Azerbaijan urges UNESCO not to politicize cultural heritage protection in liberated lands

(MENAFN- AzerNews) By Vafa Ismayilova

Azerbaijan has called on UNESCO not to politicize the protection of cultural heritage in its Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding areas newly-liberated from the Armenian occupation.

On December 22, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry made this statement in reaction to a UNESCO press release containing remarks by Assistant UNESCO Director-General Ernesto Ottone, who said that UNESCO is awaiting Azerbaijan's response regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh mission.

"We believe that UNESCO must fulfill its mission independently and objectively and not allow the issue of protection of cultural heritage to be politicized. Such press releases by UNESCO do not correspond to the spirit of cooperation between Azerbaijan and UNESCO. Azerbaijan is open to a constructive dialogue with UNESCO to discuss the details of the mission and reiterates its readiness to cooperate with UNESCO based on respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of internationally recognized borders of the member states," the ministry said.

İt added that Azerbaijan has always been committed to cooperation with UNESCO, as well as the implementation of obligations arising from the conventions to which it adhered to, and in particular, its obligations to protect cultural heritage.

"For many years, our country has made significant contributions to the activities of the organization in the restoration and protection of cultural heritage, both in Azerbaijan and globally. Protection of cultural heritage in Azerbaijan is one of the important directions of state policy. The successful hosting of the last session of the World Heritage Committee last year is a vivid indicator of the importance that Azerbaijan attaches to the protection of cultural heritage, as well as the confidence and trust of member states in Azerbaijan. The first-ever publication of 'Military Manual for the Protection of Cultural Property during Armed Conflict' by UNESCO upon the initiative and with the support of the Republic of Azerbaijan is a clear example of our country's commitment to UNESCO," the statement added.

The ministry stressed that Azerbaijan's appeals to UNESCO over Armenia's war crimes on occupied territories over the past 30 years had been ignored.

"However, it is unfortunate that during the 30 years of Armenia's military aggression against Azerbaijan and the occupation of our lands, our appeals to UNESCO to investigate war crimes such as destruction, misappropriation of our cultural heritage, change of its essence, as well as illegal transportation of cultural values from our land have been ignored and the UNESCO Secretariat has not shown determination in this regard," the statement noted.

The ministry reiterated that UNESCO had been repeatedly informed that Azerbaijan was considering the proposal of the organization to send a mission to its Nagorno-Karabakh region and surrounding areas.

"It should be noted that a number of factors, including security, weather and difficult terrain, must be taken into account when organizing a UNESCO mission to the region to assess the damage to our cultural property. As it is known, the territories of Azerbaijan were mined by Armenia during the occupation (since the statement of November 10 on the cessation of hostilities 6 civilians and 6 military servicemen were killed and 7 civilians and 14 military servicemen injured by landmines) and as the Armenian army withdrew from our occupied territories, it mined the area around historical and cultural monuments and turned the area into a dangerous zone," the ministry said.

It noted that the Azerbaijani Culture Ministry had launched preliminary monitoring of cultural heritage in the liberated Azerbaijani lands, and the results of the initial monitoring have been officially submitted to UNESCO. The monitoring report also included photos of the destruction of all our religious and cultural monuments as well as the desecration of Azerbaijani mosques in the territories once occupied by Armenia.

" We hope that UNESCO will not remain silent about the war crimes reflected in the monitoring report," the ministry said.

A UNESCO press release issued on December 21, 2020, quoted Assistant UNESCO Director-General Ernesto Ottone as saying that "the response of Azerbaijan is still awaited for UNESCO to proceed with the sending of a mission to the field".

Ottone later addded: "The authorities of Azerbaijan have been approached several times without success so far. Every passing week makes the assessment of the situation concerning cultural property more difficult, not least due to the weather which is expected to become harsher in the coming weeks. The window of opportunity that was opened by the ceasefire must not be closed again. The safeguarding of heritage is an important condition for the establishment of lasting peace. We are therefore expecting Baku to respond without delay so that the constructive discussions held over recent weeks can be turned into action.


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