LOS ANGELES — The Armenian Bar Association–in partnership with the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, and joined by the Society for Armenian Studies, the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research, and the Association Internationale des Études Arméniennes–recently issued a second report to the UN Special Rapporteurs in the Fields of Cultural Rights and Freedom of Religion and Belief. 

This second report supplements the Armenian Bar’s earlier communique to the Special Rapporteurs on the exigencies of preserving Armenian cultural heritage and churches in Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh), now under Azerbaijani control. The purpose of the second report was to highlight Azerbaijan’s most recent attacks following the conclusion of the 2020 War, demonstrating the continued threat not only to Armenian culture and symbols of Christianity, but to worshippers seeking to visit Armenian religious sites. The report also urges the Special Rapporteurs to urgently and immediately intervene, visit the indigenous Armenian sites under Azerbaijani control, and demand accountability from the Azerbaijani government.

Submitted in conjunction with an earlier, detailed report of Azerbaijan’s longstanding destruction of Armenian heritage, the most recent report calls attention to those sites already eradicated or vandalized by the Azerbaijani government since seizing power in the region only a few months ago. Not long after the Armenian Bar’s submission of the initial report in January, 2021, the Zoravor Holy Mother of God Church, located near the village of Mekhakavan (Jebrayil) in Artsakh, was intentionally destroyed.

Photos published just weeks ago by the BBC depict vacant land where Zoravor once stood. Prior to its destruction, a video circulated depicting a mercenary pronouncing the Islamic call to prayer while standing on the bell tower of the church. The church was consecrated in 2017. Also featured in the report is another video, showing the Azerbaijani military vandalizing the church of St. Yeghishe in Mataghis, Artsakh (built in the 19th century). Experts predict Azerbaijan’s cultural genocide of Armenian heritage will occur incrementally over many years, if not decades.

Lucy Varpetian, Chairwoman of the Armenian Bar Association, thanked the following attorneys who generously contributed to both reports: Taline Sahakian, Grant Petrosyan, Yelena Ambartsumian, Lusine Chinkezian, Armen Hovannisian and Sonya Nersessian.

The report concludes by urging intervention by the Special Rapporteurs to prevent further acts of destruction and that the Armenian Bar Association and the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin are willing to discuss the pressing needs of the Armenian community in Artsakh with the Special Rapporteurs.

A complete copy of the first and second reports may be found here: https://armenianbar.org/programs/united-nations-initiative/safeguarding-armenian-cultural-and-religious-heritage-in-artsakh/

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