US Ambassador Designate to Azerbaijan Responds to Senator Boxer’s Concerns about Julfa Cemetery Destruction

–Diplomat Stops Short of Pledging US Investigation

WASHINGTON–DC–US Ambassador Designate to Azerbaijan Anne Derse responded this week to concerns raised by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) regarding Azerbaijan’s destruction of the Armenian cemetery in Julfa–Nakhichevan–but refrained from pledging any concrete commitment to investigate the matter–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Submitting a written response to questions by Senator Boxer relayed during her May 12 Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing–Derse noted that the Department of State is "urging the relevant Azerbaijani authorities to investigate the allegations of desecration of cultural monumen’s in Nakhichevan and take appropriate measures to prevent any desecration of cultural monumen’s. Armenia and Azerbaijan are both members of UNESCO (and OSCE)–and Azerbaijan has raised these issues in those organizations. We have encouraged Armenia and Azerbaijan to work with UNESCO to investigate this incident. If I am confirmed–and if such issues arise during my tenure–I will communicate our concerns to the Government of Azerbaijan and pursue appropriate activities in support of US interests."

Senator Boxer had specifically asked if the Ambassador Designate would "visit the cemetery site and commit [herself] to investigating the demolition of this unique cemetery."

"We want to thank Senator Boxer for raising Azerbaijan’s desecration of the Julfa cemetery with Ambassador Designate Derse," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "We were deeply troubled by the silence of the US Embassy on this issue during the tenure of her predecessor–Reno Harnish–and remain hopeful that–despite her evasive response–Anne Derse will prove a more vocal and effective advocate for the core American values of tolerance and respect for cultural heritage. She can start off on the right foot by personally visiting Julfa during her first month in office."

In December of 2005–approximately 200 Azeri soldiers were videotaped using sledgehammers to demolish the over one thousand year old Armenian cemetery in Julfa–a sacred site of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The cemetery dates back to the 7th century and once was home to as many as 10,000 khatchkars (intricately carved cross-stones). An on-line video of the destruction can be viewed at: www.hairenik.com/Haireniktv/HA_TV_Clip04.htm.

The ANCA has widely distributed DVDs documenting the destruction–educated Congressional offices about this desecration–and worked in concert with ANCA affiliates around the world to protest Azerbaijan’s worsening anti-Armenian behavior. The Congressional Armenian Caucus–led by Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Joe Knollenberg (R-MI)–has formally condemned Azerbaijan’s actions–as have Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA). On February 16–2006–the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Azerbaijan’s destruction of the cemetery and demanding that Azerbaijan allow a European Parliament delegation to survey the site.

Derse also responded to a series of questions by Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) earlier this week on belligerent statemen’s and war rhetoric by Azeri leaders–as well as on the status of Karabagh peace talks.

Anne Derse is a Foreign Service Officer with more than a quarter century of experience. She most recently served as Director for Biodefense Policy at the Homeland Security Council. Her prior postings have included service as Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the US Embassy in Iraq and at the US Mission to the European Union. Derse also has held posts in the Philippines–South Korea–Belgium–and Singapore–among other locations.

The complete text of Senator Boxer’s questions and Derse’s responses can be found at www.asbarez.com.

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