Mr.Grigorian's speech at XXI Economic Forum in Krynica 09.09.2011 Seminar “South Caucasus - A New Geopolitical Dimension”
Ladies and Gentlemen
We decided to dedicate today’s panel to the topic of cultural genocide, in light of the scandalous events that took place in Paris on June 15 this year, during an exhibition of Armenian cross-stones (khachkars).
For those of you that are not familiar with the art of khachkars, these are monuments made of stone which are carved into by special craftsmen using traditional tools. The carvings depict a cross in the middle which is surrounded by ornaments and symbols which have a deep meaning in the Armenian culture. What is important is that they are unique – there are no two identical khachkars in the world. They date back as far as the 3rd century and are unique to Armenians – no other people make them.
On June 15, an exhibition was held in Paris to elucidate this craftsmanship and to share this invaluable cultural heritage with a wider audience. Only moments before the exhibition was to be opened however, UNESCO under influence of certain Member States requested that the the signs underneath each khachkar displaying the original location of the particular khachkar, be removed. Why? The answer is quite simple. Because those Member States that requested this from UNESCO have long been trying to deny the existence of these khachkars on the territories of historical Armenia, which are at present within their borders. We are of course talking about Armenia’s neighbours – Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Now let us turn to the reasons why they have these absurd demands. Khachkars can be found almost everywhere where Armenians have lived, all across the historical lands of the Armenians. A notable location where tens of thousands of khachkars were preserved in spite of their incredible old age and fragile structure was Nakhichevan, in today’s Azerbaijan. There was a cemetery in Nakhichevan called Julfa, which was known for its khachkars, because these khachkars belonged to a different branch of the craftsmanship – they were especially beautiful and developed. Today not a single khachkar remains standing in Julfa after Azerbaijani authorities organized their complete destruction. Starting in 2002 and finishing in 2006, all the handmade monuments, an entire cultural heritage has been destroyed before the world’s eyes. And why? Because Azerbaijan is paranoid about trying to prove, at any cost, that all the lands it occupies had always been theirs, that no Armenians ever lived on those lands. Well if you go to Nakhichevan today, you might believe them! There is not a single proof standing to show that Armenians ever lived there.
And for this same reason, ladies and gentlemen, when a cultural and educational exhibition was held in Paris, Azerbaijan once again turned it into a political game and demanded that the locations of those exhibits be removed because they don’t want the world to know that there ever was Armenian cultural heritage in what is today Azerbaijan, so as to strengthen their claims to those territories. And for these absurd political machinations, the whole humanity has paid a price – an entire cultural heritage has been wiped out. This is nothing short of cultural genocide.
We wish to inform the audience of this today and to make sure that this vandalism is not only heard about but also punished. We are in continuous contact with UNESCO and we demand that UNESCO send a commission to Nakhichevan and carry out a thorough investigation into this criminal offence and that Azerbaijani authorities are held accountable for vandalizing and intentionally destroying the khachkars and are duly punished. We also demand an apology for interfering with the Paris exhibition for which UNESCO has failed to provide a satisfying explanation. Alternatively we have every right to consider UNESCO’s act a biased one and will carry out our investigation into the motives behind this bias. It has now become public knowledge that UNESCO has received a substantial sum from Azerbaijan (1,5 mil USD) and it is then a simple math to put these facts together.
We wish to share with you some photographs of the wonderful art of khachkars and especially of the cemetery in Julfa, Nakhichevan, which now stands naked without even the dust of a single khachkar.
Dear Ms Bokova
We refer to our letter of 17-th June 2011 and the scandalous event surrounding the exhibition of Armenian khachkars in Paris referred to therein to which we have not received a reply to date. Once again we raise our concerns over the legitimacy of UNESCO’s sudden decision to remove the placards describing the locations of individual khachkars and the dubious motives behind this absurd action.
The Forum of Armenian Associations of Europe, an umbrella organization representing Armenian organizations and institutions across Europe, conveys its extreme disappointment in the lack of response to the concerns raised and notes that the deliberate deletion of locations of the khachkars and the subsequent lack of explanation by UNESCO is seen as provocation and will continue to attract negative media attention until this issue is addressed.
FAAE has begun an online petition to raise further awareness on this matter and collect signatures in support of FAAE’s efforts to bring this outrageous incident to the height of media attention and demand public explanation.
Should UNESCO continue to display indifference to the concerns raised, FAAE will take further action to hold those responsible to account and publicize this shameful act in the media worldwide.
We await your response.
Dr. Ashot Grigorian
President, Forum of Armenian Associations of Europe
July 18, 2011