“Karabakh will regain its reputation as a centre of peace, love and high culture”
Acting Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan Anar Karimov has given an interview to Vestnik Kavkaza...
AZERTAC presents the interview.
-Mr Kerimov, how would you characterise the current military aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan, including the rocket shelling by Yerevan against civilians in the cities far from the front line, especially the attack on the city of Ganja, a large historical and cultural centre where the holy Imamzadeh shrine was damaged?
-Thank you for your question. First of all, may Allah rest the soul of our citizens who lost their lives as a result of the latest Armenian terror, which began on the 27th of September, and I wish the wounded a speedy recovery. I think that every day the true nature of the Armenia’s occupying policy becomes clearer to the world.
The day after the ceasefire declared for humanitarian purposes, the Armenian armed forces committed another war crime by heavy rocket shelling at the residential areas of Ganja, and once again demonstrated their identity to the world. Claiming the lives of many civilians, including women and children, the missile attacks of October 11 and 17, was a terrible crime against humanity. Apparently, as a result of the rapid counter-offensive of our victorious army, the occupying Armenian forces, seeing the destruction of the military defence fortifications built in Karabakh over the last 30 years, see a way out of defeat by firing rockets at civilians and cities far from the front. However, it is clear that these terrorist acts will not be able to dissuade our people, who are determined to return to their lands and are closely united around the Commander-in-Chief, and their revenge will soon be taken.
In recent days, terrorist acts against our ancient city of Ganja have targeted not only the civilian population, but also our historical monuments. It is well known that Ganja, the second largest city in Azerbaijan, was the birthplace of democracy in the Muslim East in 1918, the first capital of the first Democratic Republic (ADR). The people of Azerbaijan formed their first democratic institutions in the historic buildings of this city.
The 19th-century Ganja Gymnasium, which was damaged by rocket attacks on Ganja a few days ago, brought up such historical personalities as the first prime minister of the ADR Fatali khan Khoysky, the second prime minister Nasib bey Yusifbayli, the minister of internal affairs Khalil bey Khasmamadov, the minister of health Khudadat bey Rafibayli, deputy Speaker of the Parliament Hasan bey Aghayev and others. Unfortunately, the Armenian terrorism that killed the first Prime Minister of Azerbaijan Khoyski by shooting him in the back in 1920 continues its crimes 100 years later. Today, this ancient cultural centre, which gave the world such geniuses as Nizami Ganjavi and Mahsati Ganjavi, is facing a terrorist attack.
As for the Imamzadeh shrine, it is not only our national treasure, but also a valuable monument of the entire Muslim world. There are Imamzadeh shrines in different parts of Azerbaijan, where the graves of the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad are located. Ibrahim, son of the fifth imam Mohammad Bagir, was buried in Ganja Imamzadeh. This religious monument, located in the territory of the Ganja State Historical and Cultural Reserve, proves the antiquity of Ganja, as well as the role of the city in the Islamic civilization.
Leaders of the Muslim, Orthodox, Jewish and Catholic communities, who have always emphasised that the friendly environment of coexistence and tolerance in Azerbaijan is an example to the world, also spoke at the opening of the monument in 2016 after the restoration work. Unfortunately, as a result of rocket fire, both this magnificent monument and the nearby cemetery were damaged.
As a result of the shelling of Ganja, where mosques, churches and synagogues are located, a rocket fell near to a century and a half old Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church and damaged it. This shows that there is nothing sacred to Armenians, and they do not recognise democracy, nor the norms of international law, nor universal moral values.
-Has Azerbaijan appealed to international organisations for the protection of monuments in connection with the “cultural genocide” committed by the Armenian Armed Forces against our historical monuments?
-Yes, of course. You know, deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is a great tragedy and is considered a war crime. Al-Mahdi, the leader of the terrorist group that destroyed the Timbuktu mausoleum in Mali, was convicted by the International Criminal Court in Hague in 2016 and his crime was declared a war crime for the first time. Historical monuments clearly show us the stages of development of local civilizations, national moral values and the historical memory. Everywhere in the world, people have a duty to be careful in the protection of their cultural heritage, and agencies responsible for them have a duty to organise their protection. The acts of mass vandalism against our cultural heritage under occupation have been repeatedly voiced in various international forums, including various meetings of UNESCO. Armenia’s looting of Azerbaijan’s cultural heritage in gross violation of the provisions of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (Paris), has repeatedly been brought to the attention of the world community. Unfortunately, we also observe serious gaps here in the mechanisms of practical control over the implementation of the relevant conventions.
I would also like to note that in connection with the aggression that began on the 27th of September, the Ministry of Culture has sent official appeals to the leaders of UNESCO, ISESCO, the UN Alliance of Civilizations and other leading global organisations specialising in culture. The Ministry regularly informs the relevant global organisations about the ongoing aggression, urges them to adequately assess the events and take action at the international level.
At the same time, the Ministry of Culture through its website and social networks launched a campaign under the name "Karabakh - the cradle of our culture" and brings to the attention of the general public the facts about the deliberate destruction of our cultural and historical monuments by Armenia in the occupied territories.
-Is there any information on the number of historical and cultural monuments destroyed in our occupied lands during all these years?
-So far, a total of 2,625 immovable historical and cultural monuments have been registered in the occupied territories. As a result of the latest monitoring, only 706 of them were taken under state protection by the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan No. 132 dated 2 August 2001 “On approval of the classification of immovable historical and cultural monuments taken under state protection in the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan according to their degree of importance”.
