Recovering a destroyed Armenian Cemetery

(photograph by Argam Ayvazyan)

In November 2013 Manning Clark House undertook a pilot project to collect photographic and other records of the destroyed Armenian medieval cemetery at Djulfa, Azerbaijan.

The historic cemetery at Djulfa stood until 2006 in the border area between Iran and Nakhichevan, on a hill divided by three valleys, to the west of the ruined city of Jugha. Culturally and historically unique, Djulfa was one of the oldest Christian cemeteries in the world. At its peak it held more than 10,000 ornately carved khachkars (cross-stones), dating from the 15th to the 17th century, alongside ordinary tombstones from the late 6th century. Armenian khachkars are ornately carved with early Christian symbols, ancient texts, flowers and plants – each is totally unique. Of more than 10,000 original Armenian cross-stones (khachkars) once found on the banks of the Arax river at Djulfa, none now remain. From 1998 the cemetery was subjected to systematic wilful destruction by military forces and, between 2005 and 2006, was definitively destroyed. The Armenian Government took numerous steps to alert the international community to the destruction of cultural heritage at Djulfa, including official approaches to UNESCO. In 2006 documentation was submitted to UNESCO by an international parliamentary delegation representing Switzerland, France, Greece, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Scotland. This documentation urged UNESCO to condemn in no uncertain terms the destruction of the cultural sites at Jugha, including the medieval cemetery. The document notes that “given the impossibility of any reconstruction of the destroyed site and its khachkars – now literally pulverised – and in consideration of the fact that under the surface there are still the buried bodies of people to whose memory the former khachkars had been erected, we suggest to transform this gross act of out-spoken hatred into a positive step towards confidence-building and reconciliation.” UNESCO has now included the khachkars on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, but no specific location may be visited in order to gain a real sense of their importance and the significance of their loss to humanity. It was in the spirit of such a positive transformation that Manning Clark House undertook this pilot to gather existing records of the now-destroyed Djulfa cemetery. The long term goal of this pilot study was to gather sufficient materials to form the basis of a virtual reconstruction of the cemetery in the form of a 3D projection. We needed to track down all significant photographic documentation of the cemetery taken prior to its destruction, photograph any surviving stones, photograph the cemetery region (including mountain-scapes and natural flora), and locate copies of any maps or other relevant documentation in Armenia.
This project is continuing as research hosted by the Institute for Social Justice at the Australian Catholic University. You can find more information on this project in our ebook.

1 thought on “Recovering a destroyed Armenian Cemetery

  1. Thank you for your interest in the plight of the Armenians.I have just returned from France and Italy where I stayed with my cousin Sonia Matossian. I am finally learning the History of my late Mothers family , my grandmother Aida Diacono and her
    parents Roberto Diacono and Maria Losco. Names that now have meaning and a historically content . The mystery surrounding my predominately catholic family being born in Egypt and educated in great Britain, a family not keen to discuss the past.


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