Author: Nigar ALIYEVA
It is believed that building is easier than restoring what was destroyed. Perhaps this is true. However, the same principle is not always true for cultural monuments with their value measured in their historical, aesthetic and social significance. Restoring them is not enough in this case. After the liberation of the Azerbaijani lands from the Armenian occupation, it will take many years of painstaking work to restore our lost cultural heritage. The famous architect, Doctor of Art History, Professor Elchin ALIYEV told us about the guiding principles we should use in such a great mission.
"The relevant authorities are involved in analysing and calculating the losses in the previously occupied Azerbaijani territories. When can we expect a complete list of cultural and architectural losses over the 30 years of occupation?"
"Unfortunately, scientists, photographers and specialists cannot work there yet. Therefore, it is too early to talk about a complete list of cultural and architectural losses. We have to scrupulously collect information and photographic materials from what remains in Garabagh today. Professional photography of the shocking facts of the destruction of our heritage would be very useful in this context. After all, the most important thing now is to urgently document the current state of liberated cities, villages, as well as the degree of damage to our cultural and architectural monuments. Photojournalists had to be there with the soldiers to document the ongoing events immediately. Only after fixing these facts and carrying out the detailed measurements we can start to calculate the damage, and appeal to relevant courts for compensation. It will take decades to restore what has been lost so far."
"Do we have the official records of cultural, architectural and religious artefacts of the liberated territories? What is the classification of these monuments? Can you give a few examples?”
"In general, at least 2,500 historical and cultural artefacts of Azerbaijan are known to be in Garabagh and in the adjacent districts with more than 700 of them being the architectural artefacts. According to the official List of Protected Artefacts of History and Culture approved in 2001, there are 7 and 119 architectural artefacts of international and national significance on this territory, respectively.
“Sure enough, this number is unacceptably small if compared with the entire collection of 2,500 items. This is a result of the conscious policy of the then Soviet authorities - to underestimate the importance of monuments in the national republics. Unfortunately, back in 2001, our officials approved this list without the proper investigation. I have a lot of experience travelling in Azerbaijan. During my trips, I found dozens of unique artefacts, which the relevant agencies are not aware of. These items are not included in any lists. So I will not be surprised if there are many more unique architectural monuments in Garabagh."
"How will the destroyed objects in cities and villages be restored. Will they look the same as before or be upgraded to modern standards?"
"In fact, there is no single approach to the restoration of the destroyed villages and cities. It is necessary to consider the degree of destruction, the scale of restoration works, methods of post-war construction and new street layout. While working on my thesis on the reconstruction of the historical centre of Baku, I had a conversation with the professor of the Moscow Architecture Institute Yuri Vladimirovich Ranninsky, who presented four directions for reconstruction. The first one assumes the most accurate reconstruction works with a faithful reproduction of the planning system, volumetric, spatial and artistic characteristics of buildings. The second one is the most accurate reproduction of only the shape of the survived buildings, and the construction of structures that copy the dimensions and contours of the lost buildings without any attempts to recreate their architectural forms. The same approach was used in Cologne due to the lack of the necessary documents for the restoration of buildings. Sometimes this technique is combined with a modern interpretation of facades, where the latter prevails. This is the third approach. The experience of Russian architects is a good example here. Finally, the fourth approach assumes the creation of new buildings on areas freed from ruins and debris ignoring the previous layout and boundaries of buildings. This approach was used during the reconstruction of Dresden after the Second World War.
“We yet to know how to proceed. I think our approach should be the restoration of historical buildings using modern technologies and with the mandatory adaptation to modern needs.”
"Recently, Elbay Kazimzade shared his views on the competition of architectural projects for the liberated cities of Azerbaijan. His televised interview was accompanied with the fragments of projects including the images of modern structures and buildings made almost entirely of glass and concrete. Do you think this style is appropriate in small towns built earlier in a low-rise oriental style? It is clear that it is probably not necessary to achieve a complete restoration original appearance. However, what design would be relevant for Aghdam or Jabrayil?"
"This is definitely a wrong approach to the architectural restoration of our cities and villages. I once saw a project that many people liked. The idea was to build modern skyscrapers in Shusha with the Upper Govhar Agha Mosque against the background of high-rise glass buildings. I strongly disagree with this idea! We should restore the historical type of buildings innate to this particular region, the cities and villages of Garabagh. I think it is necessary to ensure not only the restoration of individual architectural monuments or buildings, but the general layout of streets, buildings and the atmosphere of the liberated villages, to preserve the number of storeys, the usual silhouettes and planning of ancient streets and quarters instead of building modern glass buildings, even if they look beautiful..."
