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Bipartisan Letter to Secretary Blinken Emphasizes Protection of Artsakh's Armenian Cultural Heritage


Washington, D.C. - Today, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) spearheaded a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, joined by 47 U.S. Representatives, emphasizing the preservation and protection of Armenian cultural, historical, and religious sites in Artsakh, while highlighting the ongoing destruction of these vulnerable sites, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly).


"We welcome Representative Schiff's bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Blinken, which underscores the critical importance of preserving Armenian cultural, historical, and religious sites in Artsakh," said Assembly Congressional Relations Director Mariam Khaloyan. "Azerbaijan's ongoing genocidal policy is reflected in the systematic destruction of Armenian cultural heritage sites. We urge the Administration to take decisive action to hold Azerbaijan accountable and to prevent further loss of our cultural identity."


The letter urged the Administration to "take swift action" and cited Cornell University's Caucasus Heritage Watch (CHW) stating that "Azerbaijan was responsible for the destruction of 98 percent of Armenian cultural heritage sites in the Nakhchivan exclave between 1997 and 2011...with the Azerbaijan military offensive against Artsakh in September 2023, there is already evidence Azerbaijan is continuing its strategy of erasing Armenian culture within and around this region as well."


The letter highlighted Azerbaijan's recent reconstruction of the St. John the Baptist Church, (also known as Kanach Zham/Green Church) located in Shushi as "an example of the quiet destruction of sites that have significant value to Armenians...these activities are not benign and ultimately result in the erasure of Armenian culture and a systematic cleansing of the region of its historic Armenian roots."


The Armenian cultural heritage sites in Artsakh, numbering almost 500, have significant value globally, as exemplified by UNESCO naming Armenian "khachkars" on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which is "an indication of the significant cultural value of these artifacts."


The letter also noted that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a provisional measure in December 2021 due to the "credible risk of further destruction and potential erasure of Armenian cultural heritage from the region," which calls on Azerbaijan to refrain from 'suppressing the Armenian language, destroying Armenian cultural heritage or otherwise eliminating the existence of the historical Armenian cultural presence.' In the aftermath of Azerbaijan's military attack in Artsakh, the ICJ issued another provisional measure in November 2023 and called on Azerbaijan to "adhere to its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by taking 'all necessary measures to prevent and punish acts of vandalism and desecration affecting Armenian cultural heritage, including but not limited to churches and other places of worship, monuments, landmarks, cemeteries and artefacts.'


The letter concluded with requesting the Department of State "do more to prevent Azerbaijan's actions" and to raise these concerns when the Administration meets with Azerbaijani officials.


"We urge the Department of State to ensure that all U.S. diplomats prioritize this issue by raising the destruction of Armenian cultural heritage at every meeting with officials at all levels of the government of Azerbaijan...it is vital that the Administration calls for an immediate cessation of Azerbaijani activities that would eradicate the rich history and culture of the Armenian people. These sites must be protected."


The letter was signed by Representatives Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Scott Peters (D-CA), Katie Porter (D-CA), Linda Sanchez (D-CA), Adam Schiff (D-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), John Larson (D-CT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Sanford Bishop, Jr. (D-GA), Sean Casten (D-IL), Danny Davis (D-IL), Jonathan Jackson (D-IL), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Lori Trahan (D-MA), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Andy Kim (D-NJ), Rob Menendez (D-NJ), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Susie Lee (D-NV), Dina Titus (D-NV), Grace Meng (D-NY), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Susan Wild (D-PA), Gabe Amo (D-RI), Seth Magaziner (D-RI), Greg Casar (D-TX), and Donald Beyer (D-VA).


Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.


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NR# 2024-23

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