Armenian-Azerbaijan ceasefire puts ‘treasures of human history’ at risk

On Wednesday, Armenian demonstrators demanded Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan resign following a ceasefire agreement that is considered a victory for Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh, following the worst fighting in the region in decades.

Adam Smith, director of the Cornell University Institute of Archaeology and Materials Studies, and Lori Khatchadourian, professor of Near Eastern studies, say the Russia-brokered agreement will have wide-spread impacts on archaeological sites in the contested region.

Smith says:

“The Nagorno-Karabakh is geographically small, but it hosts vital heritage sites and important archaeological resources. Although the humanitarian crisis in Karabakh preoccupied the global community over the last six weeks of conflict, this new stage requires close attention to an impending heritage disaster.

"Azerbaijan has a well-documented record of destroying Armenian heritage sites under its jurisdiction. Will it now do the same in the territories under its control in Nagorno-Karabakh? If it does, treasures of human history will be lost forever. International bodies must establish a task force charged with preventing crimes of heritage erasure before they start. Such a force could set an important precedent for preserving heritage in territories riven by conflict in other parts of the globe.”

Khatchadourian says:

“As a result of the Russian-brokered peace agreement, Armenian cultural sites located in regions that will be transferred to Azerbaijani jurisdiction are almost certainly under threat. Azerbaijan has a bleak track record when it comes to protecting Armenian cultural heritage within its borders, as the destruction of Christian funerary monuments in Djulfa shows. The strategy has been one of systematic erasure.

“Given the timeframe for withdrawal, Armenians have mere days to document and safeguard cultural heritage at risk. They will leave behind historic churches, monasteries, and other monuments that will be gravely imperiled. Global heritage organizations like UNESCO, ICOMOS and the World Monuments Fund should anticipate the crisis of heritage that is likely to unfold and coordinate an immediate response. And cultural heritage protection should fall within the responsibilities of the Russian peacekeeping force that is deploying to the region now.”

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