at the entrance to the cemetery had been broken and two headstones had been cast aside. “What scoundrel did this?” he asked indignantly.

Up to two hundred thousand Azerbaijanis left Armenia in the years 1988-90, with an even larger number of Armenians leaving Azerbaijan in the same period.

Every Azerbaijani cemetery in Armenia has suffered a different fate. In another village in the same region, Arjut, there used to be three Azerbaijani cemeteries. One of them is in relatively good condition, but sheep-pens had been built on another one and many of the gravestones had fallen down.

Last year, Armenia’s ministry of culture was allocated two million drams (about six thousand US dollars) of government money to study and photograph Azerbaijani cemeteries and cultural monuments in Armenia. A total of 69 cemeteries were identified in Armenia and a further 52 in Nagorny Karabakh and the seven territories under Armenian control outside Karabakh.

The ministry concluded that more of the cemeteries had been preserved than had been destroyed and that the older graveyards were in a better condition.

The government then decided that the graveyards did not have any intrinsic cultural value and chose not to allocate money for their restoration.

Eighty-year-old Dmitry Babakhanian, from the village of Kursali, near Saral, who fled Getaashen in Azerbaijan, leaving behind his family’s graves, has one dream - “to go, see my graves and come home again”. He is convinced that his Azerbaijani neighbours did not destroy the graves.

“Do you know what we left behind there?” he asked. “Our grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers.”

Babakhanian is also proud that the thousand or so Azerbaijani graves, some of them made of basalt and tufa, in the cemetery in Kursali have not been touched. “That would be inhuman,” he said.

Babakhanian says that two or three years ago, he was riding his donkey and noticed some strangers in the Azerbaijani cemetery who had slaughtered a sheep and were eating and drinking. He heard them speak Azeri and was convinced that they had somehow come to visit their old graveyard.

The head of the village, Lalik Bayadian, says he does not necessarily believe stories like this but that once he did see fresh flowers in the cemetery, “They came, put fresh lilac on the grave of their relatives and left again.”

Naira Bulghadarian is a reporter with Civic Initiative newspaper in Vanadzor. She is a member of IWPR’s Cross Caucasus Journalism Network.

A. Melikian

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