By Vafa Ismayilova
Azerbaijan has expressed its grave concern over the destruction of its cultural heritage on territories liberated from Armenia's occupation in a 44-day war in autumn 2020.
In a statement posted on its website on International Day for Monuments and Sites on April 18, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said: "Almost all historical, cultural and religious monuments were completely destroyed during the period of occupation. As of today, the Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan has identified more than 400 monuments that have been destroyed in the liberated territories. The total number of monuments in these territories is up to 3000. Cultural and religious property belonging to Azerbaijan has been looted, desecrated, altered and illegally exported to Armenia. Twenty-two museums and museum branches with over 100,000 artefacts on the liberated territories have been destroyed."
The ministry stressed that artefacts and ancient manuscripts of the 13th-century Khudavang monastery situated in Kalbajar region, as well as precious artefacts found during illegal archaeological excavations near Shahbulag fortress of Aghdam region were illegally transported to Armenia. Besides that, illegal excavations have been conducted in the Azikh cave in Azikh village of Khojavand region.
"All of these actions constitute a gross violation of international humanitarian law, including the UNESCO standard-setting instruments, such as the 1954 Hague Convention and its two protocols, as well as the 1970 Convention," the ministry said.
It regretted that Azerbaijan's "appeals to the relevant international organizations to investigate war crimes including the deliberate destruction, misappropriation, alteration of our cultural heritage, as well as illicit removal of our cultural properties by Armenia have been ignored throughout the 30-year occupation. We welcome the interest now being shown in this respect".
The ministry added that the cultural heritage situated on the country's territory, regardless of its origin, whether secular or religious, reflects the cultural diversity of the people of Azerbaijan, which Azerbaijan values and protects.
"Ensuring that the unprecedented damage inflicted on Azerbaijani cultural heritage is fully assessed by an independent technical mission stands as a priority for the Government of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan is closely cooperating with UNESCO in this regard," the ministry said.
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