Author: Nigar ALIYEVA
Military actions to liberate the lands of Garabagh ended. The Azerbaijani army led by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, President Ilham Aliyev achieved a brilliant victory over the Armenian aggressors and restored justice violated several decades ago. It is no secret that all these years all Azerbaijanis have dreamt of the return of Garabagh. Refugees and internally displaced persons hoped for regaining their lost homes. All 44 days we have been closely following the reports of the Ministry of Defense, admired the professionalism of our military, could not hide tears of joy watching the liberated cities and villages from the photo and video footage. Without exception, all of us watched with horror the barbaric destructions of Armenians on our lands. Armenians did not hesitate to destroy the residential buildings, arable lands, mosques and churches, schools and museums, the once flourishing city of Aghdam, which France24 compared to the Hiroshima of the Caucasus.
Certainly, everything will be restored, grown and built again with love and care for the native land. While the future of administrative and residential buildings, lakes, rivers and forests does not cause any concern, unfortunately the same will not be true for the lost exhibits of the cultural heritage of the people of Azerbaijan.
It is no accident that the city of Shusha is considered a sacred symbol of Azerbaijan. It is a real depository of unique talents, a treasury of the Azerbaijani culture.
After the end of hostilities, the Ministry of Culture began fixing and document the state of all monuments destroyed by Armenians during the years of occupation. The acting Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan Anar Kerimov posted a video on his Twitter account showing the dilapidated house-museum of the famous Azerbaijani opera singer Bulbul (Murtuza Mammadov) in Shusha. He noted that "the house-museum was once a cultural and artistic centre of Shusha." It was...
There were several such landmark museums in Shusha. For example, the mausoleum built in 1982 for the Azerbaijani poet and statesman, the vizier of the Garabagh Khanate in the 18th century Molla Panah Vagif, the mansion of Khurshidbanu Natavan, the daughter of the last Garabagh khan Mehdigulu Javanshir and granddaughter of Ibrahim-Khalil khan. The mansion is an architectural monument. Once belonged to the outstanding poetess, the sovereign of the minds greatly admired by Alexander Dumas, the building now lies in ruins. In 1985, UNESCO celebrated the 100th anniversary of Uzeyir Hajibeyov. Guests from many countries visited Hajibeyov's house-museum in Shusha, which also hosted part of the anniversary events. According to experts, about 1,700 exhibits were available in the museum, including Hajibeyov’s memorabilia from his childhood and student years, photographs of his relatives and family members, manuscripts of the composer’s first works, etc. It was possible to save only 136 exhibits from the rich heritage of Maestro during the Armenian aggression. The rest, like the house-museum itself, was destroyed. Exhibits from Bulbul’s house-museum in Shusha are also lost forever...
While some representatives of the "cultural" community of world express their concerns about the fate of supposedly Armenian (in fact, Albanian) churches in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan continues to confront courageously and stoically a monstrous reality – the destruction of the cultural and the historical heritage of its people.
In 1980, it was planned to open the Garabagh branch of the Nizami Ganjavi Azerbaijan Literature Museum of the National Academy of Sciences in the palace of Garabagh khans, in Natavan’s house-museum. The first director of the new branch was a scientist, Candidate of Philological Sciences (research doctorate), fellow of the USSR Writers' Union Namig Babayev, who gathered young talented professionals for future scientific works. The team also began to collect materials related to the life and works of writers and poets of the 19th century in Shusha. It was planned to create an exhibition from these materials for the new museum, such as personal belongings, manuscripts and books.
However, after 1992, the bronze busts of Natavan, Uzeyir Hajibeyov and Bulbul were dismantled and taken to Georgia for scrap, where they were bought by the Azerbaijani authorities. A bust of Natavan with traces of bullets and a broken thumb is on display in the open air of the Museum of Art in Baku.
We asked the cultural attaché of the Azerbaijani Embassy in the Russian Federation, PhD. Nigar Akhundova how she, the successor of the famous Shusha family of the Aghayevs, feels when she sees the results of the long-term occupation of her native land.
