Friday, September 21, 2007

Armenia: Sad Fate of Azeri Graves

Institute for War and Peace Reporting, UK - Sep 20, 2007

Government won’t fund restoration of Azerbaijani cemeteries, saying they do not have any intrinsic cultural value.

By Naira Bulghadarian in Saral (CRS No. 411, 20-Sept-07)

In a forgotten cemetery in the village of Saral, in the Lori region of Armenia, lies the grave of Anagiz Alieva, who died at the age of 104. Her headstone reads “Alieva Anagiz Mammad Gizi 1880-1984”.

The old Azerbaijani woman had the good fortune to die four years before the Armenian-Azerbaijani dispute over Nagorny Karabakh engulfed the Caucasus, as a result of which almost all Azerbaijanis fled Armenia and almost all Armenians fled Azerbaijan.

As the conflict escalated, monuments - principally graveyards - suffered in both countries. The two Azerbaijani cemeteries of Saral - one of 20 Azerbaijani villages in Lori region - are now abandoned, with many of the headstones broken.

Last year, the Armenian non-governmental organisation the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly did a study of the Azerbaijani cemeteries in the region. It showed that they were mostly in a state of ruin and a decision was made to use grant money from the organisation to restore them.

The Armenians who now live in Saral came here from the village of Gushchi in the Khanlar region of Azerbaijan, at the same time as the Azerbaijanis of Saral fled to the former Armenian village of Chardakhlu. The incoming Armenians renamed the village Nor Khachakal. They insist that they did not destroy the graves and the cemetery had already been ruined by the time they arrived.

The head of Nor Khachakal village administration, Surik Truzian, recalls that people arrived from other parts of Armenia, loaded Azerbaijani gravestones into a vehicle and took them away to re-work or re-sell them. He also says that he saw someone taking photographs of the cemetery last autumn - probably at the request of the former villagers.

The Armenian villagers say they welcomed the idea of the restoration of the cemetery, remembering the village they had left behind.

“On the place where our graves are they now sow potatoes,” said 70-year-old Seda Pruzian. Azerbaijani acquaintances had sent a video-cassette showing that headstones had been broken and graves had disappeared in the old cemetery in Gushchi.

Despite the restoration work in Saral, there are still vandals about. Truzian promised that the graveyard would be restored but was dismayed to come back to find a year later that the sign announcing the restoration at the entrance to the cemetery had been broken and two headstones had been cast aside. “What scoundrel did this?” he asked indignantly.

Up to two hundred thousand Azerbaijanis left Armenia in the years 1988-90, with an even larger number of Armenians leaving Azerbaijan in the same period.

Every Azerbaijani cemetery in Armenia has suffered a different fate. In another village in the same region, Arjut, there used to be three Azerbaijani cemeteries. One of them is in relatively good condition, but sheep-pens had been built on another one and many of the gravestones had fallen down.

Last year, Armenia’s ministry of culture was allocated two million drams (about six thousand US dollars) of government money to study and photograph Azerbaijani cemeteries and cultural monuments in Armenia. A total of 69 cemeteries were identified in Armenia and a further 52 in Nagorny Karabakh and the seven territories under Armenian control outside Karabakh.

The ministry concluded that more of the cemeteries had been preserved than had been destroyed and that the older graveyards were in a better condition.

The government then decided that the graveyards did not have any intrinsic cultural value and chose not to allocate money for their restoration.

Eighty-year-old Dmitry Babakhanian, from the village of Kursali, near Saral, who fled Getaashen in Azerbaijan, leaving behind his family’s graves, has one dream - “to go, see my graves and come home again”. He is convinced that his Azerbaijani neighbours did not destroy the graves.

“Do you know what we left behind there?” he asked. “Our grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers.”

Babakhanian is also proud that the thousand or so Azerbaijani graves, some of them made of basalt and tufa, in the cemetery in Kursali have not been touched. “That would be inhuman,” he said.

Babakhanian says that two or three years ago, he was riding his donkey and noticed some strangers in the Azerbaijani cemetery who had slaughtered a sheep and were eating and drinking. He heard them speak Azeri and was convinced that they had somehow come to visit their old graveyard.

The head of the village, Lalik Bayadian, says he does not necessarily believe stories like this but that once he did see fresh flowers in the cemetery, “They came, put fresh lilac on the grave of their relatives and left again.”

Naira Bulghadarian is a reporter with Civic Initiative newspaper in Vanadzor. She is a member of IWPR’s Cross Caucasus Journalism Network.


Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous paul said...

I agree all these graves should be respected- but this article seems to be an attempt at being overly politically correct.
In the rush to show balance, the reporting draws attention to the neglected state of Azeri graves in a very poor country- at the very same time when the Armenian cemetery of Julfa has been completely destroyed and the Christian cemetery of Baku is being buldozed (this after most of the Armenian graves there were already destroyed anyway.) I don't understand that kind of comparison.
Sadly the Armenian government is only alotting $5,000 US for the excavation of what is being called the second Garni! A site of that incredible historic value is barely getting anything from the government and yet it is expected to also allot money for the upkeep of various rural Azeri cemeteries of no particular historic value as well?

Of course there are oligarchs in Armenia who could supply such money for all the project listed above and then some, but that is beside the point...

12:22 PM  
Blogger Vahe Balabanian said...

Paul you are exactly right. Below is the information on the Julfa cemetery destruction by Azerbaijani soldiers:

Azerbaijani Soldiers Destroy Armenian Khachkars in....

8:22 AM  

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