1 Sep 2019
Policies on Cultural Heritage of National Minorities in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia
Introduction: National Minorities and Cultural Heritage in Nation-states
Ethnic and national identities that are constructs of social interaction have been instrumentalized in the modern international system that is based on nation-states. Nation-states are most often built on the ethnocultural affinity of a dominant—either numerically or politically—“core nation” (Brubaker 1996). This has resulted in the framing of other group identities as ethnic or national minorities. In this context, the mismanagement of ethnocultural diversity can lead to inter-group conflict and violence, while the proper management of ethnocultural diversity can lead to dialogue and peaceful coexistence. The management of the cultural heritage, as the body and legacy of the tangible and intangible culture associated with a group, is part and parcel of the management of ethnocultural diversity.
In this paper, we explore the policies on the cultural heritage of national minorities in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The first part of the paper outlines the approaches towards cultural diversity and its management. It also briefly presents the ethnocultural diversity in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia based on the national censuses. The second part explores the existing international and regional standards for the protection of cultural heritage with an emphasis on the heritage of national minorities. These are mostly conventions to which Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are signatories. The final part of the paper presents the current situation in each country, analyzing policy and legal frameworks, reviewing statistical data, identifying challenges, and concluding with recommendations for better diversity management conducive to a culture of peace in the South Caucasus.
Theoretical Approaches Towards Cultural Diversity and Its Management
There are various approaches towards cultural diversity and its management. For example, Srimayee Dam suggests that states are likely to pursue the following policies based on how the nation-state is conceptualized and applied (Dam 2013, 339):
- Culturally neutral (characteristic of nations conceived as civic) policies promote individual rights rather than collective rights, including cultural ones.
- Multiculturalism (also characteristic of nations conceived as civic) recognizes collective rights and promotes the maintenance and development of all group cultures with the hope to win the affinity of all groups to the grand civic nation.
- Assimilation (characteristic of cultural nations) demonstrates the superiority of the culture of the dominant group and attempts to assimilate the minority groups and achieve cultural unity.
- Segregation (characteristic of ethnic nations) also assumes a state of and for the dominant group and its culture; however, minority groups can never become part of the dominant group, and thus, assimilation is not even encouraged.
During the recent decades, the policy debates have been organized around these four approaches, with normative advantages on multiculturalism promoted by Kymlicka in his Politics in the Vernacular: Nationalism, Multiculturalism, Citizenship (2001). The most recent policy debates have even further advanced the stipulations of multiculturalism, developing interculturalism as a policy approach of diversity management. Interculturalism does not simply recognize the collective cultural rights of minority groups; it prioritizes active and equitable interaction between and among all groups over passive tolerance (Ballantyne and Malhi 2017). According to Robert Vachon:
Interculturalism […] is to experience another culture, to accept the truth of the other culture. It is therefore allowing the other culture and its truth to affect me directly, to penetrate me, to change me, to transform me, not only in my answers to a question, but in my very questions, my presuppositions, my myths (Vachon 1998, 42)
The Ethnocultural Diversity and Conflicts in the South Caucasus
The collapse of the Soviet Union was accompanied by the rise of nationalism in the states striving for and building independence. One explanation for this has been that the Soviet Union had oppressed the nation-building processes in these countries, producing a “deep freeze” effect (Pamir 1997). Another explanation has been that the rise of nationalism was a response to the vacuum left after the collapse of communist rule (Pamir 1997). Rogers Brubaker argues that the Soviet regime indeed repressed nationalism, but at the same time, it institutionalized territorial nationhood and ethnic nationality as fundamental social categories, and in doing so, it inadvertently created a political field supremely conducive to nationalism (Brubaker, 1996).
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the three ex-Soviet republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia found themselves involved in violent conflicts framed both as interstate and intrastate. Georgia, the most ethnically diverse country in the South Caucasus, has faced violent conflicts with its Soviet-time autonomies of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while neighboring countries Armenia and Azerbaijan have been involved in a violent conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. In all cases, ethnicity was instrumentalized in the conflicts, and organized ethnic cleansing took place.
The institutionalization of ethnicity in the Soviet Union, the rise of nationalism during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the instrumentalization of ethnicity in political conflicts have been the reasons why the conflicts in the South Caucasus have been framed ethnically. The South Caucasus countries have a track record of mismanagement of diversity beyond the conflicts. According to the latest censuses in the three countries, the number of people self-identifying themselves beyond the dominant identity has been steadily decreasing (National Statistics Office of Georgia 2016, National Statistical Service of the Republic of Armenia 2011, State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2009, Demoscope 1989).
|Country||Percentage of national minorities in the population|
|Armenia||1.9% (2011)||2.1% (2001)||6.7 % (1989)|
|Azerbaijan||7.1% (2009)||7.9% (1999)||17.3 (1989)|
|Georgia||13.2% (2014)||16.2% (2002)||29.9% (1989)|
International and Regional Standards for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
This section reviews the international and regional organizations and their documents in the domain of cultural heritage with an emphasis on the heritage of national minorities. In particular, two international and regional bodies are explored—the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Council of Europe (CoE). Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are all member states of these organizations.
UNESCO Standards for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
UNESCO was the first international body to acknowledge the significance of the protection of cultural heritage worldwide. UNESCO has so far developed seven cultural conventions (Conventions n.d.).
- Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1972 (Armenia [notification of succession], Azerbaijan [ratification], Georgia [notification of succession]);
- Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003 (Armenia [acceptance], Azerbaijan [ratification], Georgia [ratification]);
- Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in 2005 (Armenia [accession], Azerbaijan [accession], Georgia [approval]);
- Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in 2001 (none of the three countries have signed);
- Fighting Against the Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property in 1970 (Armenia [notification of succession], Azerbaijan [ratification], Georgia [notification of succession]);
- Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 1954 (Armenia [notification of succession], Azerbaijan [ratification], Georgia [notification of succession]);
- Protection of Copyright and Neighboring Rights in 1952 and 1971 (none of the three countries have signed).
Among these conventions, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is the primary international document acknowledging the importance of cultural heritage protection and obliging the parties to do their utmost in this regard. The preamble of the convention emphasizes the importance of cultural heritage regardless of its group belonging or association:
“considering that the existing international conventions, recommendations and resolutions concerning cultural and natural property demonstrate the importance, for all the peoples of the world [emphasis added], of safeguarding this unique and irreplaceable property, to whatever people [emphasis added], it may belong” (UNESCO 1972)
The Convention emphasizes the obligations of the state regarding all cultural heritage “situated on its territory” (UNESCO 1972). Hence, whether the cultural heritage is associated with any specific group should not play a role in the fulfillment of state obligations.
The Convention is also important in that it defines cultural heritage, albeit its tangible forms only:
- Monuments: architectural works, works of monumental sculpture and painting, elements or structures of an archaeological nature, inscriptions, cave dwellings and combinations of features that are of outstanding universal value in history, art, or science;
- Groups of buildings: Groups of separate or connected buildings that are of outstanding universal value in history, art, or science because of their architecture, their homogeneity, or their place in the landscape;
- Sites: Works of man or the combined works of nature and man, and areas including archaeological sites that are of outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic, ethnological, or anthropological points of view (UNESCO 1972).
The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines and advances the standards of protection of intangible cultural heritage. In particular, Article 2 states that “‘intangible cultural heritage’ means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts, and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage” (UNESCO 2003).
The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage defines and advances the standards of protection of intangible cultural heritage. In particular, Article 2 states that “‘intangible cultural heritage’ means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts, and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage” (UNESCO 2003).
Important among the conventions for the cultural heritage of national minorities is the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which emphasizes the importance of creating “the conditions for cultures to flourish and to freely interact in a mutually beneficial manner.” One of the guiding principles of the Convention is the “principle of equal dignity of and respect for all cultures,” as “the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions presuppose the recognition of equal dignity of and respect for all cultures, including the cultures of persons belonging to minorities and indigenous peoples” (UNESCO 2005).
