Satellite Images Show Disappearance of Armenian Artifacts in Azerbaijan

Satellite Images Show Disappearance of Armenian Artifacts in Azerbaijan

A high-resolution satellite image of a medieval Armenian cemetery in Azerbaijan taken in September 2003 shows hundreds of khachkars, intricate 15th and 16th century burial monuments. In a satellite image from May 2009, however, the khachkars are missing, suggesting that they were either destroyed or removed.

A comparison of the images by analysts from the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program found evidence of significant destruction and changes in the grade of the cemetery’s terrain. The image from September 2003 shows rocky and uneven terrain, as well as shadows cast by the khachkars, while the May 2009 image shows a much flatter landscape and the khachkars’ absence.

“As can be seen in the 2009 image, the appearance of additional dirt roads that traverse the cemetery and visibly smoother terrain suggest that the khachkars may have been destroyed or removed by earthmoving equipment,” said Susan Wolfinbarger, senior program associate for the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, a part of the Science and Human Rights Program. “Our analysis of the satellite evidence is consistent with that of observers on the ground who have attested to the destruction of the khachkars and the leveling of the terrain in the Djulfa cemetery.”

The geospatial team determined the exact location of the cemetery using a map hand-drawn by those with local[PHOTOGRAPH] _name_ knowledge of the area. It is located in Djulfa, part of Nakhchivan, an Azerbaijani exclave near the Iranian border.

Following reports that sledgehammer-wielding Azerbaijani soldiers destroyed hundreds of khachkars, a delegation of European Parliament members were rebuffed when they sought access to the cemetery in May 2006 to conduct a fact-finding mission. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) also observed the phased destruction of the khachkars in Djulfa in reports published in 2003 and 2006-2007.

“Geospatial images allow us to shed light on regions that are not accessible, providing a visualization tool for events or circumstances that are important to bring to the public’s attention but which, without some visual evidence, are less likely to attract attention and interest,” said Jessica Wyndham, senior project director of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program.

This post is also available in: ,