WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Ambassador Designate to Azerbaijan Anne Derse responded to concerns raised by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) regarding Azerbaijan’s destruction of the over millennia old Djulfa Armenian cemetery in Nakhichevan, but refrained from pledging any concrete commitment to investigate the matter, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Submitting a written response to questions by Sen. Boxer relayed during her May 12th Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing, Derse noted that the Department of State is “urging the relevant Azerbaijani authorities to investigate the allegations of desecration of cultural monuments in Nakhichevan and take appropriate measures to prevent any desecration of cultural monuments. Armenia and Azerbaijan are both members of UNESCO (and OSCE), and Azerbaijan has raised these issues in those organizations. We have encouraged Armenia and Azerbaijan to work with UNESCO to investigate this incident. If I am confirmed, and if such issues arise during my tenure, I will communicate our concerns to the Government of Azerbaijan and pursue appropriate activities in support of U.S. interests.”
Sen. Boxer had specifically asked if the Ambassador Designate would “visit the cemetery site and commit [herself] to investigating the demolition of this unique cemetery.”
“We want to thank Senator Boxer for raising Azerbaijan’s desecration of the Djulfa cemetery with Ambassador Designate Derse,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We were deeply troubled by the silence of the U.S. Embassy on this issue during the tenure of her predecessor, Reno Harnish, and remain hopeful that, despite her evasive response, Anne Derse will prove a more vocal and effective advocate for the core American values of tolerance and respect for cultural heritage. She can start off on the right foot by personally visiting Djulfa during her first month in office.”
In December of 2005, approximately 200 Azerbaijani forces were videotaped using sledgehammers to demolish the Armenian cemetery in Djulfa, a sacred site of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The cemetery dates back to the 7th Century and once was home to as many as 10,000 khatchkars (intricately carved stone-crosses). An on-line video of the destruction can be viewed at:
The ANCA has widely distributed DVDs documenting the destruction, educated Congressional offices about this desecration, and worked in concert with ANCA affiliates around the world to protest Azerbaijan’s worsening anti-Armenian behavior. The Congressional Armenian Caucus, led by Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), has formally condemned Azerbaijan’s actions, as have Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-CA). On February 16, 2006, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning Azerbaijan’s destruction of the cemetery and demanding that Azerbaijan allow a European Parliament delegation to survey the site.
Derse also responded to a series of questions by Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) earlier this week on belligerent statements and war rhetoric by Azerbaijani leaders, as well as on the status of Nagorno Karabagh peace talks.
Anne Derse is a Foreign Service Officer with more than a quarter century of experience. She most recently served as Director for Biodefense Policy at the Homeland Security Council. Her prior postings have included service as Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and at the U.S. Mission to the European Union. Ms. Derse also has held posts in the Philippines, South Korea, Belgium, and Singapore, among other locations.
The complete text of Sen. Boxer’s questions and Derse’s responses are provided below.
In April 2006, the London Times reported on the destruction of a historic Armenian cemetery in Azerbaijan. According to the article, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a London-based NGO, found that only a “dry patch of earth,” stood where there were once thousands of carved headstones that dated from the 9th to 16th centuries.
The European Parliament is undertaking a fact-finding mission to investigate the allegations of attacks on cultural sites. However, despite pleas from the Armenian American community, U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish did not visit the cemetery site or respond to requests for an investigation of the cemetery’s destruction, which was reportedly captured on videotape.
If confirmed as the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, would you visit the cemetery site and commit yourself to investigating the demolition of this unique cemetery?
In addition, would you work with officials in Azerbaijan to establish means for protecting other ancient monuments and religious symbols from meeting a similar fate?
The United States is a strong proponent of preserving world cultural heritage, and we are aware that concerns have been raised that historic Armenian gravesites in Julfa, located in the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, have been desecrated by Azerbaijani forces.
We are urging the relevant Azerbaijani authorities to investigate the allegations of desecration of cultural monuments in Nakhichevan and take appropriate measures to prevent any desecration of cultural monuments. Armenia and Azerbaijan are both members of UNESCO (and OSCE), and Azerbaijan has raised these issues in those organizations. We have encouraged Armenia and Azerbaijan to work with UNESCO to investigate this incident.
If I am confirmed, and if such issues arise during my tenure, I will communicate our concerns to the Government of Azerbaijan and pursue appropriate activities in support of U.S. interests.
Azerbaijan, along with Turkey, continues to carry out their blockade of Armenia, despite calls from the United States and international community for regional cooperation and economic integration.
The Department of State has estimated that the blockade is responsible for inflating Armenia’s transportation costs by up to 35 percent. It is also threatening the development of the country’s free-market economy. Furthermore, the blockade is preventing the opening of an important East-West trade corridor, one that would also be beneficial for the United States.
As Ambassador, how would you work toward ending Azerbaijan’s harmful blockade of Armenia and opening up the East-West trade corridor? What steps would you take to promote the United States’ policy of increasing regional cooperation?
As a Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, the U.S. seeks to help Armenia and Azerbaijan achieve a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Until this conflict is resolved, it is unlikely that Azerbaijan and Armenia will normalize economic or diplomatic relations.
That said, the U.S. Government strongly encourages regional integration in the Caucasus. Removing trade barriers would improve regional integration and enhance economic cooperation and development. Regional integration should, of course, include all countries of the region. We have long believed that opening the border between Turkey and Armenia would contribute to the economies of both countries. If confirmed, I will strongly support the Administration’s efforts to pursue regional integration for all countries in the region.