First Things on the Destruction of Khachkars

First Things’s always worthwhile  On the Square blog has an interesting post on the destruction of Armenian carved stone crosses, or khachkars, in Turkey and Azerbaijan. The khachkar (literally, “cross-stone”) is a traditional Armenian art form; an analogue would be the familiar Celtic high cross. Crosses have a central place in Armenian Christian iconography, and khachkars, which can reach a few feet in height, dot the landscape in Armenia and in other places where Armenians have lived. Khachkars appear in cemeteries, in church courtyards, in homes, on roadsides; really,  anywhere.

Two years ago, UNESCO added the art of khachkar carving to the list of intangible cultural heritage meriting special protection in international law. As the First Things post makes clear, however, Turkey and Azerbaijan have undertaken to destroy khachkars that exist in those countries:

The last of the largest collections of khachkars, the Armenian Cemetery in Jugha in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, was purposefully annihilated in 2005 after several years of intermittent attacks. Wielding sledgehammers and shovels, Azeri soldiers demolished the last remaining khachkars in the area. Turkey has ordered its own elimination program in Kars and Ani, with khachkars turning up as building stones, gravel, and other debris.

Indifference alone does not explain the destruction. Khachkars are a reminder that millions of Christian Armenians once lived in these places; destroying them is a way to eliminate the traces. Notwithstanding the UNESCO designation, attorney Anahid Ugurlayan explains, relevant international conventions do not offer effective enforcement mechanisms and give host countries, not outsiders, the right to seek international assistance in protecting cultural property in their territories. Neither Turkey nor Azerbaijan has any interest in maintaining khachkars.

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