The following letter was written to the BBC in protest at the biased article ‘Nakhchivan: The World’s most sustainable nation?’, written by journalist David McArdle, which covers up cultural genocide and anti-Armenianism in the region:
I am writing to express my shock and disappointment about the BBC Travel feature by David McArdle, published on 22 July 2020: ‘Nakhchivan: The World’s most sustainable nation?’
The article’s depiction of the autonomous state seems to be nothing more than propaganda commissioned by the Azerbaijani government to paint a new narrative that is false. I wrote to McArdle himself to point out the dark recent history of the region, but he sent a curt reply, politely ignoring me. For that reason I am not only sharing this letter with the Travel editorial team, I have also copied in your editor-in-chief. I would also be happy to connect you to notable journalists and historians who have spent longer than a few days visiting the region and can enlighten McArdle more on the history of the region given their expert knowledge.
It is absolutely shocking that the author made little or no mention of the ancient origins of Armenians in the region, nor of the purposeful and systematic campaign to destroy Armenian cultural and religious sites by the Azerbaijani government. He doesn’t even in earnest question why this ‘enclave’ is in Armenia if it was in fact populated with Azeris all along.
McArdle muses to himself in the article about Nakhijevan being ‘a puzzle that I couldn’t solve.’ Indeed, because he didn’t take the time to research its history. This is meant to be a travel feature however the article’s focus seems to be on promoting the ‘revised’ history of Nakhijevan more than anything else.
In many ways it acts as a tool to legitimise the cultural genocide that has taken place adding further insult to Armenians who have not only been driven out of the region but are also watching their history disappear. If this was in fact a travel piece about Nakhijevan, it would have included its ties to historic Armenia and the heritage sites that once existed there and others that still do.
Nakhijevan has a long rich history that dates back hundreds of years. In the early Christian period, the first Armenian churches, which were among the first in the world, were established in various areas of Nakhijevan, Armenia being the first nation to adopt Christianity. According to legend, Noah of the Bible founded the city of Nakhijevan after the great flood when his ark landed on Mount Ararat. In later centuries, Nakhijevan became known as one of the most important centres of medieval Armenian culture, gaining fame for producing intricately carved stone crosses, or khachkars in Armenian.
Additional evidence supporting the ancient Armenian origins of Nakhijevan is presented in the book ‘The Story of Nakhijevan’, published by Emanuele Aliprandi. While McArdle, refers to Nakhijevan as a “slice of Azerbaijan” in his article, he ignores the fact that the region is located within the north eastern part of ancient Armenia.
In his conclusion, Aliprandi sheds light on the failed attempts made by Arab, Ottoman, Kemalist and Bolshevik invaders to removing the Armenians’ legacy and heritage from the region. The 1921 treaties of Kars and Moscow between Turkey and the USSR allowed Turkish negotiators to secure the territory of Nakhijevan as an exclave under the administration of Soviet Azerbaijan, a decision at a time disputed by the British government. Following the annexation of Nakhijevan to a State created in the 20th century, Azerbaijan, the complete cleansing of Armenians and annihilation of all traces of Armenian culture and history from the region ensued.
In his article, McArdle fails to mention anywhere the Armenian cultural and religious sites that have been targeted and destroyed by the Azerbaijani government- an undeniable act of cultural genocide. Historical Armenian monuments were destroyed as part of an Azerbaijani campaign to remove traces of indigenous Armenian culture and history in Nakhijevan. For many centuries, a collection of 10,000 sacred khachkars, or carved stone crosses, from as early as the 9th century AD has populated the medieval Armenian cemetery of Jugha.
From 1998 to 2006, the Azerbaijani government undertook a ferocious campaign to destroy every single cross and erase all remnants of Armenian heritage in the region. UNESCO and the European Parliament have publicly decried Azerbaijan’s move to destroy Armenian monuments, reminiscent of the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan (https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/mar/01/monumental-loss-azerbaijan-cultural-genocide-khachkars).
You might be interested to read a ground-breaking forensic report published by art journal Hyperallergic in 2019 which tracks Azerbaijan’s recent destruction. To date, 89 medieval churches, 5,840 intricate cross-stones and 22,000 tombstones have been destroyed in Nakhijevan. Simon Maghakyan, the co-author of the Hyperallergic article, described Azerbaijan’s alleged demolition of these sacred churches and monuments from 1997 to 2006 as “the worst cultural genocide of the 21st century” (https://hyperallergic.com/482353/a-regime-conceals-its-erasure-of-indigenous-armenian-culture/).
McArdle compares Nakhijevan to “a Bali-sized amalgam of Soviet apartment blocks, gold-domed mosques and arid rust-red mountains”. That said, the uglier side of the region is hidden away from the eyes of tourists, locals and outsiders.
A critical aspect of this, not mentioned in the article, is the rapid and ongoing militarisation of the region, threatening violence and war. This is proven in the Bellingcat article ‘Azerbaijan’s Militarisation and the Status of Nakhijevan Autonomous Republic’ by Masis Ingilizian, through Google Earth imagery and photographic evidence (https://www.bellingcat.com/news/rest-of-world/2017/10/04/azerbaijans-militarization-status-nakhichevan-autonomous-republic/). Taking into account the 4-day war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2016 and Azerbaijan’s bellicose rhetoric and actions in recent months, there is a very real threat of violence erupting again on the Armenia-Nakhijevan border.
I therefore as a reader am left puzzled by how McArdle is able to call the State ‘sustainable’. I urge the author in future to research his stories and scrutinise his work more closely before submitting his articles.
Although one wonders how this was approved for publication by your Travel editorial team as it appears to be nothing more than a ‘paid for’ advertorial by the Azerbaijani government.
Considering that British citizens of Armenian origin cannot go there for fear of detention, it seems incredulous that this is even being promoted as a touristic destination, not mentioning the dangers of travelling there right now as noted earlier.
Moreover, in this widely reported travel notes the British researcher Steven Sim depict his apprehension by the Azerbaijani police during his visit to Nakhichevan and the intimidation by the local Azeri population at his attempts to explore the region’s history. He reports anger of Azeris at something as innocent as taking a photo of an ancient gravestone with a cross on it as it would give away the Armenian heritage of the region (Djulfa Virtual Memorial and Museum).
Therefore, this article is reckless journalism and misleading at the least. I hope you plan to address this letter and ask the author to amend the article so that it offers a more balanced view of the State.
Journalism can be biased but there is a difference between an opinion piece and unwittingly, or wittingly, being party to the eradication of a people’s history.