By Vafa Ismayilova
President Ilham Aliyev has said that Azerbaijan will build an international airport in its recently- liberated Fuzuli region in 2021.
Aliyev made the remarks on January 5 at a video meeting with Anar Karimov, whom he appointed as culture minister.
"An international airport will be built in Fuzuli on my instructions. This instruction has already been given. Places are being identified now. Mine clearance work will be carried out. I have ordered that an international airport be established in Fuzuli this year. At least a runway should be put into operation. The distance from there to Shusha is short," Aliyev said.
The president said that the new airport will open new opportunities to invite foreign guests to Shusha.
"In Soviet times, you had to go to Shusha either from Khankandi or through the Lachin corridor. We are building a new road now. Of course, those roads are there too, and our citizens, those engaged in repair work there these days are using these roads – the Aghdam-Khankandi-Shusha road and the Lachin corridor. In other words, these roads are open to us. We should be able to go there whenever we want, and it will be the case. However, the construction of the Fuzuli international airport will create opportunities to invite foreign guests to Shusha. It will be possible to come there and then travel a short distance to Shusha," he said.
Shusha - the capital of Azerbaijani culture
In his speech, the head of state declared Shusha to be capital of Azerbaijani culture. The city was liberated from the Armenian occupation on November 8, 2020.
"I declare Shusha to be the capital of Azerbaijani culture. The city of Shusha deserves that. I think that it can be considered not only the cultural capital of Azerbaijan but also of the entire region. The cultural life of Shusha should be rich. Work has already begun on the restoration of Shusha. A large delegation was sent there on my instruction. So the housing stock and historical sites must be inspected, the damage must be accurately calculated, and we must begin the restoration of Shusha. However, the original appearance and the historical image of Shusha must be restored without wasting time, but at the same time without haste.”
Aliyev stressed that all mosques in Shusha must be overhauled, restored and their original appearance returned to them. The president said that the repair of the Shusha mosque during the years of Armenian occupation was a propaganda step.
"The Armenians allegedly wanted to repair a mosque in Shusha, but it was just a propaganda step. After all, you have destroyed more than 60 mosques, including one in Zangilan... How come you allegedly repair a mosque in Shusha? Just say for the sake of propaganda that, yes, we respect the Muslim religion here," he said.
Aliyev condemned foreign specialists involvement in the mosque's repair without Azerbaijan’s permission.
"How can you go to the territory of Azerbaijan without our permission, allegedly repair our mosque together with the occupying Armenians? What international norms does it fit into? Which moral frames does that fit into? What company or people can ever do that? These are our historical sites, so you should ask us. But they went to the occupied lands of another country and did some work there for yourselves. The historical appearance of the mosque was changed. Therefore, I am ordering you to revise the mosque’s interior. We do not need that renovation. We will renovate it and return its original appearance to the mosque. Then we will open it.”
The president stressed that a recently-published photo that shows former Armenian President Kocharyan standing in front of a mosque in the occupied city of Aghdam with his thugs and bandits infuriated Azerbaijani people.
“Insulting inscriptions can be seen on the walls of the Aghdam mosque. Notice who led Armenia, what executioner, someone with such mundane moral values!" Aliyev said.
Protection of cultural, religious sites top priority
Speaking to the newly-appointed culture minister, Anar Karimov, the president said that the protection of Azerbaijan's cultural and religious sites will be the ministry's top priority.
"There are still quite a few historical sites that are in an unbearable condition. I think that the Ministry of Culture should quickly inspect and list them and prepare new lists of cultural centres that are in disrepair. Because the lists of sites protected by the state were not prepared accurately in the past. There was a biased approach," he said.
Aliyev stressed that the manipulation of such lists had dealt a huge blow to Azerbaijan's cultural heritage and those responsible for violations were held accountable, including criminal liability.
"Therefore, you must seriously combat all these violations," he told Karimov.
The president added that Azerbaijan should enrich its cultural life even more in the future.
