Over 100,000 ethnically Armenian people have fled from their homes in the Republic of Artsakh within the last two weeks as Artsakh leader Samvel Shahramanyan announced that the state will cease to exist as of January 1, 2024. Azerbaijani forces took over the region, also known by the Russian name Nagorno-Karabakh, in a deadly military offensive that commenced on September 19, following a nine-month blockade imposed on the only road channel connecting the territory to mainland Armenia.
Azerbaijani forces are also actively expunging any records of Armenian identity and history through the destruction of cultural landmarks and artifacts across the regions of Azerbaijan, including the newly conquered Artsakh region, putting one of the territory’s most symbolic monuments at risk of demolition. Among the many landmarks at risk is “We Are Our Mountains” (1967), referred to colloquially as “Tatik-Papik” (“Grandmother-Grandfather” in Eastern Armenian), an enormous mountainside sculpture just outside of Stepanakert, the capital city of the Republic of Artsakh.
Designed and built during the Soviet period from red volcanic tufa stone by Armenian sculptor Sargis Baghdasaryan and architect Yuri Hakobyan, the monument depicts an old man and woman emerging from the earth, symbolizing the intrinsic connection between the people of Artsakh and the mountainous terrain they inhabit. Prior to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020, “We Are Our Mountains” was a popular tourism destination and a point of pride for Artsakhi Armenians who would visit casually or host important milestone events such as weddings at the site.
A photo of an Azerbaijani soldier standing in front of “We Are Our Mountains” with the Azerbaijani flag pinned to the monument began circulating last Friday, September 29 — one day after Samvel Shahramanyan’s announcement on the dissolution of the government of Artsakh — sparking outrage and upset among mainland and diasporic Armenians.
With the grim prospects surrounding the revered and symbolic monument’s future, an international humanitarian organization called All For Armenia has launched a petition to field global support for its preservation and protection.
In an email to Hyperallergic, All For Armenia’s director Serena Hajjar Bakunts said that the best possible outcome for protecting “We Are Our Mountains” would be to secure a UNESCO No Touch policy order on it.
“All For Armenia, in collaboration with other organizations, is currently reaching out to UNESCO and various contacts at museums and similar art-centric institutions around the world in the hopes of garnering international support for this effort,” she wrote.
“It is important to note that Armenians have lived, prayed, and created in Nagorno-Karabakh for millennia,” Hajjar Bakunts continued. “Now, with Azerbaijan’s occupation of the final remaining Armenian-held portion of this historically Armenian land, countless cultural landmarks and artifacts are at risk of destruction.”
The monument is especially at risk considering Azerbaijan’s well-documented history of demolishing Armenian cultural and spiritual sites across the country, being accused by scholars of committing “cultural genocide.” Since the 2005 demolition of an Armenian necropolis in the city of Julfa, Azerbaijan has effectively obliterated 98% of Armenian cultural sites from its southwestern enclave Nakhchivan, which had a large Armenian population well into the Soviet period that was later expelled by Azerbaijani forces in the 1990s during the first war in Artsakh/Karabakh. The Caucasus Heritage Watch’s satellite imagery continuously documents Azerbaijani-inflicted destruction and damages to a variety of sites in Artsakh and in various parts of Azerbaijan including towns, cemeteries, and ancient monasteries of the Armenian Apostolic Church since the 2020 ceasefire agreement following the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.
Nearly all of Artsakh’s civilians have departed the region in fear of violent repercussions by Azerbaijani troops while Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan characterized the events as “a direct act of ethnic cleansing,” an assessment agreed to by the Lemkin Institute and other human rights observers. Regarding the situation in Artsakh, the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, told Reuters that “it’s obviously a genocide.” Hikmet Hajiyev, diplomatic advisor to authoritarian Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev, denied allegations of “ethnic cleansing” in an interview with Agence Free-Presse last month.
Editor’s note 10/6/23 3:45pm EST: This article has been updated with comment from All For Armenia.