“Shusha has a special place in the heart of every Azerbaijani. As the saying goes, there is no Garabagh without Shusha, and there is no Azerbaijan without Garabagh. We yet to know the real scale of the losses. But one thing is clear: they are colossal. Museums of Natavan, Uzeyir Hajibeyov, Bulbul were plundered and destroyed during the first Garabagh war. Obviously, the list of artefacts has grown significantly during these years. In all the liberated territories, the enemy left ashes and traces of monstrous vandalism, cruelty and misanthropy,” Nigar Akhundova said.
“We have a sad experience of returning our museum artefacts sold to Georgia as scrap and brought back later by our authorities. What should we do now to prevent similar cases from happening again?”
“I am sure that an expert commission will be created at the state level, which will thoroughly study the problem and present its results to the world community. As to the exceptional significance of Shusha for the history, musical culture, literature, the formation of national identity of Azerbaijan, it is our duty to restore the historical appearance of the city instead of building new high-rise buildings or some giant structures there. The Shusha plateau is not so large, it is limited. So every square centimetre of the location must be treated very carefully and consciously. Unfortunately, from what I could see on social networks, Armenians have constructed new high-rise buildings there, which look like a new micro-district. It is unacceptable! I really hope that competent and talented Azerbaijani architects will be involved in the restoration works in Shusha, who, on the one hand, perfectly know and feel the national specifics, and on the other hand, have state-of-the-art tools and know how to make the city better. This also applies to the cities of Aghdam, Fuzuli as well, but in Shusha every step must be coordinated with the chief architect of the city. Every step!”
“Sure, the city needs to return its former beauty. But what about the restoration of museums?”
“Of course, the museums of Shusha will be rebuilt. The exhibits will return to where they once belogned. We will definitely employ the new achievements of museum design in the restoration works. But the exteriors should be as close as possible to their original appearance.”
“Are there plans to conduct a legal assessment of Armenian vandalism? Is it possible to claim compensation for material damage caused to our cultural heritage?”
“We have finally returned to Shusha... Our army entered the city without artillery, carrying out an operation unprecedented in its audacity and bravery. What we can see from the photo and video footage is depressing. The buildings are destroyed, mosques and cemeteries are desecrated, the historical centre of the city is unrecognisable... Who will be responsible for all this? Who will reimburse financial losses and expensive restoration works? Without a doubt, out expert community and the authorities will calculate the damages and present the bill to the enemy. But we have suffered not only material, but also huge moral damages. Who will be able to pay these losses, who will be able to return to us 30 years that we had lived without Shusha? President Ilham Aliyev said that Garabagh will be a blooming paradise. We trust our president and have no doubt that it will be so. But the evil should not go unpunished. The criminals should be held accountable for what they did.”
“We know that your family has a special connection with Shusha...”
“That's right, and I have a personal dream: to find the house of my great-grandfather Mirza Hasan-bey Aghayev, where my grandfather Huseyn-bey and his brother Ahmed-bey Aghayev, a famous philosopher, publicist, public figure, member of the two parliaments (ADR and Turkey) grew up. For many years, I have been collecting documents, photographs, books related to his name. I hope that all these materials will find their rightful place in the house-museum of Ahmed-bey Aghayev (Aghaoglu), whose life is one of the brightest pages of Azerbaijani history and, in particular, the city of Shusha.”
“Thank you very much!”
So, what have we lost during the occupation? Before the occupation, there were 170 architectural monuments and 160 ancient art monuments in Shusha, including the Shusha Fortress, the castles of Ibrahim-Khalil Khan and his daughter Gara Boyukhanim, the palace of the Garabagh khans, Natavan’s house-museum, mansion of General Mehmandarov, who was one of the defenders of Port Arthur during the Russian-Japanese war, house of the poet and artist Mir Mohsun Navvab, house-museum of the outstanding composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov, house-museum of Bulbul, Vagif’s mausoleum, the Govkhar Agha mosque and many others.
8 museums, 31 libraries, 17 clubs, 8 houses of culture, 25 secondary schools, 40 medical institutions, 241 historical monuments were destroyed and plundered in Shusha, including the valuable items from the Shusha museums, rare Garabagh carpets, items of applied art, archaeological finds and documents. The scale of losses is heart-breaking! To paraphrase the words of Nigar Akhundova, we believe that under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, all perpetrators of the cultural genocide against Garabagh will be held accountable for both the material and moral damages. And the gardens will bloom in Garabagh again.