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Azerbaijan: Israel's #1 trade partner from independent states of former Soviet bloc

It was recently reported that Armenia is presently seeking the help of international organizations in preserving the cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh.  Armenia’s Minister of Education and Science Vahram Dumanyan stated, “These cultural and historical monuments have universal civilizational value and were created by the Armenian people.”  In response to this development, Murbariz Gurbanli, the Chairman to the State Committee on Religious Associations in Azerbaijan, found the proposal ridiculous since Armenia’s destruction of both Muslim and Christian cultural and religious heritage sites in the Nagorno-Karabakh region was “reminiscent of ISIS,” yet for over 30 years, the international community turned a blind eye to it.

“As ISIS destroyed the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, the ancient city of Nimrud in Iraq and the world’s ancient historical and cultural monuments, Armenian extremists destroyed the cultural, historical and religious monuments in Karabakh, the cradle of culture in the Caucasus,” Gurbanli emphasized.  “It is no coincidence that international experts have called Aghdam and other liberated cities ‘ghost towns.’ [1] Thomas de Waal, a well-known British expert on the Caucasus, called Aghdam ‘little Hiroshima’ for it was destroyed by Armenians. Armenia has put a great deal of efforts to erase the legacy and traces of the Azerbaijani people and changed the names of cities and villages in the territories under their rule until very recently.”


According to Gurbanli, Armenia’s treatment of the cultural and religious heritage sites in the Nagorno-Karabakh region constitutes a crime against humanity: “Muslim houses of worship were destroyed or desecrated and used as stables (Ashagi Govhar Aga Mosque, Aghdam Juma Mosque, etc.), and Christian temples belonging to the ancient Azerbaijani state of Caucasian Albania were destroyed or Armenianized by Armenians. (“Agoghlan” temple, “Khudavang” temple, “Tatev” temple, “Ganjasar” temple, etc.).”

In general, 67 mosques, including 48 tombs, 192 shrines, 128 Albanian Christian temples, which were in the occupied territories before the Armenian aggression, were Armenianized or destroyed,” he emphasized.  Furthermore, as Armenia was withdrawing from the region, “the Armenians did not hesitate to burn mosques in front of the world community, loot religious and cultural monuments in the region (icons in Albanian churches, etc.) and take them to Armenia. These monuments can be easily seen in the videos and photos posted on the Internet.  Armenians have attempted to erase both our historical past and our spiritual memory from the lands where we’ve lived for thousands of years.  This is considered a crime against humanity under international law.”

In contrast, Gurbanli noted that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has made it a national priority to restore all their country’s holy sites, irrespective of religion: “Among the monuments restored and protected by the state is the Armenian Church in the center of Baku. At present, a unique Armenian literature and depository fund are kept in the Armenian Church, which is supported by the Presidential Library. At present, 955 religious associations have been registered in the country, 918 of them are Muslim and 37 are non-Muslim. There are 2,250 mosques, 4 churches and 7 synagogues, as well as faith-based schools of different confessions and denominations in the country.”  The Soviet Union had previously destroyed most of the religious sites in the country, yet the modern Azerbaijan state aspires to undo the cultural and spiritual damage committed in the name of communism.

In one of his speeches, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said: “All the temples in our territory are our historical treasures. Humanitarian and intercultural, interreligious dialogue forums and summits of world religious leaders are held in Azerbaijan every year. Look, see what is said about us. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation cites the attitude towards Islam in Azerbaijan as an example. During his visit to Baku, Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill praised the work done in Azerbaijan in this area and visited Orthodox churches. In his official speech during his visit to Baku, Pope Francis spoke about religious tolerance and multiculturalism in Azerbaijan.”

“The state of Azerbaijan contributes not only to the restoration and reconstruction of religious and cultural monuments within, but also beyond the borders which are of particular importance to human culture,” Gurbanli added. “The Heydar Aliyev Foundation provided financial assistance for the restoration of the catacombs of St.Marcellinius, St.Peter and St. Sebastian in the Vatican, renovation of the Notre Dame Cathedral that was damaged by a horrific fire in France, the monument in Prince Vladimir square before the St. Vladimir’s Church that is dedicated to the 1,025th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity in Russia and the 455th anniversary of the founding of Astrakhan city. In addition, assistance was provided for the restoration of seven historic churches in Santia, Fresnay o Sovaj, San Iler la Gerard, Tanville, Courjust, Revoyon and Mal.”

“Thus, the activity of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation headed by First Vice President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva, who attaches great importance to the protection of our cultural heritage and restoration of our historical monuments and promotes our national and religious values in the international arena, is a manifestation of state care for religion,” he noted, adding that they have also set up a Karabakh Revival Fund in order to rebuild the cultural and religious heritage sites that the Armenians either desecrated or destroyed, regardless whether the site in question is Christian, Muslim, origin.

Nevertheless, Gurbanli stressed that these facts did not influence many individuals in the international community: “Unfortunately, a number of international organizations (especially UNESCO) are currently indifferent to Armenia’s destruction of Muslim monuments.”  Azerbaijan’s President concurred: “Today, after the end of the war, some leaders in Western circles are raising the question of what will happen to Christian churches in the liberated lands under the control of Azerbaijan? No one should worry, especially the leaders of Western countries.  Those who have turned a blind eye to the desecration of Muslim sites and even justify it have no right to talk about it.  We protect and will protect the temples of all religions. Let there be no doubt about it.  Our history already shows this.  Monuments of all religions are protected in our country – churches, synagogues, including the Armenian ones.  We will repair and rebuild all our religious sites, and the whole world should see how the hated enemy destroyed our holy temples.”


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Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is the author of "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media."