Azerbaijan 'flattened' sacred Armenian site

Fears that Azerbaijan has systematically destroyed hundreds of 500-year-old Christian artefacts have exploded into a diplomatic row, after Euro MPs were barred from inspecting an ancient Armenian burial site.

The predominantly Muslim country's government has been accused of "flagrant vandalism" similar to the Taliban's demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.

The claims centre on the fate of rare "khachkars", stone crosses carved with intricate floral designs, at the burial ground of Djulfa in the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan, an enclave separated from the rest of the country by Armenia.

The works - some of the most important examples of Armenian heritage - are said to have been smashed with sledgehammers last December as the site was concreted over.

The Azerbaijan government, which denies the claims, is now at the centre of a row with MEPs, some of whom it accused of a "biased and hysterical approach". Its ambassador to the EU also says the European Parliament has ignored damage to Muslim sites in Armenia. Azerbaijan has refused to allow a delegation of Euro MPs permission to visit the 1,500-year-old Djulfa cemetery during their trip to the region last month.

Most of original 10,000 khachkars, most of which date from the 15th and 16th century, were destroyed by the early 20th century, leaving probably fewer than 3,000 by the late 1970s.

According to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), the Azerbaijan government removed 800 khachkars in 1998. Though the destruction was halted following protests from Unesco, it resumed four years later. By January 2003 "the 1,500-year-old cemetery had completely been flattened," Icomos says.

Witnesses, quoted in the Armenian press, say the final round of vandalism was unleashed in December last year by Azerbaijani soldiers wielding sledgehammers.

The president of Icomos, Michael Petzet, said: "Now that all traces of this highly important historic site seem to have been extinguished all we can do is mourn the loss and protest against this totally senseless destruction."

Some MEPs believe that, boosted by its oil revenues, Azerbaijan is adopting an increasingly assertive stance in the region. Charles Tannock, Conservative foreign affairs spokesman in the European parliament, argued: "This is very similar to the Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban. They have concreted the area over and turned it into a military camp. If they have nothing to hide then we should be allowed to inspect the terrain."

When MEPs passed a critical resolution in February, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister, Elmar Mammadyarov, made a formal protest. Then, when the parliament's delegation for relations with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, asked to combine a mission to Armenia with a visit to the Djulfa archaeological site, their request was refused.

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly hopes to visit the site and its secretary general has offered to set up an expert group to examine cultural sites in Azerbaijan and Armenia. MEPs insist that the authorities in Azerbaijan should open their doors if they have nothing to hide.

Hannes Swoboda, an Austrian socialist MEP and member of the committee barred from examining the site, said he hopes a visit can be arranged in the autumn. He added: "If they do not allow us to go, we have a clear hint that something bad has happened. If something is hidden we want to ask why. It can only be because some of the allegations are true."

And he warned: "One of the major elements of any country that wants to come close to Europe is that the cultural heritage of neighbours is respected."

Suggested Topics
News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits