Amaras Monastery Is Occupied: Azerbaijan Must Adhere to International Provisions for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Occupied Territories

Amaras Monastery is situated near the village of Matchkalashen in the Martuni region of Artsakh. Following the cessation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani contact line after the 44-day war, on November 9, pilgrims could visit here under the escort of peacekeepers, with the new line being approximately 800-1000 meters away from the monastery.

It's important to note that Azerbaijan's attempts to seize Amaras never ceased. It's worth noting that exactly 2 years ago, on September 21, 2021, the Azerbaijani military advanced their positions by 1200 meters towards the village of Matchkalashen and, after establishing a presence in neutral territory, planted the Azerbaijani flag near the walls of the Amaras monastery complex ( /node/94564). However, with the intervention of Russian peacekeeping forces, the Azerbaijani flags were removed from the territory.

Between September 19-21, 2023, due to armed clashes resulting from Azerbaijani aggression, Azerbaijan occupied the Amaras Monastery. There was no time or opportunity to save the relics, and consequently, the monastery, along with its tangible and intangible values, fell under enemy control.

Our response

Azerbaijan is obligated to adhere to international principles for the protection of cultural heritage and ensure the "integrity," "authenticity," "uniqueness," and "cultural significance" of the Amaras Monastery. These principles are enshrined in various provisions of UNESCO and ICOMOS.

The Hague Convention of 1907, adopted in the early 20th century, is currently applicable to the occupied territories. According to Article 42 of the regulations annexed to the Convention on the Laws and Customs of War of August 18, "The territory that is actually under the control of the enemy's army is considered occupied" This extends only where the enemy's power has been established and can be exercised, meaning the occupying power can govern. The obligations of the occupying power are further defined in articles 43-56 of the same regulations.

The legal relations of occupied territories are governed by the 4 Geneva Conventions, (in Articles 27-34 and 47-78, Additionally, the Hague Convention of 1954 and its additional protocols from 1954 and 1999 also address the protection of cultural property during armed conflicts. Furthermore, the legality of any occupation is also governed by the UN Charter and the principle of "jus ad bellum."

In case of the establishment of an occupation or any equivalent situation ("invasion," "liberation," "occupation") under the UN Charter, the aforementioned law of occupation (1907 Hague Convention, Article 42) applies and is not contingent upon its legality being confirmed by the UN Security Council. Such confirmations relate to the acceptability and intentions of military operations.