By the order of the President of Azerbaijan, the historical Armenian Togh is being transformed into the Azerbaijani-Albanian “Tugh” reserve.
On June 16, 2023, the official website of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, published his order declaring the historical area of the village of Tugh as a state historical-architectural and nature reserve called "Tugh." This declaration was made under Article 109, Clause 32 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan (https://president.az/ru/articles/view/60283).
As the "basis" for establishing the reserve, it is stated that "Tugh is one of the historical settlements that represent the historical heritage of the Azerbaijani people. The monuments located here are part of the ancient legacy of Caucasian Albania. The residential complexes, their adornments, as well as temples, springs, and tombstones showcase the distinctive architectural style of the Karabakh region. Moreover, the settlement is endowed with rich natural potential and ecological resources. Its proximity to the road leading to Shushi offers ample development opportunities along the tourist route" (https://president.az/ru/articles/view/60283).
The order specifies two months for the establishment of the reserve, which involves addressing technical considerations, setting up the management system, and defining the reserve's boundaries.
During the 44-day war in 2020, Azerbaijan gained control over the entire Hadrut area of the Artsakh Republic. This included historical settlements with numerous diverse structures, such as fortresses, mansions, churches, monasteries, chapels, folk shrines, strongholds, historic villages, and ancient ruins. Hadrut region, with its ancient settlements and monuments, is one of the most important centers of Armenian identity, while Togh is the center of Dizak's power and wealth and one of the historical, political, and cultural centers of Artsakh. Following the takeover of the territory, official Azerbaijan began to usurp and culturally appropriate the Hadrut region itself. Visits by representatives of the so-called Udi community were organized to Togh, then to Hadrut and Tsakuri, where the Armenian heritage of the region and the entire Artsakh was declared to be Albanian-Udi, and Togh was an ancient Albanian-Udi, Azerbaijani settlement (for details, Udi propaganda as an expression of Azerbaijani politics - Monument Watch).
The President of Azerbaijan has been actively involved in the usurpation and cultural appropriation of the historical Hadrut region. He has specifically focused on Togh and Hadrut settlements during his visits to the occupied territories of Artsakh, even being accompanied by his family members (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snIL-WGfP8Y). During one of these visits, Ilham Aliyev, accompanied by his wife and family members, also visited the occupied village of Tsakuri. During this visit to the village's church, he made a declaration that all the monuments in the village are not Armenian but Albanian in origin. He claimed that the Armenian inscriptions and crosses found on these monuments are fake. Additionally, the Azerbaijani side stated its intention to restore these monuments to their original historical appearance (for more detailed information, The Statement of the President of Azerbaijan on the Church of Tsakuri - Monument Watch). In the village of Togh, there are several Armenian inscriptions from various eras adorning churches, chapels, Melik mansions, springs, and houses. The president's comments seem to preordain their future. The reserve's purpose is to wipe out the historical Armenian past and reshape the cultural heritage of the region.
It is not a coincidence that Ilham Aliyev established one of the first mosques in Artsakh's occupied lands near Hadrut and Togh (for more information on this topic, Foundation of new mosques in the Armenian settlements of Artsakh - Monument Watch). In the city of Hadrut, the Azerbaijani side carried out the destruction of the historical center under the pretext of restoring it for a different cultural identity (Destruction of the historical quarter of Hadrut by armed Azerbaijanis - Monument Watch).
Togh village served as the seat of meliks and held a prominent position as one of the political and spiritual centers of Artsakh's southern region. This significance is evident from the various monuments found in the village and its surroundings, all adorned with a diverse array of Armenian inscriptions. At the heart of the village stands the mansion, constructed by Melik-Yegan, the founder of the Dizak Melikate, expressly as a seat for meliks. On the door of his mansion, Melik inscribed a message, secretly declaring his resistance when the Ottomans seized Dizak, stating, "I did not allow them to be captured from my Armenia."
Archaeological research took place in the monument area between 2009 and 2011, leading to the identification and validation of several partially ruined and intact structures. These structures included a large hall in the form of a glkhatun (main hall), a horse stable, various economically significant buildings, and valuable archaeological artifacts. Before the war, some of the monument's structures were renovated or repaired.
The museum, which had been converted from the reception area, underwent a complete renovation. During the war, the village's residents had to evacuate, but all exhibits in the museum remained in place. Videos published after the 44-day war show that the appearance of the monument remained unaltered during and after the war.
Declaring the Armenian heritage as Albanian or Udi and appropriating it constitutes a clear act of cultural genocide by the Azerbaijani side. This action violates the principles outlined in the UNESCO Convention "World Cultural and Natural Heritage" of 1994. Furthermore, according to the Nara Document on Authenticity, accepted in Japan, such cultural appropriation deprives the Armenian cultural heritage of its main value, authenticity, and integrity.
In addition, according to the 4th article of the "Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict" of 1954 and the 9th article of the "Second Protocol to the Hague Convention" of 1999, any alteration of the artistic value of cultural property, as well as its use in a manner inconsistent with the preservation of its cultural, historical, or scientific significance, is strictly prohibited, aiming to prevent its concealment or destruction of cultural, historical, or scientific evidence.
Azerbaijan also violates the 2001 "On the Protection of Cultural Diversity" and 2005 "On the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Forms of Cultural Self-expression" conventions, to which it is a member, by targeting the symbols of Artsakh Armenians' Christian heritage and undermining the true tradition of Christian ritual. This is a discriminating attitude that also infringes on the freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and the right to respect the heritage created as a result of this freedom in the manner desired. Furthermore, the 2005 convention "Importance of Cultural Heritage for Society," adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on October 13 in Faro, Portugal, also highlights the importance of preserving cultural heritage in line with its naturalness and authenticity.
Ilham Aliyev's order to create the "Tugh" historical-architectural and nature state reserve marks a new phase in the ongoing declarations of changes and destruction of the Armenian cultural heritage and its implementation.