Apart from the conventions, UNESCO has also developed recommendations and declarations. The 1976 Recommendation on Participation by the People at Large in Cultural Life and Their Contribution to It provides that states should “guarantee the recognition of the equality of cultures, including the cultures of national minorities and of foreign minorities if they exist, as forming part of the common heritage of all mankind, and ensure that they are promoted at all levels without discrimination…” (UNESCO 1976).
The 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity emphasizes the importance of dialogue in cultural diversity. Article 7 of the Declaration states: “[…] heritage in all its forms must be preserved, enhanced and handed on to future generations as a record of human experience and aspirations, so as to foster creativity in all its diversity and to inspire genuine dialogue among cultures” (UNESCO 2001). Meanwhile, Article 7 links human rights and cultural diversity: “The defense of cultural diversity is an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. It implies a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the rights of persons belonging to minorities and those of indigenous peoples (UNESCO 2001).
The 2003 UNESCO Declaration Concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage defines the standards of protection of cultural heritage. Article 6 of the Declaration states: “A State that intentionally destroys or intentionally fails to take appropriate measures to prohibit, prevent, stop, and punish any intentional destruction of cultural heritage of great importance for humanity, whether or not it is inscribed on a list maintained by UNESCO or another international organization, bears the responsibility for such destruction, to the extent provided for by international law” (UNESCO 2003).
Council of Europe Standards for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
In 1954, the CoE adopted the European Cultural Convention, which was ratified by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in 1997. The document promotes mutual understanding among the peoples of Europe and reciprocal appreciation of their cultural diversity. Article 1 of the Convention provides that: “Each Contracting Party shall take appropriate measures to safeguard and to encourage the development of its national contribution to the common cultural heritage of Europe” (Council of Europe 1954).
The 2005 Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society is an important standard-setting document for its signatories and further advances the 1972 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Among the South Caucasus countries, only Armenia and Georgia have ratified the Convention. Article 1 of the Convention stipulates: “The Parties to this Convention agree to take the necessary steps to apply the provisions of this Convention concerning the role of cultural heritage in the construction of a peaceful and democratic society, and in the processes of sustainable development and the promotion of cultural diversity” (Council of Europe 2005). The Convention obliges the member states to design policies and laws in accordance with the stated principles.
Yet another significant contribution from the CoE was the introduction of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) in 1995. The document is the first (if not the only) and the most comprehensive document regarding the protection of the rights of ethnic and national minorities in the region. All three South Caucasus countries have ratified the Convention and are subject to monitoring mechanisms. Article 5 of the Convention provides: “The Parties undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage” (Council of Europe 1995).
The 1992 European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages of Council of Europe is another important document for the protection of intangible cultural heritage (Council of Europe 1992). However, among the South Caucasus countries, only Armenia has ratified the document.
The Council of Europe was the first organization to officially recognize the significance of intercultural dialogue and adopt the theoretical approach of interculturalism, encouraging its member states to put this into practice. The 2008 White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue “Living Together as Equals in Dignity” states that: “Intercultural dialogue encourages the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitudes—particularly the capacity for reflection and the self-critical disposition for life in culturally diverse societies” (Council of Europe 2008).
The Cultural Heritage of National Minorities in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia
This part reviews the current situation regarding the cultural heritage of national minorities in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia by analyzing policy and legal frameworks, reviewing statistical data, identifying challenges, and concluding with recommendations.
By Lusine Kharatyan
The Republic of Armenia is currently the least ethnically diverse country in the South Caucasus. According to the latest census in 2011, around 98% of Armenia’s population is ethnically Armenian. Just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, 93% of the country’s population was ethnically Armenian. During the last two decades of the 20th century, most of the non-Armenian population of the country was Azerbaijani—5.3% of the population identified themselves as Azerbaijani in 1979, and only 2.5% did so in 1989. The drastic decline in the Azerbaijani population happened during the onset of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 1988, while the census was conducted in the fall of 1989.
1.1 The Legal and Institutional Framework in Armenia
The Armenian Constitution states in Article 56, “Right to Preserve National and Ethnic Identity,” that “Everyone shall have the right to preserve his or her national and ethnic identity” and that “persons belonging to national minorities shall have the right to preserve and develop their traditions, religion, language and culture” (National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia 2015). Article 15, “Promotion of Culture, Education and Science, Protection of the Armenian Language and Cultural Heritage” singles out the protection of the cultural heritage conceived as Armenian, stating that “The state shall promote the development of culture, education and science. The Armenian language and cultural heritage shall be under the care and protection of the state” (National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia 2015).
The preservation and development of national and cultural identity is further defined in the Armenian Law on National Minorities, which is currently being amended. The draft law stipulates that “Persons belonging to national minorities have the right to preserve their national and ethnic identity, as well as to preserve and develop their traditions, religion, language, and culture” (Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, 2019). The law also stipulates that “the state and local self-government bodies are implementing programs and activities aimed at creating the conditions for the preservation and development of the traditions, religion, language, and culture of persons belonging to national minorities, as well as promoting intercultural dialogue” (Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia, 2019).
The general policy on culture (and not specifically cultural heritage) is based on the 2002 Law on Fundamentals of Cultural Legislation. There are two main laws related to the protection of cultural heritage:
- Law on Preservation and Usage of Historical and Cultural Monuments and Historical Landscape (1998);
- Law on Intangible Cultural Heritage (2009).
According to the Law on Preservation and Usage of Historical and Cultural Monuments and Historical Landscape, “all monuments on the territory of the Republic of Armenia are under the protection of the state” and “are subject to state registration irrespective of the form of ownership” (National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia 1998). The law also stipulates that the registration documents of the monuments are kept indefinitely.
The law prohibits discrimination in the management of cultural heritage, stating that “political, ideological, religious, racial, and national discrimination in the sphere of the preservation and usage of monuments is prohibited” (National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia 1998). However, there are no special provisions for state policy on minority cultural heritage. The government’s 2016-2020 Strategy for Preservation, Use, and Popularization of Historical-cultural Monuments (Government of Armenia, 2016) along with its Action Plan, do not have a single sentence on national minorities or the cultural heritage associated with them either. The Ministry of Culture, along with its structures listed below, has been responsible for implementation of policies related to immovable monuments of history and culture in Armenia:
(a) “Scientific-Research Center of Historical and Cultural Heritage” State Non-Commercial Organization;
(b) Department on Cultural Heritage and Crafts within the Staff of the Ministry of Culture;
(c) Agency for Preservation of Historical-Cultural Monuments of the Staff of the Ministry of Culture;
(d) “Service for the Protection of Historical Environment and Cultural Museum-Reservations” State Non-Commercial Organization; and
(e) Advisory mechanisms.
The Law on Intangible Cultural Heritage mentions national minorities and their cultural heritage only once in stipulating that “the preservation, dissemination, and use of the intangible cultural heritage of national minorities residing in the Republic of Armenia is regulated by this Law, the Law on ‘Fundamentals of Cultural Legislation,’ other laws, and legal acts” (National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia 2009).
The main structure responsible for the coordination of policy in the sphere of national minorities and religious affairs in Armenia is the Division for Ethnic Minorities and Religious Affairs under the Staff of the Armenian Government. There is also a Coordinating Council for the National and Cultural Organizations of National Minorities under the Staff of the Prime Minister. The Coordinating Council is an advisory body of national minorities established in 2000 following a congress of national-cultural organizations of national minorities of Armenia. Each of the 11 national minorities residing in Armenia nominates two representatives. Overall, the Coordinating Council has 22 members. The Armenian government allocates a certain amount of funds to national and cultural organizations representing the 11 national minorities in the Coordinating Council. Most of this money, which was initially 10 million dram but was doubled in 2012 (Fourth Report Submitted by Armenia Pursuant to Article 25 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities 2014), is allocated for different events and initiatives that help preserve and popularize minority cultures. The following minority communities have representatives in the Council: Assyrian, Belorussian, Greek, Georgian, Jewish, Yezidi, Kurdish, German, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. The funding is distributed equally among the minorities, regardless of the number self-identifying themselves as members of the community.
