“Conflict Resolution and the Invention of History in Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

25 May 2009

A roundtable entitled “Conflict Resolution and the Invention of History in Azerbaijan and Armenia” took place in Brussels, involving Dr Ruben Galishian, a British-Armenian historian as a guest speaker.

At the roundtable, Dr Galishian presented his recent book: The Invention of History: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Showcasing of Imagination. The roundtable was organized jointly by AGBU Europe and Inside Europe and took place on the premises of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

The roundtable aimed to highlight the mounting propaganda campaign in Azerbaijan against Armenia, which involves the rewriting of history and the large-scale destruction of architectural heritage in the country. The roundtable was conducted according to Chatham House rules.

This campaign is of serious immediate concern because it is building up a deep-seated hostility towards Armenians among the Azeri population, based on a fanciful rewriting of history, thus increasing obstacles to conflict resolution. But it is also of much concern because the propaganda is accompanied by an extensive campaign of destruction of Armenian historical monuments in Azerbaijan.

This campaign of destruction is best known by the destruction, in 2005, of the 17th century Djulfa Cemetary. A European Parliament delegation was denied permission to enter Azerbaijan to investigate the case at the time. Galichian’s research, furthermore, has revealed that all the 1000 or so Armenian churches that existed in the Nakhitchevan region of Azerbaijan have been destroyed.

These destructions allow Azerbaijani authorities to deny the historical presence of Armenians on their territory and even in the South Caucasus as a whole. This is part of a radically revisionist history whose effects Galichian fears may come to be felt in the field of politics or even on the battlefield.

There are parallels between this process and the policy that Turkey long conducted where Armenians had once lived. Armenians have witnessed the eradication, in Turkey, of much of the considerable heritage (mostly buildings) that existed in that country, and of a parallel rewriting of history to remove all traces of the Armenians. In contrast to Azerbaijan however, freedom of expression is increasingly a reality in Turkey, where many have taken the opportunity to acknowledge this destruction and are now seeking to preserve, recover or remember what remains of Armenian heritage.

Invoking the spirit of the European institutions, several participants at the meeting agreed that that it is irresponsible for a government to foment hostility, and that they should instead prepare their public opinion for peace.

This was followed by a debate on this difficult subject. Participants included individuals from EU institutions, diplomats, and members of the expert and NGO communities, including Azeris and Armenians. After the roundtable, Dr Galichian met individually with a number of EU officials to further discuss his research.