"We still remember the typical building design in small provincial towns of Azerbaijan of the Soviet times. We can see concrete five-story buildings on the footage from the liberated Shusha, which look ugly and depressing. Is it planned to replace them with modern housing?"
"Such buildings deprived the provincial towns of unique differences becoming typical and similar to each other. History gives us a unique chance to restore the original historical appearance of these areas, to make these cities and towns much more beautiful and comfortable. I believe that the remnants of dilapidated Soviet housing should be replaced with a more “humane” modern architecture. The preserved buildings should be temporarily reconstructed and adapted for housing until they are completely with new ones in the future."
"Is there a single concept for the construction and restoration of the destroyed cities of Garabagh? Are there plans to build, say industrial facilities on the returned territories?"
"I do not have necessary information but I think that our relevant departments have long been developing master plans for the restoration of the occupied cities. After all, we never doubted their liberation in proper time. I am sure that there are such concepts. In addition, we have a dedicated design institute Azərdövlətlayihə with the hundreds of talented architects, who can offer creative ideas. I would like to be involved in their public discussions.
“As for industrial facilities, Aghdam has been one of the ancient and historically rich cities of Azerbaijan. The city played an instrumental role in the scientific and economic life of the country. In addition to architectural monuments, including the remarkable medieval monuments of the Gutlu Musa Mausoleum, Khanoglu Mausoleum, the beautiful 18th century mosque, the palace of the Garabagh Khan Panahali and his family, the Shahbulag Fortress, Aghdam has been known for its machine-tool plant and the manufacture of aerospace and communications devices. There was also a plant for the repair of tractors and cars, a cannery, factories for building materials, agricultural machinery, electrical equipment, a meat processing plant. All these enterprises need to be restored!”
"As you said in your previous interviews, some cultural artefacts need to restore their original appearance, while some are better not to restore but to rebuild from scratch. What is the reason for this different approach?"
"I believe it is necessary to apply an individual approach to each specific case, which requires taking difficult decisions. For example, the minaret of the Saatly Mosque in Shusha was made of coloured baked bricks. It was completely destroyed along with the main building of the mosque. Is it possible to restore the building, to build it using the techniques of the 18th century? I’m not sure. Or take the famous Mineral Water Gallery built in 1976 in Shusha by architect Jafar Giyasi, a representative of the Soviet modernism. The building was interesting for its construction technologies new for that time - the use of concrete and glazing, which was discordant with the surrounding landscape however. I think it's better not to restore the gallery in its original form.
“I think that such controversial issues must be discussed with specialists as part of an advisory body responsible for the restoration works in Garabagh. It is necessary to restore the identity of destroyed architectural artefacts in exceptional cases, based on the importance of the object. Therefore, the Saatli Mosque can be rebuilt in a modern interpretation, preserving the architectural image of the old building, without copying it mechanically.”
"Is there a mechanism for the return of lost, stolen, exported rarities, museum exhibits that were exported and can be sold outside Azerbaijan?"
"All these actions grossly violate the 1954 Hague Convention On the Protection of Cultural Monuments in the Event of Armed Conflict. Armenia assumed obligations under this convention, which prohibit the aggressor from carrying out illegal trade of cultural properties, samples of archaeological excavations in the occupied territories, exporting them, changing or destroying the features of historical or scientific evidence. Therefore, information about our architectural monuments, museums and their exhibits, rarities, available on the territory of Garabagh before the occupation, is of great importance. Yet we have problems in this case. Since I have received numerous calls from the previous leadership of the Ministry of Culture of Azerbaijan to provide them with the list of architectural artefacts and photographs I have say of the Shamakhi district, I assume we have no special archives or records on the artefacts of Garabagh either. I wonder if the ministry had accurate lists of lost exhibits from the museums of Garabagh and the adjacent territories. If not, then it is necessary to hold certain officials accountable for their criminal acts of negligence. I can imagine the difficulties we are going to have in the future."
"How long will it take to restore the destroyed cities of Azerbaijan, excluding the clearance of the territories? How much funds will this require?"
"The most important thing is not to rush. We have been walking towards this day for long thirty years. I think the restoration of these territories is a matter of decades. To be honest, I am anxiously waiting for the start of large-scale works. The quality of these works will be difficult to control properly. The restoration of Garabagh is a test for the civil maturity of our nation. In this sacred deed of reviving the native lands, stained with the blood of thousands of Azerbaijani soldiers and civilians expelled from there several decades ago, it is necessary to do everything with the greatest care and without haste."