The Destruction Of Djulfa Khachkars
The 21st century’s most extensive campaign of cultural cleansing to date may not have happened in Syria, as you might assume, but in Azerbaijan.
The Azerbaijani government has, over the past 30 years, been engaging in a systematic erasure of the country’s historic Armenian heritage. This official, albeit covert, destruction of cultural and religious artefacts even exceeds Islamic State’s self-promotional dynamiting of Palmyra. The Djulfa khachkar cemetery marked the final stage of a broader campaign to denude Nakhichevan of its indigenous Armenian Christian past.
Located in the Azerbaijan’s enclave of Nakhichevan, on the banks of the Araxes river, there was a beautiful, mysterious place called Djulfa – a site of a medieval necropolis, the largest ancient Armenian cemetery in the world. Visitors through the centuries, from Alexandre de Rhodes to William Ouseley, had noted the remote location’s splendour.
At its height, the graveyard counted around 10,000 khachkars, or cross-stones, standing to attention, the earliest dating back to the 6th century. Unique to Armenian burial traditions, these distinctive tall steles of pinkish red and yellow stone feature crosses, figurative scenes and symbols, and highly decorative relief patterning.
Local researcher Argam Ayvazyan, now exiled in Armenia, photographed 89 Armenian churches, 5,840 khachkars, and 22,000 tombstones between 1964 and 1987 – which the report states have all disappeared.
On 15 December 2005, the prelate of northern Iran’s Armenian church, Bishop Nshan Topouzian, filmed – from across the river in Iran – the Azerbaijani military methodically laying waste with sledgehammers to all remained khachkars in Djulfa, some as old as 1,500 years.
The soldiers loaded the debris on to truck beds and dumped it into the Araxes. Satellite research shows that, in 2003, the uneven, textured landscape was dotted with multiple small structures. By 2009, it is flattened and empty.
This chilling footage can be found in a 2006 film titled “The New Tears of Araxes”, which you can find at the bottom of this post.
The Azerbaijani government has repeatedly refused international inspectors entry to the site, and has denied Armenians ever lived in Nakhichevan.
The world rightfully recognized ISIS wrecking of Palmyra as a war crime, an immense loss for the Syrian people and humanity as a whole. We hope, that the world on day will see what has happened in Nakhichevan as a crime against all, committed by a ruthless regime.