"I do hope that after the vaccination is applied this year, the pandemic will gradually fade away. We are waiting for the vaccine in the coming days, after which normal life will be restored. Our cultural life must be very rich, competitions and festivals must be organized. We must both promote Azerbaijani culture in the world and continue to invite foreign guests," he said.
Aliyev described the restoration of cultural facilities and cultural centres in the destroyed areas as one of the top priorities.
"The operational headquarters has already been instructed on this issue. You are also represented there. Therefore, all our destroyed historical sites and cultural centres should be listed. Their previous appearance should be identified. Their restoration or reconstruction must not detract from their original and authentic identity. In general, we must be very sensitive in the restoration of our semi-destroyed historical sites. We must restore the true appearance of those historical sites," he said.
Aliyev instructed Karimov to restore the conduct of two national festivals in Shusha.
"The Poetry Days of Vagif must be restored in Shusha, the 'Khari Bulbul' festival must be restored. A new road is being built to Shusha now. However, this road runs through an area with very difficult terrain. But we will achieve this. Plan your work so that these two events are held in Shusha this year," he said.
Cultural genocide against Azerbaijan
Speaking about Armenia's cultural genocide against Azerbaijan, Aliyev called on the world to see acts committed by the Armenians.
"They have committed cultural genocide against us. The whole world, their patrons, and friends should see this. Foreign patrons who try to introduce it as a civilized nation surrounded by Muslims and those who believe in that, open your eyes to this, look what they have done! They are wild. Man does not act like that. This atrocity had to be stopped and it was... They are defying all the neighbours. They are making baseless claims, claims of land, territorial claims. They want to appropriate everything. They are stealing our music. Go and look it up, the authors of most of the music they present as their own is either Uzeyir Hajibayli or another Azerbaijani composer. They are stealing our cuisine. They are stealing the cuisine of neighbouring nations. They are stealing historical sites. They are trying to steal churches from other nations, from neighbouring nations.”
UNESCO must visit liberated lands
Furthermore, Aliyev urged UNESCO experts to evaluate Armenia’s destruction in Azerbaijan’s liberated lands, adding that Azerbaijan is ready to continue cooperation with UNESCO if only the latter maintains its international status.
"Let them go and see what the Armenians have done to Muslim sites. Why hasn't UNESCO raised this issue for 30 years? We have applied to them many times. These appeals are documented in the form of letters. Two years ago, the new UNESCO leadership was asked to send a mission here, to send a mission to the occupied lands and see what is left of our historical sites. What was the response of the UNESCO leadership? They said that they did not want to politicize the issue. Okay, if you did not want to politicize the issue two years ago, why do you want to politicize it now? Let them give an answer, provide a very simple answer, a logical answer. There is no reply," Aliyev said.
The president reminded that he appealed to UNESCO from liberated Zangilan on December 23, urging them to evaluate Armenia’s destruction of an Azerbaijani mosque in that region.
“Did any reaction follow? No! This is what the Armenians have destroyed. But what have we destroyed? What have we done? We have only repaired and protected sites. So, you know, we can't just ignore such unfounded approaches.”
Aliyev added that UNESCO has a lot of information about Azerbaijan's contribution to the world's cultural heritage and said that the country played an active role in the restoration of both Muslim and Christian religious sites.
"The multicultural society in Azerbaijan should be an example for many countries. It is not me saying that it is what the world's religious leaders are saying. Let them look at the statements of Pope Francis, who visited Baku, pay attention to the statements of the leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Let them watch the speeches of other religious leaders, Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim religious leaders who have repeatedly visited Baku. Who can ever accuse us that the sites of other religions are in danger in Azerbaijan? Only novice politicians, populists, certain 'politicians' who have no idea about our region but act on the orders of the Armenian lobby or at least try to do so can criticize us. Is there a basis for such claims? No!" he said.
The head of state noted that an ICESCO mission will visit Azerbaijan at Baku's invitation in January and hold meetings here.
"I think they should also go to the liberated lands. Then a group of experts should come. They must send a mission to record the destruction of Muslim sites by Armenians and state this in their report. Of course, let's create the maximum opportunity provided that all security measures are observed because there are still a lot of mines in those areas and security measures must be taken," he said.
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