1.2 Preservation of Minority Tangible Cultural Heritage
While intangible cultural heritage is a very broad area, and most activities related to the protection and development of minority cultural heritage in Armenia fall into this realm, this paper focuses on tangible cultural heritage only. However, there is not one single intangible cultural heritage value of national minorities included in the official list of intangible cultural heritage values, which as of February 20, 2018 had 32 registered items.
According to the Law on Preservation and Usage of Historical and Cultural Monuments and Historical Landscape, the main document and legal basis for providing a status of a monument to a given object and getting it under state protection are the State Lists. After being approved by the Armenian government these lists are then officially published. The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports informs public administration, territorial, and local self-government bodies (based on the location of the monument), and the owner or user of the monument about its inclusion into the state inventory. Information mentioned in the state registration documents of the monuments is regularly (maximum once in 5 years) checked and updated (Community-Led Urban Strategies in Historic Towns [COMUS] 2017). As of 2017, the state inventory list of the historical and cultural immovable monuments approved by the government included 24,231 monuments (Community-Led Urban Strategies in Historic Towns [COMUS] 2017).
According to their value, monuments in Armenia can be of world (UNESCO site), national, and local significance. Monuments included in the UNESCO lists are those of exceptional historical and cultural value, and three such monuments are Armenian Apostolic Monasteries/Churches. Monuments of national significance include ancient, typical, or unique samples of monuments of popular history, its material, and spiritual culture. Monuments of local significance include monuments specifying the history, culture, and local features of a given region.
The state lists of protected monuments are available in the online Informational Roster of the Ministry of Culture at www.armmonuments.am. Most minority monuments included in the lists have religious significance. There is no separate list for the monuments of national minorities and those need to be disaggregated from the general lists. The following monuments are listed as minority monuments under protection of the state in the Fourth Report submitted by Armenia pursuant to Article 25, Paragraph 2 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities:
- Armenian Catholic Church in Gyumri;
- Russian Church in Vanadzor;
- Russian Church in Gyumri (Plplan Zham);
- Russian Church in Yerevan;
- Blue Mosque (Göy Mosque) in Yerevan;
- Аbbas Mirza’s Mosque (Sardar’s Mosque) in Yerevan;
- St. Kyril Church Assyrian Church in the village of Dimitrov, in the Ararat Region;
- St. Tovmas Assyrian Church in the village of Verin Dvin, in the the Ararat Region;
- St. Sava Greek Church in the village of Shamlugh, in the Lori Region;
- Greek churches in the village of Hankavan, in the Kotayk Region, and in the village of Yaghdan, in the Lori Region;
- Jewish cemetery in the village of Yeghegis, in the Vayots Dzor Region;
- Kurdish cemetery in in the village of Ria Taza, in the Aragatsotn Region.
Most monuments included in this list are of national significance, as indicated in the State Lists. However, while only these 12 monuments are listed in the report, there are, in fact, additional minority monuments included in the state lists, even though most of the additional monuments found in the lists are of the same significance as the ones listed above. At the same time, being included in the list does not guarantee state attention and funding for preservation. In fact, the state of preservation of a given monument greatly depends on the type of the monument and the national minority to which it belongs. The following restoration and/or protection examples of minority heritage sites are brought in Armenia’s contribution to the consultations on the intentional destruction of cultural heritage as a violation of human rights of the UN OHCHR: (Armenia’s Contribution to the Consultations on the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Hertiage as a Violation of Human Rights of the UN OHCHR n.d.):
- The Blue Mosque (Yerevan): Armenia has reconstructed the 18th century Persian Blue Mosque with the assistance of Iranian architects.
- The Jewish Cemetery of Yeghegis (Vayots Dzor Province): This cemetery belonged to the Jewish community of Yeghegis in the 13-14th centuries. An Armenian-Israeli team examined it in 2000-2003.
- The Mausoleum of Turkmen emirs (Ararat Province): This mausoleum of Turkmen or Kara Koyunlu Emirs (Emir Pir-Hussein Mausoleum) was erected in 1413. Armenian and Turkmen architects have been involved in restoration activities of the mausoleum. An Armenian-Turkmen joint scientific expedition carried out excavations.
- Non-Armenian historical and cultural Monuments in Syunik: The non-Armenian historical and cultural monuments in Syunik Province of Armenia are located near the towns of Kapan, Meghri, Sisian, including Muslim (six sites) cemeteries, mausoleums, mosques, and an Orthodox church. The “Historical Environment and Historical-Cultural Museum Preserves Protection Service” NCSO of the Ministry of Culture of Armenia is responsible for the maintenance of the monuments, which are regarded as state property.
The above lists suggest that the monuments associated with nationalities linked to a foreign state generally get more attention and are better preserved that those belonging to minorities not associated with foreign states. While this is probably related to scarce state funding for the protection, preservation, and renovation of historical-cultural monuments in Armenia, as well as to bilateral agreements signed by Armenia, it has important policy implications. One of the monuments included in the category of “Non-Armenian historical and cultural monuments in Syunik,” the Greek Church of Bashkend (Kapan), is in dilapidated condition. According to the head of the Division for Ethnic Minorities and Religious Affairs, “The Greeks have applied to Greece for support, but Greece itself faces economic hardship now, and our state also can hardly support the restoration due to the same reason.” Interestingly, while there are three Russian churches included in the list of minority heritage presented by Armenia in its report under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, no Molokan monuments of cultural heritage value are listed. The Molokans are a religious minority of Russian origin that has been living on the territory of present-day Armenia since the 19th century.
Armenia is home to two minority groups with no kin states—Assyrians and Yezidis—and the protection as well as preservation of cultural heritage of people without statehood should be of importance for world heritage in general. Assyrian churches included in the “Fourth Report submitted by Armenia pursuant to Article 25, Paragraph 2 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities” are of “local” significance. During the Soviet period, both St. Kyril and St. Tovmas churches served as storage facilities, a usual practice of the time. In 2005, as part of the process of returning religious structures nationalized in the Soviet period to the relevant religious communities, Surb Mariam (Astvatsatsin) Church of Arzni village in the Kotayk region and Umra (St. Tovmas) Church of Verin Dvin village in the Ararat region were returned to the Assyrian community per their request (Armenia’s Contribution to the Consultations on the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Hertiage as a Violation of Human Rights of the UN OHCHR n.d.). St. Kyril Church was renovated in the early 2000s. However, the roof was not properly reconstructed by the community members who carried out the renovation (Aghalaryan 2017). According to the church priest Father Nikadim, dining plates are placed in different parts of the church when it rains to prevent damage (Aghalaryan 2017).
According to one of the leaders of the Assyrian community, Razmik Khosroyev, St. Tovmas church was built from clay bricks in the 19th century and almost fully collapsed (Hovhannisyan 2007). In 2001, when Armenia was celebrating its 1700th anniversary of Christianity, Mr. Khosroyev petitioned the Armenian Catholicos to conduct fundraising events and renovate the Assyrian church. However, the Catholicos refused the proposal arguing that the Armenian Church does not have relations with the Nestorian Church, although it is a sister church with Chaldean and Jacobite churches. Mr. Khosroyev recalls the following in an interview with the newspaper Hetq from 2007:
During the celebrations of 1700th anniversary, I was approached by a Swiss woman [who] specialized in Eastern Churches. Apparently, she remembered me from a Swiss tour of our theatre, where I was acting in Chekhov’s “Three Sisters.” I took her to the ruins of the church. She told that she had 10,000 USD with her for donating to Echmiadzin. However, many will give money to Armenians, so she suggested her donation to me. This is how the church was reconstructed, and we have invited a priest from Iraq, Isahak Tamraz. The Assyrians living here have first prayed in their language in the last 80 years (Hovhannisyan 2007).
