Udi propaganda as an expression of Azerbaijani politics

After the signing of a trilateral treaty on November 9, 2020, and the end of armed conflict in Artsakh, Azerbaijan launched an anti-Armenia campaign in the case of the occupied territories. This kind of deliberate propaganda, first of all, endangers many monuments of the Armenian Christian spiritual culture located in the occupied territories.

The Azerbaijani mechanism of propaganda, continuing the policy of appropriation of the Armenian cultural heritage of Artsakh, formed back in the Soviet years, presents it as cultural monuments of the Albanians and links them with Caucasian Albania. After the end of the war in 2020, the Azerbaijani campaign, along with the propaganda of the appropriation of the Armenian cultural heritage, began to actively involve the Udi Christians living in Azerbaijan, the followers of the Armenian Gregorian Church. The main reason was that the Udis are the only Christians among the peoples of Caucasian Albania.

Until the 1990s, most of the Udis living in the territory of modern Azerbaijan were followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church. They mainly lived in the north of modern Azerbaijan. Many of them left Azerbaijan in 1988-1990s together with the Armenian population, therefore, they were considered by Azerbaijanis as Armenians, or as people close to Armenians.

The problem of the Udi community was aggravated by the fact that as a result of the Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan, the religious activities of the Armenian Apostolic Church became impossible, and in terms of spiritual life the Udis found themselves in an unclear situation. The Azerbaijani state propaganda widely discusses the Albanian-Udi church and its religious traditions, however, it does not mention which particular religious movement the Udis belong to.

Let us emphasize that at least from the 8th century AD the Albanian Church in the system of beliefs and rituals (including also the liturgical language) was identical to the Armenian Apostolic Church. Talking about the Udi religion separately is a demonstration of illiteracy or intentional propaganda. Let us note that in 1836, by the decision of the Tsarist government, the Albanian Church was abolished, and the Christian Udi communities became a part of the Shemakha Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Until the 80s of the 20th century, the Christian Udis, who called themselves “Armenians by nationality, Udis by kinship,” had no cult, religious and linguistic distinctions and differences from the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Immediately after the end of the war, the Azerbaijani anti-Armenian campaign began organizing periodical visits of representatives of the current Udi community to Armenian monasteries and churches that are now in the occupied territories (Dadivank, Spitak Khach (White Cross) Monastery,  Tsitsernavank, Surb Hovhannes Church in Togh village). The visits were widely covered by the Azerbaijani media. During the visits, representatives of the Udi community, headed by its leader Robert Mobili and his deputy Rafik Danakari, “performed ceremonies inherent in the Udi church” and in their interviews to media talked about “harm done to the Udi cultural heritage during the period of Armenian occupation”. As an example of that “harm”, they point that the Armenians “added Armenian crosses on the walls of Albanian-Udi churches, installed khachkars, carved Armenian inscriptions, and this was done intentionally in order to erase the Albanian trace”.

The interviewer is usually the head of the Udi community, Robert Mobili, who always adds that they should bring the churches back to their original (non-Armenian) appearance, that they need to assess the scale of the damage caused by the Armenians, and always emphasizes that after the liberation of Azerbaijani lands they “got the opportunity to visit and perform religious services at the churches and monasteries belonging to them for centuries".

Let us add that according to the videos distributed by Azerbaijani news agencies, it becomes clear that during the Udi divine services or prayers, candles are placed on the bema, altar, steps leading to the altar, and even on the baptisterium, and this is at least puzzling.

Usually, each visit of representatives of the Udi community is accompanied also by historians, art historians, political and military figures involved in the Azerbaijani anti-Armenian propaganda.  In their interviews, they always try to prove that these monuments are not Armenian.

During the visit to Dadivank, many attempts were made to confront the Armenian clergy who were there, but those, fortunately, failed. However, according to Azerbaijanis, their provocations were presented as aggression caused by the Armenian clergy.

It is sad that the representatives of the current Udi community have become hostages and an instrument of dirty Azerbaijani propaganda.

Renaming of cultural heritage, identity erasure

Regarding the appropriation of the Armenian cultural heritage by Azerbaijan, it should be noted that it loses its main value being considered Albanian or Udi, it loses the properties of uniqueness and integrity, according to the UNESCO Convention on Cultural and Natural World Heritage (1994), the Nara document on authenticity (1994), adopted in Japan, ICOMOS and Burra charters and documents of other international structures.

In addition, according to the Second Protocol to The Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1999), Article 2, point C  “any alteration to, or change of use of, the cultural property which is intended to conceal or destroy cultural, historical or scientific evidence” is prohibited.

Destroying the symbols of the Christian heritage of Armenians of Artsakh, violating the original traditions of Christian worship, Azerbaijan also violates the provisions of the Convention "On the protection of cultural diversity" (2001) and "On the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions" (2005), being one of its participants.

Such a policy is an expression of a discriminatory attitude that violates the freedom of thought, conscience and religion enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the right to assess the cultural property created by him at his own discretion.

Moreover, the convention on the "Value of Cultural Heritage for Society" adopted on October 13, 2005 by the EU Committee of Ministers in Faro (Portugal), also states that the significance of cultural heritage is determined by the community, and any expression of the collective thought as a value should be protected for the sake of its naturalness and authenticity.