US State Department Reveals Armenian Vandalism in Once-Occupied Azerbaijani Territories
The US State Department has reported on Armenia’s acts of vandalism against religious sites in Azerbaijani territories that were once occupied by Armenia.
In his 2021 International Religious Freedom Report released Thursday, the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom confirmed that hundreds of sites, including most mosques, shrines and cemeteries of ethnic Azerbaijani communities, had been looted, vandalized, desecrated and destroyed under control Armenian.
“Examples of known damage to important religious sites include the 19th-century Haji Alakbar Mosque in Fuzuli District, which was destroyed, and the Juma Mosque in Aghdam, which was vandalized with graffiti in Armenian and whose mehrab (the niche in the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca) was riddled with bullets,” the report read.
“Aghdam’s cemeteries were desecrated, looted and/or destroyed, including the sacred and historic 18th century tombs in the cemetery of Imarat Garvand, the city’s ‘martyr’s alley’. , and that there was only one broken headstone left in the cemetery. Because religion and ethnicity are intertwined, it is difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity,” the report adds.
According to the report, the extent of Armenian vandalism against cemeteries where ethnic Azerbaijanis were buried is clearly visible in the photographic documentation of world-renowned photographers.
“An international photojournalist, Reza Deghati, known professionally as “REZA”, documented the systematic destruction of dozens of Azerbaijani cemeteries in Fuzuli, Aghdam, Zangelan, Kelbajar and Jebrayil. Graves have been desecrated; in some cases holes were dug to rob graves, while other sites showed evidence of destruction and exhumation by heavy construction machinery,” the document reads, adding that the remains of the Azerbaijani graves were exhumed and gold teeth removed, leaving skulls and bones strewn across Azerbaijani cemeteries or, in some cases, completely removed, while Armenian graves remained virtually untouched.
Cultural vandalism by Armenia was common in Azerbaijan’s formerly occupied territories, and footage showing the mass destruction of monuments during the years of occupation went viral after the territories were liberated. Sites affected included mosques, memorials, museums, statues and more. The city of Aghdam, where the World Bread Museum was located, as well as the city of Fuzuli, have been completely razed, now look like ghost towns.
Part of the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan fell under the occupation of Armenia in a war that resulted from the latter’s illegal claims to historic Azerbaijani lands. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Armenia launched a full-fledged armed attack on the Azerbaijani region of Karabakh. The bloody war of 1991-1994 led Armenia to occupy 20% of the internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan.
More than 30,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis have been killed and a million more expelled from these lands as part of Armenia’s brutal policy of ethnic cleansing. Homes, cemeteries, religious sites and social infrastructure left after the expulsion of the native Azerbaijanis were subject to unforeseen vandalism by the Armenians, accompanied by mass destruction and looting.
On September 27, 2020, the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict took a violent turn when Armenian forces deployed in occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During counterattack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated more than 300 settlements, including the towns of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli and Shusha, from nearly 30 years of illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended with a tripartite declaration signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia on November 10, 2020. Under the agreement, Armenia also returned the occupied districts of Aghdam, Kalbajar and Lachin to Azerbaijan.
According Data compiled by the Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan, based on statistics from the early 1990s, some 2,625 monuments were registered in the occupied territories, of which 706 were state-protected. Hundreds of cultural institutions, including 927 libraries with 4.6 million books, 808 culture palaces, clubs and culture houses, 85 music and art schools, 22 museums and museum branches with more than 100 000 exhibitions, four art galleries, four theatres, two concert halls, eight cultural and leisure parks were destroyed and looted.
One of the oldest human settlements in the world in Khojavend district – Azykh Cave; Shusha State Historical and Architectural Reserve and Govhar Agha Mosque in the same city, Bread Museum and Drama Theater in Aghdam, hundreds of other mosques, cultural and social infrastructure buildings in Aghdam , Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan, Gubadli and other districts were also targeted by Armenian vandalism. Mosques have been transformed into barns for pigs and livestock during Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani territories.
Agdam is nicknamed “21st Century Hiroshima” and “Hiroshima of the Caucasus” by international journalists and researchers. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev personally highlighted the massive destruction in the cities of Aghdam, Fuzuli, Jabrayil, Zangilan and Gubadli during his visits to the liberated districts.
The Azerbaijani state space agency Azercosmos implemented 27 projects in the Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur regions to obtain, via the Azersky satellite, data on damage to several facilities of different designations in 889 settlements in administrative units and liberated territories. The society also prepared schematic documents to document the pre-war state of the colonies.