Hundreds of cultural institutions in Karabakh, rich in monuments, including 927 libraries with a stock of 4.6 million books, 808 culture palaces, clubs and culture houses, 85 music and art schools, 22 museums and museum branches with more than 100,000 exhibits, 4 art galleries, 4 theatres, 2 concert halls, 8 culture and recreation parks, more than 700 historical and cultural monuments registered before the Karabakh conflict, including the 11- and 15-span Khudafarin bridges in the Jabrayil region (7th-12th centuries), Ganjasar and Khudavand temples in the Kalbajar region (13th century), the mausoleum in Khachin Turbatli village of the Aghdam region (14th century), one of the oldest settlements of the world in the Fuzuli region - Azykh cave and Shusha State Historical-Architectural Reserve have become a victim of Armenian vandalism.
-In recent days, Armenia has been trying to convince the whole world that there were targeted attacks on the church in Shusha. What is hidden behind these statements?
-You have touched upon a very important point. Behind this provocation by Armenia, it is obvious that it intends to portray Azerbaijan as a radical country and to receive more serious support from the Christian world. The world community knows that over the years, Azerbaijan has been among the most active defenders of values such as dialogue, multiculturalism, and tolerance, not only at home but also globally.
Azerbaijan also takes an active part in the restoration of many monuments of world importance. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation, headed by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Mehriban Aliyeva, has restored hundreds of monuments in Azerbaijan and implemented important projects in this direction abroad. The Foundation has participated in the restoration of the Louvre Museum in Paris, the catacombs of St. Marcellinio and Pietro in the Vatican, the ancient Trapezitsa castle in Veliko Tarnovo of Bulgaria, the Notre Dame church in the center of Strasbourg, the Capitol in Rome and other monuments of world importance.
The UN Secretary-General’s special emphasis in his report to the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in September 2017, entitled “Promoting a culture of peace, interreligious and intercultural dialogue, mutual understanding and cooperation for the benefit of the world” the “Baku Process” successfully implemented since 2008, should be seen as an international recognition of Azerbaijan’s contribution to intercultural dialogue at this stage, which has served as a bridge between civilizations since ancient times.
In 2019 the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, organised by Azerbaijan biannually in cooperation with UN organisations, the Council of Europe and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ICESCO), is approved as one of the key global platforms for promoting intercultural and interreligious dialogue in the “Action Plan for the Protection of Religious Monuments” prepared at the initiative of the UN Secretary General.
At the same time, the regular holding of other events in our country, such as the Summit of World Religious Leaders and the Baku International Humanitarian Forum, demonstrates Azerbaijan’s commitment to the development of inter-religious and intercultural relations. Azerbaijan is a natural platform in this area because there have never been ethnic and religious conflicts in our multinational country. The policy of multiculturalism and tolerance of our state is successfully implemented and is considered exemplary, as it is based on the social order of the Azerbaijani society. Despite the fact that Azerbaijan is a secular state, religious denominations have never been left out of the state’s attention and care. Churches and synagogues, along with mosques, are being repaired and restored by the state, and new ones are being built. Every year, the head of state allocates funds to support the activities of religious denominations.
It is no coincidence that the Baku International Centre for Multiculturalism was established in our country at the initiative of the President of Azerbaijan to coordinate national and religious relations. Today, the subject “Azerbaijani multiculturalism” is taught in many countries around the world.
Armenia’s state policy is to perpetuate the memory of people such as Garagin Njde who served Nazi Germany with an army of 30,000, and to erect statues to them. Those who were closely involved in the most heinous crimes against humanity in the twentieth century are today promoted in Armenia as heroic figures.
At the same time, another serious goal of Armenia is to make the cultural affiliation of Shusha, the cradle of Karabakh culture, one of the main spiritual and ideological centres of Azerbaijani culture, disappear. It is known that Shusha has been declared a historical and architectural reserve of Azerbaijan since 1977. Shusha, where the mosques, fountains, house museums, statues of prominent cultural figures, etc. are located with a unique architectural ensemble, is a real pearl of Azerbaijanism with such monuments and the whole spirit. Unable to come to terms with this fact, Armenians are always looking for opportunities to encroach on Shusha’s rich heritage.
-How will the restoration of numerous historical and cultural sites located in the Jabrayil region and in the territory of other settlements liberated these days be carried out?
-You know, it is not enough to occupy a nation and commit massacres to destroy that nation; if the culture of that nation lives, that nation will definitely come to itself and demand its rights. Occupying Armenia, being aware of this historical legitimacy, is pursuing a policy of ruthless aggression against our tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
Of course, we are pleased with the victories of our army in the direction of Jabrayil, and as a Ministry we are preparing a special action plan to revive the cultural environment in our liberated territories. At the initial stage of this process, the condition of the monuments, which have been subjected to aggression for 30 years, will be assessed, and work will be carried out for the restoration and conservation of our culture with the participation of relevant experts.
Under no circumstances should Karabakh monuments experience the fate of monuments in Yerevan and Zangazur.
We are confident that thanks to our President’s resolute political will, the brilliant victory of our army and the unshakable unity of our people, all terrorist elements will be cleared of these lands forever and Karabakh will regain its reputation as a centre of peace, love and high culture.
We will definitely restore the Khudafarin bridges, these masterpieces of medieval architecture. We will revive the spirit of the city of Shusha and return its former glory. No doubts that, house-museums of Khurshudbanu Natavan, Bulbul, Uzeyir Hajibayli, the mausoleum of Molla Panah Vagif and other significant monuments of culture and history of Shusha will also be restored.