BY FR. GAREGIN HAMBARDZUMYAN
An international conference on the “Culture in Conflict: South Caucasus Today” was held in Vienna, Austria on May 13 and 14. Held at the Vienna Museum of Historical Arts, the conference focused on the issues of protecting and preserving Artsakh’s cultural heritage. The event was organized under the patronage of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and the Austrian Committee of Mother See’s Office for Artsakh Spiritual-Cultural Heritage Issues.
During the conference, the speakers emphasized that in the course of the 2020 War, and since November 9, numerous cases of destruction and distortion of Christian Armenian cultural sites, by Azerbaijan, has been registered in the occupied territories of Artsakh, which demonstrate the Azerbaijani state policy of eliminating any Armenian cultural traces.
Evidence of this criminal policy brought forth by Azerbaijan was presented in the form of documentary materials: satellite photos, videos, etc., which undeniably affirm the systemic vandalism of Armenian cultural heritage and to demand international condemnation and prevention of these crimes in defense of the Christian heritage of world culture.
Dr. Jasmine Dum-Tragut, the head of the Austrian committee of the Mother See’s Office for Artsakh Spiritual-Cultural Heritage Issues delivered welcoming remarks at the conference.
The speakers presented various initiatives for the protection of cultural heritage. A reference was made to the United Nations International Court of Justice in 2021. According to the decision made in December 2010, Azerbaijan intends to abandon its policy of destroying the Armenian cultural heritage in Artsakh. The speakers also presented international and Armenian initiatives that serve to preserve that heritage and bring awareness to issues concerning the topic.
As a co-organizer of the conference, Blue Shield Austrian Committee chair Karl Habsburg-Lothringen criticized Azerbaijan’s actions and considered the exchange of international experience of cultural heritage preservation skills of the representatives of Armenian culture, as well as representatives of the army, to be important. He also noted that work is underway to open a Blue Shield office in Armenia, which will provide an opportunity for this international organization to help protect Armenian cultural sites and heritage.
His Grace Bishop Tiran Petrosyan, the Pontifical Legate of the Armenian-Apostolic Church for Central Europe and Scandinavia, conveyed a message from His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians at the conference. Messages were also delivered by Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, the Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, Bishop Vrtanes Abrahamyan, the Primate of Artsakh Diocese, Very Rev. Garegin Hambardzumyan, the Director of Mother See’s Office for Artsakh Spiritual-Cultural Heritage Issues.
Armen Papikyan, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Armenia to Austria, also addressed participants.
Among the speakers were four participants from Armenia, including Raffi Kortoshian, Deputy Director of the Research on Armenian Architecture Foundation, and Ani Avagyan, Executive director of Armenian Heritage Foundation.
Matenadaran, the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts was presented by Sona Baloyan, senior specialist in international relations.
Film director Seda Grigoryan presented “Cultural Conflict,” a documentary film depicting an episode of cultural genocide in Nakhichevan and drawing parallels with the current situation of endangered cultural sites in Artsakh.
Prior to the conference, an exhibition entitled “Culture in Conflict: Artsakh Armenian Cultural Heritage” took place in Salzburg from May 11 to 14, during which manuscripts, printed books, and other interesting materials kept in the library of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Vienna were displayed.
Fr. Garegin Hambardzumyan is a Priest and Dean of the Gevorkian Theological Seminary of Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.