Members of Congress Urge Azeri Government to Stop Demolition of Armenian Cemetery in Nakhichevan

WASHINGTON–DC–Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) added his voice to those raised by Congressional Armenian Caucus co-chairs Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–Wednesday–in calling on the Azeri government to end the destruction of centuries-old Armenian cross stones (khachkars) in the historic Julfa cemetery–located in southern Nakhichevan.

In a strongly worded letter to Azeri President Ilham Aliyev–Schiff condemned "in the strongest terms" the Azeri action–calling the acts of desecration "offensive–violative of international treaty obligations." He added that this destructive behavior "further inflames[s] the relationship between your country and the Republic of Armenia." The letter went on to say that–"by permitting–indeed by promoting these acts–the Republic of Azerbaijan dishonors not only the dead interred at the cemetery–but Azerbaijan and the Azeri people as well."

Schiff’s letter follows last week’s call from Congressional Armenian Caucus co-chairs Joe Knollenberg and Frank Pallone to "halt the ongoing vandalism in Julfa’s Old Cemetery immediately." In a December 22 letter to Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the US Hafez Pashayev–Knollenberg and Pallone went on to "urge the preparation and presentation of a documented report on the damage caused to the architectural ensemble as a result of the latest violence–to lead to a… remedy of the situation."

"We want to thank the co-chairs of the Armenian Caucus–Frank Pallone and Joe Knollenberg–and Representative Adam Schiff for raising Congressional concerns directly with the Azerbaijani government over the desecration of the Julfa cemetery–an important world heritage site of tremendous religious and cultural significance," said Aram Hamparian–Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). "As Americans–we look to our Ambassador to personally visit the site of this destruction and to report back on the steps that our government is taking to address this attack on our common heritage."

Thousands of Armenian Americans have already protested the destruction of the Julfa cross stones–as part of an ANCA WebFax campaign to Secretary Condoleezza Rice–urging the State Department to take immediate action and send the US Ambassador to Azerbaijan to the region to assess the situation. This latest wave of attacks on these Armenian monumen’s was documented on video. This footage clearly shows Azeri soldiers hammering and breaking up the cross stone and loading them on military trucks for transport. The video may be viewed at: www.hairenik.com/Haireniktv/HA_TV_Clip04.htm.

The historic Armenian cemetery in Julfa includes cross stones from as far back as the 7th century and is revered as an architectural treasure. International concerns were raised in 2002–when hundreds of the cross stones were destroyed in a similar manner by Azerbaijan.

Nakhichevan is a historic part of the Armenian homeland and was an integral part of the first Armenian Republic of 1918-1920. It was arbitrarily severed from Armenia and placed under Azeri rule as part of the Soviet Union’s accommodation with Kemalist Turkey and Moscow’s "divide and conquer" gerrymandering of borders to facilitate its control of the region. During the Soviet era–the indigenous Armenian population was driven out of Nakhichevan due to discrimination–economic pressure–and other policies advanced by the Soviet Azeri authorities.

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