WASHINGTON–DC–In the wake of a sustained international outcry–growing Congressional protests–and a forceful condemnation by the European Parliament–the US State Department ended its three-month long silence Tuesday on the Azeri government’s destruction of the medieval Armenian cemetery in the Julfa region of Nakhichevan.
Speaking Tuesday at a press conference in Yerevan–Armenia–Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza responded to reporters’ questions by describing the destruction as a "tragedy," and noting that–"it’s awful what happened in Julfa. But the United States cannot take steps to stop it as it is happening on foreign soil. We continually raise this issue at meetings with Azeri officials. We are hopeful that the guilty will justly be punished. We are hopeful that in no other state of the region such things will happen again–as there are great historic monumen’s in the Caucasus and–frankly speaking–in all three states they are endangered."
"We welcome the end to the State Department’s long silence on Julfa–but regret that it took three months and sustained international protest before our government summoned the will to utter its first public condemnation of a clear cut and thoroughly documented case of cultural desecration," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian.
"It’s neither fair nor accurate for the State Department–in an apparent exercise in artificial evenhandedness–to imply that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are guilty of cultural destruction," added Hamparian. "In commenting on this subject in the future–we would hope that our diplomats will limit themselves to the actual facts on the ground–which point unmistakably to Azerbaijani culpability for the Julfa desecration and a long-standing pattern of deliberate demolition of Armenia religious and cultural treasures."
In December of 2005–approximately 200 Azeri forces were videotaped using sledgehammers to demolish the 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 (stone-crosses). 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 an European Parliament delegation to survey the site.
On February 28–Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met with UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura. During the meeting–the Foreign Minister called attention to the destruction of the Julfa cemetery and urged UNESCO to send a team of experts to assess the situation and take appropriate action.