The Assyrian monuments included in the state lists are mostly under the care of the Assyrian community. More recently, the condition of the Umra church has worsened. In February 2014, the Ararat branch of the State Service for the Protection of Historical Environment and Cultural Museum-Reservations reported that the roof of the church was damaged by heavy snow. In June 2017, during a discussion of the draft amendments of the Armenian Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, Father Yokhanna, as the representative of the Assyrian church expressed his concern about funding for the restoration of Assyrian churches. He stated that the Assyrian church in Armenia survives with donations and the financial support of Assyrian communities in Armenia and abroad and was concerned that the proposed law would impose more restrictions on this. He was particularly concerned about the condition of churches in Arzni, stating:
We have asked the Ministry of Culture for state support to restore our churches. If there will be no intervention, these churches can collapse. The ministry answered that there are more valuable churches on the territory of Armenia in need of urgent restoration. Thus, the Assyrian churches in Armenia are of lesser value, and I believe this a discrimination against us… If the law will not allow getting support from abroad, these churches will collapse.” (Tert.am 2017).
A review of the state lists of monuments shows that no Yezidi monuments are protected by the state. According to Sashik Sultanyan, a young Yezidi leader:
Our Yezidi heritage is intangible rather than tangible. When Yezidis from Iraq moved to Western Armenia, and then Eastern Armenia, they came hoping to return to Iraq. Therefore, until very recently there was a religious decree from the Yezidi religious elite that prohibited Yezidis to construct a religious structure outside their historical homeland, claiming that they would not return to their homeland.
However, in 2012 Yezidis opened the Yezidi Holy Place temple in Aknalich, located in the Armavir region. Hasan Hasanyan, a Yezidi religious leader in Armenia, emphasized that it was the first Yezidi holy place built on the territory of the former Soviet Union (Shahnazaryan, Հայ զինվոր, 2012).
Preservation of cultural heritage of “absent” people is an important aspect of heritage politics in desperate need of special policy. Azerbaijanis comprised the largest minority group in Soviet Armenia and had a notable presence in terms of traces of material culture, but they no longer live in Armenia. Entering the word “Azerbaijani” in the search engine of the state monument roster www.armmonuments.am yields very few results. Meanwhile, field visits to former Azerbaijani communities in Armenia show that there are abandoned cemeteries. There is no visible intentional destruction of Azerbaijani cemeteries in Armenia. Moreover, several years ago the Ministry of Culture commissioned a special study of “Muslim Cultural Heritage in Armenia.” However, there is general public neglect towards Azerbaijani cemeteries, apart from very few cases. For instance, in the villages adjacent to Amasia in the Shirak region, the new residents, mostly from the Javakheti region of Georgia take good care of Azerbaijani cemeteries. A village exchange took place and the villagers agreed to take care of each other’s cemeteries (Huseynova 2012). Furthermore, the last group of monuments included as a protection example in minority heritage sites of “Armenia’s contribution to the consultations on the intentional destruction of cultural heritage as a violation of human rights of the UN OHCHR” includes a “Muslim cemetery with an octahedral-shaped mausoleum, XVIII-XX cc. (near Lehvaz village, Meghri)” and Baba-Hajji holy place near the Shvanidzor village, not far from Meghri. Interestingly, the cemetery is specified as “Muslim,” while the “national belonging” of Baba Haji “is not defined.” However, Lehvaz was a mixed Armenian-Azerbaijani village, and some residents recall that Azerbaijanis used to perform religious rituals in the cemetery. Baba Haji used to be a popular shared pilgrimage destination, most probably a mausoleum, for both Azerbaijanis and Armenians (Isakhanyan 2012). Baba Haj or Baba Haji sanctuary contains several layers of meanings and functions, including conflict and co-existence. Residents of the neighboring Armenian Shvanidzor village link the origin of the shrine and its etymology to the “Armenian Baba” and the “Turk Haji,” indicating that their graves are in the sanctuary. The folklore about the origin of the shrine related to Armenian-“Turkish” clashes become a widespread narrative in this context. According to tradition, Baba led Armenians and Haji led Turks during the clashes. The villagers tell that both were eventually buried at the site and the place acquired a symbolic meaning of reconciliation between the conflicting parties, Armenians and Azerbaijanis (Kharatyan Lusine, 2019).
There are two key challenges for reinforcing a more minority-supportive cultural policy in Armenia: (a) lack of financial means; (b) ethnic homogeneity, with Armenians comprising 98% of the republic’s population. Moreover, the review of main cultural policy documents suggests that the policy in general is Armenian-centered, directed towards protection, preservation, and popularization of Armenian culture in Armenia and abroad (focusing on the diaspora). While the Armenian state claims to support the popularization and preservation of minority cultures in Armenia in different reports submitted to Council of Europe or the UN, in reality these efforts are extremely limited. Minorities, as well as representatives of the government and international organizations, usually attend the cultural events they organize. Most people do not know much about non-Armenian cultural heritage in Armenia. School textbooks have almost no information about the non-Armenian population of Armenia. History of the Armenian Church is an obligatory subject for all schools in Armenia, while there is virtually nothing about other denominations living in Armenia. Although most schoolchildren visit Armenian monuments and cultural heritage sites, only few schools organize visits to monument of other cultures.
1.4. Conclusions and Recommendations
The following main conclusions are based on the analysis presented above:
- While 98% of Armenia’s population is currently ethnically Armenian, there are numerous non-Armenian historical-cultural monuments on the territory of Armenia, created by both people who continue living in Armenia and “absent” people, such as Turkmen or Azerbaijanis.
- The best-preserved non-Armenian historical and cultural monuments in Armenia are those of minorities linked to a foreign state.
The below recommendations are for both the Armenian government and Non-Governmental Organizations.
Recommendations for governmental institutions:
- The Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports should take more action to acknowledge and popularize non-Armenian cultural heritage in Armenia. The country’s tourism sector would greatly benefit from such policy.
- The Armenian government should pay more attention and provide more funding for heritage preservation of stateless as well as “absent” minorities from public and private sources.
- There needs to be a separate inventory of Azerbaijani monuments in Armenia with a determination of which monuments meet the criteria of being under state protection.
- Public education should be revised to include more content on cultures of minorities living in Armenia.
Recommendations for Non-Governmental Organizations:
- Civil society organizations can play a significant role in increasing awareness about minority cultural heritage sites in Armenia through cultural and educational projects.
- Minority organizations should more actively advocate for their cultural rights guaranteed by international agreements and demand governmental protection of minority cultural heritage sites.
By Agshin Umudov
Azerbaijan has more than 80 minority groups that account for almost 8.5% of the population (Avdeev 2015, 58, State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2016). The largest ones are Lezgin, Russian, Talysh, Avars, and Armenian. There are many other smaller minority groups such as Sakhur, Georgian, Kurds, Tat, Jews, and Udin (McGonagle, Noll and Price 2003, State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2016).
In Azerbaijan, 96% of the population is Muslim: Shia Muslims make up nearly 65% and Sunnis 35%. The rest are composed of Russian Orthodox, Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Seventh-day Adventists/Jehovah’s Witnesses, Molokans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, Krishnas, and Bahais (United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 2016, 2, Council of Europe Secretariat of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities 2007).
2.1 National legislative acts
Azerbaijan has adopted a number of national legislative acts for preservation of cultural heritage. Only few of them have made a clear reference to the protection of cultural heritage belonging to minority national groups.
The constitution adopted in 1995 makes important references to ethnic minorities. Article 44 on National and Ethnic Identity states that: “Every Person shall have the right to preserve national/ethnic identity. No one can be deprived of the right to change national/ethnic identity.” Article 25 on the Right to Equality states that: “…Every Person shall have equal Rights and Freedoms irrespective of race, nationality, religion, sex, origin, property status, social position, convictions, political party, trade union organization and social unity affiliation” (The Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, 1995). Two articles in the constitution refer to the protection of cultural monuments. Article 40 on Right to Culture states that: “…Every Person shall treat with respect historical, cultural and spiritual values, preserve them and protect cultural monuments,” and Article 77 on Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments states that: “to protect historical and cultural monuments shall be the duty of every Person” (The Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic, 1995). There is no a separate reference to the preservation of minority cultural sites in the Azerbaijani constitution.
