Destruction of the cemetery and khachkars in Lachin

On May 18, 2023, the Caucasus Heritage Watch team recorded the destruction of the historical cemetery of Lachin city as a result of "road construction work" carried out by Azerbaijan. The road construction started on October 15, 2022 by the Azerbaijani authorities damaged the northeastern and southern parts of the Lachin cemetery

The Center for Monitoring the Cultural Heritage of the Caucasus, due to satellite images, recorded the destruction of a unique khachkar of the 14th century installed there, as well as a number of others dating back to the 15th-16th centuries AD. It should be noted that the actual destruction of most of the khachkars cannot be confirmed due to visibility issues related to their location.

The destruction of the Lachin cemetery and the destruction of khachkars is not the first case of such barbarism. After the 44-day war, a number of historic Armenian settlements and cemeteries near the roads were also attacked as a result of Azerbaijan's policy of cultural ethnocide. They were destroyed or completely wiped off the face of the earth under the guise of global road construction works, under the pretext of creating new infrastructure. As a result of such works, the historical cemeteries of Lachin and Shushi, as well as the cemetery Hadrut were destroyed  (“The roads of Azerbaijan” and threats to the Armenian Cultural Heritage – Monument Watch), the 18th century Armenian cemetery of Sghnakh in Shosh community of Askeran region (Destruction of the cemetery of Syghnakh – Monument Watch) and others were irrevocably destroyed.

Our response

Any act of destruction and appropriation of Armenian cultural values by Azerbaijan is prohibited by many conventions adopted by UNESCO and the Council of Europe, the provisions of the International Court of Justice and other documents. As for the destruction of the unique khachkar of the 14th century in the territory of Lachin cemetery, it should be noted that the attack on khachkars is prohibited at the international level, because “Armenian cross-stones art. Symbolism and craftsmanship of Khachkars " since 2010 has been included in the "List of Intangible Cultural Heritage" adopted by UNESCO in 2003 ( and-craftsmanship-of-khachkars-00434 ).

This means that the art of khachkars has a special and exceptional universal value and thus needs additional international protection, and is also of great interest in the world cultural treasury. In addition, the art of khachkars is recognized as Armenian and, regardless of the desire any of the states, should be preserved.

According to the principles of the Second protocol-supplement to the 1954 Hague Convention "On the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict", adopted in 1999, the culture of khachkars is under enhanced protection, and, according to article 15 (a) of the protocol, any harm caused to it is a "serious breach" that can be prosecuted as a war crime in international courts

This is prescribed in the 10th article of the mentioned protocol on enhanced protection of cultural property, according to which cultural heritage, which is of the greatest importance for humanity, must be under enhanced protection. And, in fact, the culture of khachkars as such has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2010. According to article 12 of the protocol, in the occupied territories, the state party, and in this case, Azerbaijan, must ensure the inviolability of cultural property under enhanced protection, refraining from turning such property into an object of attack or repression.

The cases of destruction and vandalism of the Armenian cultural heritage by Azerbaijan clearly violate the right of Artsakh Armenians to connect with the heritage of their ancestors, which is also confirmed by UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council. From a legal point of view, Azerbaijan also violates the provisions of Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, which guarantees the right of everyone to take part in cultural life, and Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let us recall that international human rights law does not cease to apply during armed conflicts.

The various relationships and processes that take place during the occupation are governed by International Humanitarian Law The provisions of international humanitarian law apply from the outbreak of hostilities or invasion by hostile forces, when the territory comes under the control of hostile armed forces, even if the occupation does not meet with armed resistance and there is no hostilities .

The protection of cultural property refers to rules number 38 , number 39, 40 and 41 .

It is extremely important to emphasize the fact that the International Court of Justice has confirmed that the laws in force in the occupied territories, including provisions for the protection of cultural property, have acquired the status of international customary law (infra Jurisprudence), i.e., they act as a universal and indisputable rule and are binding on all states .