About the memorial of Avetaranots
On July 20, 2023, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, en route to the occupied city of Shushi, took the opportunity to visit the village of Avetaranots (also known as Chanakhchi) in the Askeran region under occupation. The details of this visit are documented on the official presidential website (https://president.az/ru/articles/view/60529). A video shared by Azerbaijani news media shows President Aliyev overseeing the progress of construction activities in the surrounding area, as captured from the elevated vantage point of Avetaranots village (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Raari-Nuk9o), as observed in the footage. The elevated point on the southeastern periphery of the village, home to the Kusanats Anapat, was selected as an observation post. For more comprehensive information regarding the monastery and its significant landmarks, refer to the link https://monumentwatch.org/en/monument/the-hermitage-kusanats-of-avetaranots/.
Notably, Avetaranots village held a central role as the center of Varanda nobility in the Artsakh region. The monastery, in turn, served as a venerated sanctuary and final resting place for the Varanda rulers, particularly the Melik-Shahnazaryan lineage.
During the Soviet era, a monument was built within the expanse of Avetaranots' Kusanats desert. This monument aimed to immortalize the memory of residents who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Great Patriotic War. In 2013, dedicated efforts were undertaken to enhance the monastery's premises. This encompassed meticulous restoration of both the church and the adjacent cemetery. In 2013, as depicted in the video link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0tIr3gluys), a monument was constructed in the vicinity dedicated to the valiant heroes of Avetaranots village who made the ultimate sacrifice during the initial Artsakh war (Fig. 1).
On October 27, 2020, control over the village shifted to Azerbaijan. Notably, as early as October 7, 2021, a video emerged revealing acts of desecration by the Azerbaijani military within the precincts of the church and the cemetery ( for comprehensive insights, refer to the provided link: https://monumentwatch.org/en/alerts/the-enemy-desecrated-kusanats-anapat-monastery-in-avetaranots-village-of-askeran-region/).
Furthermore, these acts transpired between 2021 and 2022, as evidenced by the absence of inscriptions on the monument in videos recorded during 2020 and to a certain extent in 2021 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NODyCnW_DYg). The responsibility for these actions lies with the Azerbaijani military personnel deployed within the village and its adjoining areas. Notably, individuals featured speaking and leaving comments in the videos are also identified as Azerbaijani military personnel.
Videos uploaded between 2020 and 2022 reveal the enduring presence of the monument built in honor of the fallen heroes from Avetaranots village who perished in the initial Artsakh conflict of 2013. Although the monument is not closely focused upon in the footage, it is discernible within segments featuring the panoramic views of the surroundings (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlM1f85jk0M).
The monument erected in remembrance of the courageous heroes from Avetaranots village remained visibly present in a video shared by an Azerbaijani user on April 23, 2023. While the precise date of the video's recording remains unclear, it surfaced online in April 2023 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJrxMWT9X-c). Notably, a comment by one of the users within the video stands out, questioning the reason behind the absence of an effort to dismantle the cross statue. Unfortunately, more recent videos or photographs of the monument are currently unavailable online. However, it is pertinent to highlight that a significant number of videos of similar nature are frequently uploaded by the YouTube user "Qarabağ Azərbaycandır." Most of these videos depict the atrocities committed by the Azerbaijani military within the occupied territories of Artsakh.
The video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pvga3e_ybE) depicts President Aliyev walking within the confines of the monastery's premises. However, the footage deliberately frames only a section of the promontory. For a broader view of the vicinity, President Aliyev stands upon a relatively spacious platform. The video unmistakably showcases the destruction of the monument erected to commemorate the residents of Avetaranots who fell as martyrs in the initial Artsakh war.
The official photos released by the Azerbaijani side strategically obscure the structures of the Kusanats monastery, prioritizing visuals of President Aliyev's presence and observations. In light of the official Azerbaijani narrative and the recent policy stance, wherein such monuments are perceived as emblematic of "occupation" within Azerbaijan, it raises the plausible assumption that the monument may have indeed been intentionally dismantled during Ilham Aliyev's visit. It appears improbable that the President of Azerbaijan would engage in activities near such a monument. Conversely, if the monument was intended for preservation due to its propaganda value, it is reasonable to expect that President Aliyev, who often delivers demonstrative speeches, would incorporate it into his address. Considering these observations, it becomes a plausible speculation that the monument might have indeed been dismantled in 2023, or possibly even earlier. Instances of this nature have become more prevalent since 2020, with the Azerbaijani side often not concealing such actions. The most compelling evidence supporting this notion is the comprehensive article authored by journalist Kirill Krivosheev, which was prominently featured in the Russian news outlet Kommersant shortly after the conclusion of the 44-day war in 2020. This article, published on December 4, 2020, stems from the occupied settlements of Talish and Mataghis. It is particularly noteworthy for the candid admissions made by Azerbaijanis regarding the anticipated destiny of all such monuments (Inscriptions on fallen stones, https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4595963).
Monuments of this kind serve as emblematic representations of the resolute self-defense undertaken by the Armenians of Artsakh, signifying their enduring fight to maintain their rightful place in their native land. Consequently, from the perspective of official Azerbaijan, the existence of these monuments runs contrary to their narrative. The instances of destruction and desecration gradually come to light, often through incidental videos and photographs, highlighting the ongoing uncovering of such actions.
It is evident that Azerbaijan persists in erasing Armenian heritage from the occupied areas of Artsakh. Notably, within the confines of the occupied Hadrut region, extensive road construction and military-related engineering projects undertaken by the Azerbaijani side pose a substantial risk to the numerous monuments situated in the region. These concerns have been reiterated on multiple occasions. For further insights, refer to the following link: https://monumentwatch.org/en/alerts/the-roads-of-azerbaijan-and-threats-to-the-armenian-cultural-heritage/.
It is essential to emphasize that the initial protocol of the Convention "On the Protection of Cultural Values in the Event of Armed Conflicts" explicitly forbids the destruction of cultural or spiritual heritage within occupied territories. This prohibition is reaffirmed and reinforced by the Second Hague Protocol of 1999, which classifies such actions as an international crime under Article 15. The destruction of cultural property is further prohibited by the four international conventions and protocols about the safeguarding of war victims, specifically the Laws and Customs of War of Geneva on August 12, 1949. Additionally, this prohibition is reinforced by relevant United Nations resolutions and Human Rights Conventions.