Yet, few other legislative acts have been adopted since 1995 on protection of cultural heritage. On April 10, 1998, the law “on the protection of historical and cultural monuments” was adopted. This law defined the detailed conditions for the registration, protection, and renovation of historical and cultural monuments in Azerbaijan. Additionally, it also set administrative and civil fines for the damage done to cultural monuments (E-qanun 1998). Moreover, on December 21, 2012, the Law on Culture was adopted. This law defines the regulations for import, export, and transit of cultural heritage monuments in Azerbaijan and tasks executive bodies to make a list of all the cultural monuments in the territory of the Azerbaijani Republic and report to the president accordingly (Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe 2016). No specific reference was made to cultural heritage of minority nationalities in both laws.
Two years later, on February 14, 2014, the Azerbaijani government adopted the Culture Concept, which is a state program, laying out provisions that are in line with European cultural principles. This concept incorporates clauses on the protection of both material and non-material cultural heritage and promotion of diversity and active participation in cultural life. It also supports NGOs working in the cultural sector, development of a legal basis for the performance of cultural operators, and promotion of the country’s image through cultural events. (E-qanun 2014). Just like the above-mentioned legislative acts, the Culture Concept does not mention specific provisions on ethnic minority groups and their cultural heritage.
2.2 Tangible and intangible cultural heritage
None of the above-mentioned laws or decrees made a separate reference to the protection of tangible and intangible cultural heritage belonging to minority national groups living in Azerbaijan. The language of these legal acts is quite general concerning the protection of cultural heritage. Another problem with the cultural heritage of ethnic minorities is that no list exists showing their tangible and intangible cultural heritage. A list of tangible cultural heritage of minority groups is provided below, which is a small contribution in this regard. Azerbaijan’s Ministry for Culture and Tourism has published a list of “cultural and touristic objects and places of Azerbaijan” without any reference to ethnic origins (Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan n.d.). The ministry’s list contains 6308 objects in total. The list also includes minority tangible cultural heritage from Nagorno-Karabakh and the seven adjacent districts under Armenian control, which mentions churches and Caucasian Albanian temples, for example in Kalbajar. The State Committee on Religious Associations (SCRA) of Azerbaijan also has a list on churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples in Azerbaijan as well as Nagorno-Karabakh. It includes around 11 Caucasian Albanian temples and churches in Khojali, 13 in Kalbajar, and 1 in Zangilan dated from the 4th-13th centuries (The State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2015).
According to the Law on the Protection of Historical and Cultural Monuments of the Azerbaijani Republic, tangible cultural heritage is defined as having “paleontological, archaeological, historical, cultural, artistic and religious values and belonging to historical persons or history of the country at large” (E-qanun 1998). As the main focus of this paper is tangible heritage of minority ethnic groups, a list of cultural heritage belonging to them is compiled in Table 1 below. Nevertheless, some brief information on intangible cultural heritage is provided as well.
Table 1: Tangible cultural heritage of minority ethnic groups in Azerbaijan
|#||Name of the Monument||Date||Place||Remarks|
|1||Caucasian Albanian Temple||3rd-5th centuries||Shaki|
|2||Caucasian Albanian Church||4th century||Qakh district|
|3||Alban tower||4th-5th centuries||Tala I village, Zaqatala district|
|4||Caucasian Albanian ‘Askipara’ Temple||5th-8th centuries||Qazakh|
|5||Caucasian Albanian Church complex||4th-7th centuries||Mingachevir||Only ruins are left.|
|6||Seven Church monastery complex||6th-14th centuries||Kotuklu village, Qakh district|
|7||Lezgin Mosque||1169||Baku||The original name of the mosque is Ashur. As majority of its visitors were Lezgins from Dagestan during the oil boom of Baku in the late 19th century, it became known as Lezgin Mosque.|
|8||Church of Kish/Caucasian Albanian Church||12th-13th centuries||Kish village, Shaki||According to legend, it was founded by Apostle Eliseus in the 1st century AD. In the list of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism another church is shown from the 19th century, but no information is provided on its origin.|
|9||Udin cemetery||16th-17th centuries||Village Nij, Gabala|
|10||Udin-Albanian Church (also known as Chotari)||17th century||Village Nij, Gabala||Renovated in 2006 by the Norwegian Charitable Organization. Until the dissolution of the Albanian Christian patriarchate in 1836 by Tsarist authorities, Udins were part of it. After that they had fallen under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Apostolic Church.|
|11||Atashgah (Fire Temple)||17th century||Surakhani
(outskirts of Baku)
|Hindu, Sikh, and Zoroastrian Temple. The current building is from the 17th century. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.|
|12||Georgian Orthodox Church||1830||Zaqatala||In poor condition.|
|13||Synagogue||1849||Oguz||Renovated in 1992-1994 by the local Jewish community.|
|14||Russian Orthodox church||1850s||Baku||Closed between 1936-1946.|
|15||German Lutheran Church||1854||Khanlar district|
|17||Udin Blue Church||Late 19th century||Nij, Gabala|
|18||St. Gregory the Illuminator’s Church, known as the Armenian Apostolic Church||1887||Baku||After the Nagorno-Karabakh war it was closed to the public. In 2002 it was renovated and taken over by the Presidential Administration to be used as one of its libraries.|
|19||Russian Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Church||1887||Ganja|
|20||St. Nino’s Church||1888||Alibeyli village, Qakh|
|21||Georgian Orthodox St. George’s Church||1888||Qakh|
|22||Georgian Orthodox St. Michael’s Church||1892-1894||Village Meshabash, Qakh|
|23||Georgian Orthodox Holy Trinity Church||1892-1894||Village Kotuklu, Qakh|
|24||German Lutheran Church||1895-1899||Baku||The church was renovated in 2001.|
|26||Synagogue||1897||Oguz||Restored with funding from the Jewish diaspora in 2007.|
|27||German Lutheran Church||1909||Shamkir|
|28||Russian Orthodox Holy Myrrhbearers Cathedral||1909||Baku|
|29||German Prison of War cemetery||1950s||Mingechevir||Renovated in the mid-1990s. No gravestones, only small metal nameplates exist.|
|30||Synagogue||2003||Baku||The synagogue has two halls—one for Georgian Jews and another for the Ashkenazi/European Jews.|
|31||The Church of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception||2006||Baku||The decision to build the church was taken following Pope John Paul the Second’s visit to Azerbaijan in 2002.|
|32||Synagogue of Mountain Jews||2011||Baku||Financed by the Azerbaijani government.|
Sources compiled by the author: (The Catholic Church in Azerbaijan n.d.); (Zeynalova 2017); (Salopek 2016); (The State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2015); (Orujova 2014, 20); (Schulze 2005); (Council of Europe 2002, 6); (Azerbaijan International 1998); (Slots 2016); (Eyyubov 2018); (Fautre 2013); (Gruber 2011); (Mammadli 2012); (Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the Republic of Azerbaijan n.d.); (Kotvis 2015).
As can be seen from the table above, most of the tangible ethnic minority monuments are religious and some belong to “absent people.” There many other churches shown in the ministry’s list, but no other information is given other than the location, for instance in Davachi and Gadabay.
Data on intangible cultural heritage of minority ethnic groups is more difficult to obtain than tangible cultural heritage data. One reason is that no state agency has a list that identifies the intangible cultural heritage belonging to different minority ethnic groups. Second, it is impossible to trace the origination of some intangible cultural heritage in the country—that is especially the case for national cuisine. For example, UNESCO lists dolma preparation as an intangible cultural heritage of Azerbaijan (UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage n.d.). This tradition is well adopted across all the ethnic groups in the region; therefore it would not be accurate to ascribe it to a specific ethnic group.
