TheUnesco offered to send an expert mission to Nagorno-Karabakh (or Nagorno Karabakh in Russian), “with the agreement of the parties concerned”, to take stock of the region’s cultural assets, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, based in Paris, announced on Friday.
During meetings on Wednesday with the representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan, its director general Audrey Azoulay “offered the technical assistance of Unesco services” in view of a possible “field mission to draw up a preliminary inventory of the most significant cultural properties, as a prerequisite for effective protection of the region’s heritage”.
To her interlocutors, Audrey Azoulay “reaffirmed the universal dimension of cultural heritage, witness to history and inseparable from the identity of peoples, which the international community has the duty to protect”, according to a statement cautious of Unesco which visibly refrains from highlighting the historical presence of the Armenians in the region. She referred in particular to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which enables the Unesco secretariat to send such a mission. However, this never happened. It would therefore be a first.
In recent weeks, Unesco has received a flood of information on acts of vandalism and destruction affecting the heritage and cultural property of Nagorno-Karabakh: videos and images of churches tagged or dispossessed of their domes, statues overturned, hammered by hilarious soldiers (who do not speak Armenian), circulating in recent days on social networks. Armenians fear the outright erasure of traces of their presence since the dawn of time in a region where there are many very old monasteries and remains dating back at least to the fifth century, or even to the fourth. Very ancient Armenian monuments were already wiped off the map in the 2000s in another region controlled by Azerbaijan, the Nakhichevan (link in English).
To ensure the possibility of the implementation of such a mission, Audrey Azoulay has conducted a series of consultations, in recent days, with Azerbaijan and Armenia, but also with the co-chairs of the Minsk group ( France, Russia, United States) of the OSCE, mediators in this conflict.
Ayaz Gojayev, Deputy Permanent Delegate of Azerbaijan to Unesco and Christian Ter Stépanian, Armenian Ambassador, Permanent Delegate to Unesco, each demonstrated “an opening on the principle”, sources close to the matter told AFP. Audrey Azoulay spoke earlier this week with the Russian ambassador to Unesco, after Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke of their wish that Unesco is committed to protection heritage, depending on the organization.
She continued her consultations on Thursday evening with French President Emmanuel Macron who supported the Unesco initiative, according to the same sources, before meeting Friday at midday with the head of Russian diplomacy. Sergey Lavrov. The latter has it “congratulated on this initiative and gave the full support of Russia”, according to these sources. During this telephone exchange were notably mentioned “the next steps and the importance of political support for this initiative”.
Unesco should continue contacts “with all the actors who wish to contribute”. While caution remains in order, “we have the feeling at Unesco that there is a window of opportunity and that we have the bases to move forward”, whereas since the first war of the 90s, the UN agency has never been able to visit this region, despite attempts to do so.
Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave offered by Stalin to Azerbaijan in the early 1920s and supported by Armenia, had already been the scene of a war that claimed more than 30,000 lives in the early 1990s. Once the conditions policies together, there will remain the practical phase of sending such a complex mission which should take several weeks. In particular, the perimeter of the mission – Unesco wishing to be able to access the geographical areas on both sides -, the properties to be targeted, and the very composition of the mission, with the choice of experts, will have to be determined. “indisputable”. A phase “complicated” also.