Azerbaijan has developed a project to turn Surb Hambardzum Church in Berdzor into a mosque, Hovik Avanesov, head of Stepanakert University's Center for Caucasian Studies, told NEWS.am.
He said the Azerbaijani organization Public Association for Monument Protection also published a photo of the project. According to the project, the domes and the bell tower will be dismantled and two minarets will be attached instead. "The project was approved by the order of Azerbaijani President Aliyev. Aliyev gave such an order when he was on another illegal visit to the occupied Hadrut region. Their main goal is to eliminate the Armenian cultural heritage in all the occupied Armenian settlements. Churches and institutions of cultural value built in the period of independence, which cannot be albanized, are turned into a mosque or other structures by Aliyev's order," the head of the Center said. Hovik Avanesov highlighted that this is a clear war crime.
"Given the fact that under all international conventions, the destruction or transformation of such heritage into other structures is considered not only cultural genocide, but also a war crime. A similar fate threatens the chapel in Aghavno, and all the historical and cultural heritage that remains in the occupied territories," Avanesov noted. According to Hovik Avanesyan, the only way to stop this process carried out by Azerbaijan is to appeal to international structures. "The way out is for serious international messages to be applied, or perhaps through negotiations, Russian peacekeepers to set up an observation point here to prevent the church from being turned into a mosque or destroyed."
The church was built 1996-98.