Nevertheless, there are a few samples for the intangible cultural heritage in Azerbaijan that are well associated with certain minority groups. For instance, the folk dance Lezginka is ascribed to the Lezgins of the Caucasus (Encyclopedia Britannica n.d.), even though it has become a common dance for other ethnic groups of the country as well.
Levengi, meaning “stuffed belly” in the Talysh language (stuffed fish or chicken), is considered as a Talysh national dish, which is also known across Azerbaijan, though not widespread as in the southeastern part of the country where Talyshs compactly live (Abbasov n.d.). Talysh local folklore has recently become popular in Azerbaijan with their national song of ay lolo sung by the group Nənənlər (The Grannies/Talysh Grandmas) (Jamnews 2017). Weaving mats, or tymon, from reed is a crucial cultural handcraft in Talysh villages (Jamnews 2017, Caucasus Explorer n.d.).
In the northern part of Azerbaijan, Lezgin and Udin cuisine are famous for several dishes. Udins have et syyigy (rice porridge with meat), fyrrama (roasted stuffed turkey), shyftylyg (sauce from chestnuts and walnuts), and several types of pilaf dishes (Eyyubov 2018). Lezgin cuisine includes afar (Lezgin gutab), which is flat rolls of dough filled with various herbs and dried cheese, chkan, a meat pie with potatoes, cabbage, walnuts, onions, thyme, and butter, roasted alcha with salt (type of plum) inside the shell/bark of a hazelnut tree (Marsden 2017).
The main challenges Azerbaijan has regarding the protection of cultural heritage of minority ethnic groups are the underrepresentation, lack of funding, and lack of specific legislation addressing the cultural heritage of minority ethnic groups. The situation is particularly problematic concerning the Armenian minorities as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has not been solved and hate speech is widespread in the media. As claimed by the International Crisis Group (2017) the atmosphere of militarization is high concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and “both sides—backed by mobilized constituencies—appear ready for confrontation.” The four-day war of April 2016 proved how devastating a new war would be given the over 20 years of militarization on both sides of the conflict.
There is not enough public support for the cultural activities of minority groups in Azerbaijan, and this is threatening the protection of the cultural heritage, especially intangible ones, of small ethnic minorities (UNPO 2013, Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities 2004).
Overall, financing for the preservation of religious sites has not been a challenge in Azerbaijan. The religious heritage of Jews and Christians in Azerbaijan are well preserved. The government has allocated important funding to renovate churches and synagogues in Baku and Shamkir (Zeynalova 2017, 20). For example, in 2001, one million euro was allotted for the renovation of the Lutheran Church, known as the Church of the Savior, in Baku (Fautre 2013, Surjan and Vaidere 2013). Moreover, the Azerbaijani government allotted $500,000 to non-Muslim communities to use at their own discretion. (United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 2015). According to the International Religious Freedom Report, in 2016 the Azerbaijani government allocated $435,000 in financial support to non-Muslim communities. An additional $1.4 million was granted to them for their religious education programs (United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor 2016). Along with the Saint Gregory the Illuminator Church, known as the Armenian Church, the Lutheran Church in Baku survived the Soviet anti-religious stand and are well preserved.
In general, not all the ethnic minority groups face funding problems or opportunities to develop their cultural values in Azerbaijan. Russian and Jewish minorities enjoy immense financial support and opportunities to practice their language and preserve cultural values and heritage in Azerbaijan. That has much to do with the regional geopolitical power constellations and the persisting Soviet legacy. Minority groups that do not have foreign state backing are deprived of extra funding opportunities.
In the same manner, Jewish minority groups in Azerbaijan enjoy cultural opportunities. Since 2002, Jewish schools have been opening in Baku as a part of the Or Avner Jewish Day School network financed by the Israeli philanthropist Lev Levayev (Stern Shefler 2010, Krichevsky 2003). In 2003, a new synagogue opened in Baku. Jews have their own representative in the Azerbaijani parliament, Milli Mejlis, while other minority groups do not have representation.
Underrepresentation and Lack of a Legal Setting
In 1993, the Council for National Minorities was established to solve the underrepresentation problem of the minorities in Azerbaijan. However, this organization ceased to exist, and now no organization directly represents minority groups in Azerbaijan (Ulasiuk, 2013; European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, 2007, 18). The establishment of a state agency representing minority ethnic groups could facilitate the communication of minority group demands, whether cultural or linguistic rights, to the responsible state bodies and seek improvements accordingly. There is an overriding problem for the minority groups in claiming their cultural rights, since such claims are prone to be associated with secessionist rhetoric, specifically to the backdrop of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. That particularly holds true against Talysh minority groups. For instance, during the political turmoil following the civil unrest of June 1993, Colonel Alikram Humbatov, a Talysh nationalist, proclaimed the Talysh Mugan Autonomous Republic, which lasted until August 1993 as it did not get any public support (Gasimov 2018, 219).
Though many legal acts do protect cultural heritage in the country, none has specified the protection of minority group cultural heritage. Such legislation can benefit tangible and intangible minority group heritage and ensure fair allocation of funding for their preservation.
Status of the Armenian Minority
The perception of Armenians defers from that of other minority groups. The unresolved, frozen conflict and continuous reciprocal hate expressed on social media feed into this perception. The governments of Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each another of destroying their cultural heritage. Terry Davis, the former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, stated the following about the cultural destruction after visiting Armenia and Azerbaijan: “I am very disappointed by the losses… Both Azerbaijan and Armenia suffered, and it is not only yours…They are our common values and we should protect them” (The Peace and Collaborative Development Network n.d.).
2.4 Conclusion and recommendations
Although Azerbaijan proclaims adherence to international standards in the protection of minority cultural heritage, there are outstanding issues that require improvement. There are some opportunities provided for them by the government to preserve their cultural values and heritage. The existing legal and institutional structures do not have the full list of tangible and intangible cultural heritage belonging to minority ethnic groups. Moreover, lack of awareness, particularly in rural areas of the country, hits the minority ethnic groups as they have already limited institutional and financial opportunities for cultural development. To conclude, the continued tensions with Armenia, lack of funding, and an inability to live up to the norms of European conventions remain challenging problems for the country. Additionally, in general, up-to-date academic research on the status of minority ethnic groups in the country is lacking. This gap should be filled by undertaking comprehensive ethnographic.
Recommendations for the government:
- The government should adopt legislation or strengthen the existing laws regarding the preservation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage of minority ethnic groups in Azerbaijan. Alternatively, the existing Law on Culture or Culture Concept can be amended to include separate provisions on protection of minority cultural heritage. First, it would define the list of cultural heritage belonging to minority ethnic groups and identify the ones in need of funding. Such tangible and intangible cultural heritage should be granted extra care and funding as minority ethnic groups are disadvantaged given the lack of opportunities to preserve their cultural values.
- The government should also appoint a state agency composed of representatives from each minority ethnic group. They can work towards solving the underrepresentation problem of the minorities in Azerbaijani governing structures and can better serve their mutual interests vis-à-vis national policies. The Ministry of Culture and Sport should work in close collaboration with this agency to grant minority ethnic groups more space to promote their cultural values. One way of doing that is by applying a quota system. Members of minority ethnic groups should be granted a quota, e.g., during the exams for the civil service jobs and university entrance. The same can be applied to their representation in municipalities. Getting more opportunities to present their intangible culture could contribute to its preservation. A quota system can improve the cultural visibility for minority groups on a national level.
Recommendations for civil society:
- Civil society groups should work more with the minority ethnic groups and help them to present their intangible cultural heritage for international recognition. NGOs can also play a role in making the vulnerable cultural heritages public and solicit attention from relevant international organizations.
By Giorgi Bobghiashvili
Georgia is the most ethnically diverse country in the region. From a theoretical point of view, Georgia is in a rapid nation-state consolidation process. The chapter below identifies the main policy directions, challenges, and existing statistics and recommendations to stakeholders regarding the protection of cultural heritage of ethnic minorities.
