Palmyra, Julfa and Unesco’s approach to heritage
Palmyra, Julfa and Unesco’s approach to heritage –
Unesco is rightfully outraged by the Islamic State militants’ ongoing destruction of Palmyra (Report, 25 August). But the UN’s cultural organisation did not seem to care when Azerbaijan acted similarly a decade ago.
In December 2005, Azerbaijan’s army was deployed to its own remote borderland with Iran to conduct an operation against 2,000 medieval cross-stones. Within a week, centuries of Armenian and Christian history was wiped out at Julfa. Azerbaijan’s government denied the destruction despite a videotape made from the Iranian side, and insisted that Julfa had not existed in the first place.
Because Azerbaijan ignored requests for an investigation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with which I collaborated on this project, utilised geospatial technology to assess the destruction. Before and after satellite images showed that the cross-stones had disappeared after 2005. Despite this, Unesco continued to remain silent.
Adding insult to injury, Unesco has been cooperating with the very dictatorship that destroyed Julfa. In 2013 it accepted a $5m donation from Azerbaijan. Condemnation of deliberate destruction of cultural heritage should extend to Unesco’s donors too.
Azerbaijani soldiers destroy the armenian cross-stones of Julfa