3.1 State Policy of Protection of Minority Cultural Heritage
The Georgian constitution ensures equality of all its citizens in “regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliation or language, shall have the right to maintain and develop their culture, and use their mother tongue in private and in public, without any discrimination”. (The Consitution of Georgia, 1995) Furthermore, the fourth paragraph of Article 20 provides that: “Everyone has the right to take care of protecting cultural heritage. Cultural heritage shall be protected by law”.
The law on Cultural Heritage regulates the activities of the government in this regard and sets standards and principles of cultural heritage protection. The law does not differentiate the cultural heritage of different groups of communities and identifies them all as the “cultural heritage of all Georgia.” (Law of Georgia on Cultural Heritage, 2007) The law also identifies Ministry of Culture and Sport and its National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia as the main decision-makers in cultural heritage protection.
The law also sets procedures for recognition of an object of cultural heritage as well as its denunciation. However, the second paragraph of Article 4 in the law regarding protection of cultural heritage provides that the state and local authorities exercise their competencies in accordance with Articles 7, 8, and 9 of “the constitutional agreement between Georgian state and Georgian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” (Law of Georgia on Cultural Heritage 2007). Some civil society activists consider this article to be discriminatory, giving privileged power to the dominant religious group in the country.
In 2016, the Georgian government adopted “Culture Strategy 2025.” It envisions the following:
Georgia is a creative country and regional hub where innovation and creativity, along with safeguarding and revitalising national heritage and cultural diversity are the fundamental pillars of social wellbeing and sustainable development. (Culture Strategy 2025, 2016)
In this document, protection of cultural heritages is prioritized among the sector-specific tasks. Under objective 2.4 one of the tasks prioritizes cultural heritage protection of minority groups: “Ensure the preservation and restoration of tangible and intangible cultural heritage of minority groups living in Georgia (e.g. rehabilitation of monuments, preservation of different traditional knowledge and of performing arts and etc.) in order to protect and develop diversity of cultural expression” (Culture Strategy 2025, 2016).
The document also discusses the importance intercultural dialogue, especially among younger generations. To this end the strategy aims to “advance public awareness about the significance of cultural diversity and necessity of its protection for the country’s development and democratization (e.g. acknowledgement of differences, acceptance and tolerance of different cultures; the role of artists with different cultural backgrounds and of multicultural environment and etc.).” (Culture Strategy 2025, 2016)
The Georgian government also adopted a State Strategy for Civic Equality and Integration in 2015. One the four strategic goals of the document states that: “Culture of ethnic minorities is preserved and tolerant environment is encouraged” (State Strategy for Civic Equality and Integration, 2015). This in itself includes three specific goals:
- Reflecting the role and importance of ethnic minorities when developing and implementing cultural policies;
- Promoting and protecting the cultural heritage of ethnic minorities;
- Promoting cultural diversity.
In particular, the text of the document is very much in line with the international standards and guidelines. Under the fourth chapter, the strategy provides “registration and inventory of cultural heritage sites of ethnic minorities, fortification and restoration of monuments, support of ethnic museum and theater activities and utilization of library tolerance as a tool for inter-cultural and educational integration.” (State Strategy for Civic Equality and Integration, 2015)
3.2 Existing situation
Georgia—particularly Tbilisi—has a large number of historical architectural monuments that have cultural and national significance for the country. According to 2018 estimates by the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation (a state institution of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of Georgia), as of December 2017 a total of 7453 cultural heritage sites have been registered in the registry out of which 1776 (almost 24%) are located in Tbilisi (National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia 2018).
For the purposes of this paper, the author studied the list in order to identify the cultural heritage sites that belong to minority groups or represent an integral part of their identities. Table 2 below describes the findings from the research.
Table 2: Number of Cultural Heritage Sites that can be ascribed to Ethnic/Religious Groups in Georgia as of January 12, 2018
|Total in Georgia||Belonging to Minorities||%||Ethnic/Religious Group||Number||%|
There are no known intangible cultural heritages of minorities in Georgia. According to the information provided by the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia, there are 37 heritages registered in the list. However, none of them refer to any ethnic group other than Georgian (National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia 2018).
Other studies have also identified certain shortcomings regarding the protection of ethnic minority heritage sites in Georgia. In 2014, International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Georgia developed a policy paper for the government recommending better management of the country’s cultural heritage. Interestingly, the ICOMOS study found that the heritage of ethnic minorities in the list are mainly represented by religious buildings, such as Armenian apostolic churches, mosques, and madrasas (ICOMOS Georgia 2014).
The official UNESCO World Heritage List of Georgia identifies three cultural heritage sites—Gelati Monastery, Mtskheta, and Upper Svaneti—none of which can be ascribed to any ethnic or cultural minority group in the country (World Heritage List 2018). Neither in the UNESCO list of “Intangible cultural heritage” minority’s culture is represented (List of Intengible Cultural Heritage 2018).
Religion in ‘Play’ and Battling Institutions
Since most cultural heritage sites in Georgia are associated with religious denominations, the ownership of these sites is under dispute. Religious institutions have been involved in these ownership battles ever since Georgia’s independence.
There are number of cases where disputes erupted between minority communities and the Georgian authorities regarding ethnic ownership of buildings holding cultural heritage status. For example, the Georgian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church has officially approached the Georgian prime minister’s office to transfer the ownership of 442 Armenian churches to the dioceses (Human Rights Center 2016). In Tbilisi alone, five Armenian churches are under inter-religious dispute. While all of them have cultural heritage status, these sites are damaged and decaying.
A similar situation can be observed regarding Muslim cultural heritage sites in the country. An interesting pattern can be observed here: religious monuments (mosques, madrasas) that belong to the Georgian Muslim community (mostly in Samtskhe-Javakheti and Adjara regions) are under more serious threat from the local communities than those belonging to other ethnic Muslim minorities (such as Azerbaijanis, Kists, or Avars). This can be explained by the significant role that religion (orthodox Christianity) plays in the nation-building process of Georgian identity, especially since the 1990s as result of rapid growing influence of Georgian Orthodox Patriarchate. An interesting case was reported in the village of Flate, where a damaged mosque (previously owned by the Muslim Georgian community, currently in the list of national cultural heritage sites), was intentionally robbed of stones, and later the stones were used as building materials for the additional constructions of Zarzma Monastery, located close to the Flate Mosque (Human Rights Center 2016). Although the case was reported to the police as well as the prosecutor’s office, an investigation has not begun and no guilty parties have been found so far.
In a related development, historic Catholic churches in Georgia, are now being owned and operated by the Georgian Orthodox Church. For example, the orthodox cathedral church in Batumi, from architectural point of view is obviously catholic. However, the official representative of the Orthodox Church stated that “ownership should not be just judged by this, but history, archeology and other circumstances should be taken into account” (Human Rights Center 2016). This argument, of course, does not hold water as the Georgian Orthodox Church has an institutional advantage in making such decisions.
Nationalism and Hostility in the Community
Nationalistic elements play a role in Georgia’s cultural heritage policy. Since the supremacy of the Orthodox Church is well institutionalized in dealing with ownership issues (instead of religious denominations), the list of cultural heritage sites includes some interesting sites worth mentioning here.
For example, the description for cultural heritage number 6691 states: “The House of Juliet Pailebanyan (previously owned by Ion Tabatadze) in the village of Gokio.” The description about the House of Robert Abajyan also mentions the previous Georgian owner of the site in the village of Varevani. Explanation of the previous ownership issues may be considered as reference to the dominant group roots in both villages inhabited primarily by ethnic Armenians.
Interestingly, very few cultural heritage sites of the Azerbaijani community (the most populous minority group in Georgia) are registered in the list. For instance, in villages found in Kvemo Kartli, such as Talaveri in the Bolnisi municipality, which is 90% populated by ethnic Azeris, the only cultural heritage site is a church of Annunciation.
Small Ethnic Minority Groups
The policy document developed by ICOMOS Georgia identifies the problems for ethnic minority groups as a key challenge. In particular, the document states: “The list does not represent the cultural heritage of small ethnic communities either. In 2006 the list was added with part of Doukhobors’ settlement, however the knowledge and documentation regarding this heritage is still very poor. Similar scarcity is observed with regard to the immovable heritage of the ethnic Udi facing extinction” (ICOMOS Georgia 2014). The report (2003) by the Public Defender of Georgia focuses mainly on the protection of the intangible heritage of small ethnic communities.
The Ministry of Culture and Sport runs an annual program called Program Supporting Ethnic Minority Culture. Under this program, any community organization established in Georgia can apply for grants and organize sets of events and activities. However, more needs to be done to raise awareness in order to let organizations (especially those established in the regions) apply for this program.
Flaws in Education System
According to Georgian law, general education should be multicultural and “Schools shall protect individual and collective rights of minorities to freely use their native language, preserve and manifest their cultural affiliation on the basis of equality” (Ministry of Education and Science 2005).
A number of studies have revealed that the national curricula, especially textbooks, lack incentives for intercultural dialogue. Moreover, some textbooks suggest enmity and even hate-speech against minority groups (Bobghiashvili, Kharatyan and Surmanidze 2016).
Due to the teaching standards in place and the unprofessionalism of teachers, students are not taught to promote tolerance, diversity, and the cultural heritage of minority groups (Tabatadze 2015). In most cases teachers promote discrimination.
3.4 Conclusion and Recommendations
Georgia faces diverse challenges in the policy of cultural heritage protection, especially regarding minority groups. Although the country has signed and ratified international documents in this area, and updated its internal regulations, there is still room for improvement. Minority groups, especially small ethnic minorities, require more resources from the state. Large minority groups, such as Armenians and Azerbaijanis, in terms of financial support for the protection of their heritage sites, mostly rely on support from their ethnic countries.
Promotion and preservation of minority culture heritage should be seen as an integral part of the interculturalism, which is, as described above, the most advanced and modern way of diversity management and peaceful societal coexistence. In light of the recent rise in nationalism, the Georgian government, as a manager of the most ethnically diverse country in the region, should consider the best practices and experiences of cultural heritage and inter-cultural dialogue.
Based on the findings as well as international standards and guidelines applicable in cultural heritage preservation the following recommendations are made.
Recommendations for governmental institutions:
- The Georgian government should draft a better policy for ethnic minority integration with a clear emphasis on intercultural dialogue and principles of interculturalism as a grand national identity and work towards more inter-societal engagement than mere cultural autonomies.
- The recognition and naming of cultural heritage sites, especially those that historically belong to minority groups, should be depoliticized.
- The restitution process of religious monuments and buildings to respective institutions and communities that are considered integral parts of an ethnic group’s identity should be revitalized.
- A special objective and impartial mechanism, in the form of a commission, should be developed that involves all stakeholders, experts, and non-governmental organizations, which will make decisions on transferring cultural heritages to the respective communities.
- The Ministry of Culture and Sport should make sure that minority communities are engaged in the policy making of their cultures, and policies should reflect matters of importance for these communities.
- The Ministry of Culture and Sport should raise awareness about the programs and schemes it is running annually for the protection of minority cultural heritage and call on community organizations to get more actively involved in the bidding process.
- More attention should be paid to the intangible cultural heritage of minority communities, which, as experts put it, is a test for the government to essentially be ethnic-neutral.
- Efforts should be made for the international recognition of minority cultural heritage, which is not only the country’s obligation, but is also a trigger for inter-cultural dialogue and promotion of different cultures in the country.
- The government should work towards raising the standards of general education and put the set policy goals and principles into practice by promoting inter-cultural education and values among younger generations.
- State agencies responsible for youth education outside of secondary schools should mainstream the needs of ethnic minority youth and promote their culture in any cultural events that they may organize.
Recommendations for Non-Governmental and International Organizations:
- Minority community organizations should understand importance of cultural heritage and its preservation for the sustainable development of their communities and to maintain their collective identity.
- Organizations should actively advocate their cultural rights guaranteed by the international documents described above and demand governmental protection of minority cultural heritage sites and support for its development.
- Community organizations should disseminate information within their network about available funds and schemes from the government on the protection of minority cultural heritage sites and should cooperate with one another in the bidding process.
- NGOs should actively get involved in the development or revision of the existing policy documents (also described in the paper) and support the governments in the monitoring process of their implementation at the national level.
- Organizations should mobilize their respective communities around cultural heritage sites and collectively work towards their protection. This is crucially important for small minority groups as well as the Azerbaijani community of Kvemo Kartli, where, as was found in the research, the government shows little interest in recognition of their heritage sites according to the respective law.
- International organizations should raise awareness about the existing standards of protection of minority cultural heritage with the local communities and organizations.
- International organizations should enable the local community organizations to more actively advocate for their rights and fundraise for their activities.
- International organizations should establish a joint shadow monitoring mechanism of international treaties and mobilize civil society to actively engage in it.
- Respective international organizations should give very specific recommendations per the treaty documents, to which the Georgian government is obliged, and set a time frame and instruments for their proper implementation. More rigorous monitoring mechanisms should also be implemented.
 Following Rogers Brubaker, we do not speak of “national minorities” as groups unified internally and bounded externally. We speak of “national minorities” as groups that are not simply given by facts of demography but that are characterized by three dynamic political stances: a. the public claim to membership of an ethnocultural nation different from the numerically or politically dominant ethnocultural nation; b. the demand for state recognition of this distinct ethnocultural nationality; and c. the assertion, on the basis of this ethnocultural nationality, of certain collective cultural or political rights (Brubaker 1996).
 The data we presented from the latest two censuses conducted in Azerbaijan does not include data from Nagorno-Karabakh. With Nagorno-Karabakh included, the minority populations were 9.4% in 1999 and 8.4% in 2009.
 The data we presented from the latest two censuses conducted in Georgia does not include data from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
 An interview with the Head of the Division for Ethnic Minorities and Religious Affairs Vardan Aststryan was conducted by the co-author of this paper, Lusine Kharatyan, on February 22, 2018.
 Two other Assyrian denominations.
 Sashik Sultanyan was interviewed by the co-author of this paper, Lusine Kharatyan, in March 2018.
 In 1990s, when the Azerbaijanis left the villages, some Armenian families from the neighboring Javakheti region of Georgia moved to the empty houses.
 Armenian-Turkish or Armenian-Tatar clashes, regular conflicts between Armenians and Turkic-speaking Muslims of the South Caucasus in the beginning of the 20th century. In the case of Baba Haj, the term is used with respect to clashes preceding those the term refers to, as the events that happened under the Iranian rule are also described as clashes with “Turks.”
 In Azerbaijan, the Armenian population was the largest of the ethnic minorities up until the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In national censuses Azerbaijan officially considers the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh as an ethnic minority group since the conflict area is Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory. Furthermore, there are Armenians in mixed marriages with Azerbaijanis who are currently residing in Azerbaijan. For example, in Baku, according to the Institute of Geography of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Science, there are 20,000 Armenians (Mirzayev 2017).
 The table does not include cultural heritage sites and monuments in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
 The list includes cultural heritage sites that belong to ethnic Abkhaz group and located in Abkhazia over which Georgian government does not have effective control. Thus, the table here does not include heritage sites located in the conflict regions.
 This refers to the Ateshgah Zoroastrian temple in Old Tbilisi, which can be considered belonging to the heritage of “absent minorities.”
 The author acknowledges limitations of not being able to identify the belongingness of cultural heritages sites other than by the names and locations and expert knowledge of each site.
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*The featured photo is taken from wikipedia.org. The image portrays the Hindu, Sikh, and Zoroastrian Atashgah Fire Temple in Surakhani.
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