The address of the RA Civic Coalition in Support of the UN Charter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, His Excellency Mr. António Guterres

Secretary-General of the United Nations

Your Excellency,

We address you as the Republic of Armenia Civic Coalition in Support of the UN Charter, which, in light of the recent nomination of Polad Murtuzaoğlu Məmmədov, also known as Polad Bülbüloglu, as a candidate for the post of Director-General of UNESCO, feels obliged to make our input in upholding the principles and ideals reflected in the Charter of the United Nations and the Constitution of UNESCO. We believe that the following address contains crucial information necessary to allow the Members of the Executive Board to make sound and informed decisions regarding the abovementioned candidate during 201st and 202nd sessions.
Firstly, we would like to express solidarity with the purposes, functions and principles of UNESCO, as outlined in its Constitution, and to state that the following address is not motivated or influenced in any manner by any political agenda, racial discrimination, prejudice or bias. Our address is in no way motivated by the nationality of the nominee. Based on the facts, presented below, it is our belief that Mr. Polad Bülbüloglu does not possess the moral integrity, qualities and values, necessary for the leading post of the Director-General of UNESCO and that failure to take these facts into account will jeopardize the moral foundations of UNESCO itself.
The reasons why Mr. Bülbüloglu is not fit for the position are the following:
a. Accountability of Mr. Bülbüloglu during his tenure as the Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan for the documented systematic and methodical destruction of cross-stones (khachkar) in Nakhijevan region; the art of Armenian cross-stones is inscribed in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanityi.
b. Accountability of Mr. Bülbüloglu during his tenure as the Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan for the documented forced assimilation of ethnic minorities of Azerbaijan and for creating deliberate obstacles on the way of preservation of languages and culture of ethnic minorities in Azerbaijan, as well as the accountability of Mr. Bülbüloglu for the systematic oppression of the Azerbaijani intellectual and cultural elite, who have dared to defy the state cultural and historical agenda.
c. Accountability of Mr. Bülbüloglu during his tenure as the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the Russian Federation for his pro-war rhetoric regarding the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
1. Tragedy on the Araxes
The Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), with funding from the Oak Foundation, investigated reports of the destruction of Armenian cultural artifacts by Azerbaijan that occurred between 1998 and 2005, the exact timespan when he was the Minister of Culture (1988 – 2006). Using high-resolution satellite imagery, AAAS documented the phased destruction of a medieval Armenian cemetery in the Djulfa region of Nakhijevan, Azerbaijan, that housed 15th and 16th century intricate khachkars. The destruction in Djulfa has been a focus of UNESCO and the European Parliament, the latter of which was denied entry to the region to conduct a fact-finding mission. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) documented this phased destruction in its reports published in 2003 and in2006-2007ii.
Ten European MEPsiii were denied access to Djulfa in 2006 by Azeri authorities after they traveled to Nakhijevan to investigate the eyewitnessiv reportsv Azerbaijan ratified the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in 1993. By failing to safeguard the khachkars it has violated its agreement under that convention to preserve and protect cultural heritage. Azerbaijan, a member of the Council of Europe, is also held to the statutes of the Valetta Convention of 1992, which requires member states to protect archaeological heritage within their borders. Thus, regardless of the identity of the perpetrators, the events of December 2005 represent Azerbaijan’s violation of, or failure to live up to, the international agreements it has signed. Even if, the Azerbaijani government did not commit the desecration at Djulfa, it was still responsible for protecting the khachkars.
As Mr. Bülbüloglu was the Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan during the timespan when this Cultural Heritage of Humanity was destroyed in Azerbaijan, his accountability as the Minister of Culture at the time and inability to put a stop to it indicates lack of will and integrity, which, based on this precedent, is likely to reflect the level of commitment that he will show to protecting values of UNESCO in the post of the Director-General. On a more personal note, it is our belief that these repulsive atrocities were consciously and intentionally conducted by a coordinated Government and Army effort, which he was an active part of. This vile accountability has always and will always rightfully haunt his cultural and political career, further discrediting UNESCO if he is elected.
2. Forced assimilation of ethnic minorities and cultural policy
Article I.3 of UNESCO Constitution: “The purpose of the Organisation is to contribute to peace and security […] with a view to preserving the independence, integrity and fruitful diversity of the cultures.” The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) Report on Azerbaijan in 2007 found significant institutional obstacles on the way of preserving cultural identity and languages of ethnic minorities of Azerbaijan. The report reads:
“National minorities need more support from the Azerbaijani authorities to protect their languages and cultures. There is a lack of awareness on the part of the Azerbaijani population of the problem of racism and intolerance in Azerbaijan. The textbooks for learning other minority languages such as Tats and Avar are still unsuitable. In addition, there are too few teachers for these minority languages, and the teachers are poorly trained. There is currently no specific public body where representatives of national minorities could express their views on the public affairs of interest to them. National minorities generally hesitate to come forward to claim their linguistic and cultural rights, particularly due to the general climate in the country. It seems that those who have tried before to publicly defend national minorities’ rights have at least experienced accusations of “working for the enemy” or of “separatism”, for instance by some media or some politiciansvi.” Hence, allegations of state-sanctioned forced ethnic assimilation have been commonplace in the mass mediavii.
Even Mr. Bülbüloglu’s friend of over 50 years, the iconic opera and pop singer of the Soviet era, dubbed the “Soviet Sinatra”, the cultural icon of Azerbaijan, who still enjoys an iconic status in all of the post-Soviet countries, Mr. Muslim Magomayev, agreed to the statements above in an interview, given three years before his untimely death: “If I was not an artist, but someone else, I would visit Baku. However, I as an artist I cannot allow myself to visit Baku as long as Polad Bülbüloglu leads the Ministry of Culture.” He also said that he ”was tired of questions about his relations with the Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan, and that the reason for the change of citizenship (to Russian) is that he does not want to live in a country (Azerbaijan) where her culture has been long and methodically destroyed by the Minister of Culture.”viii
Another clear example refers to the most celebrated and renowned writer in Azerbaijan, Mr. Akram Aylisli. He published the novel “Stone Dreams” in 2013, which touched the topic of massacres of Armenians in Baku as well as the use of Turkish troops in wiping the Armenian population of his home village. Immediately after the publication in Azerbaijan, a hostile campaign was unleashed at the state level, accompanied by mass demonstrations, as well as burning booksix and portraits of the writer, drawing uncanny similarities with such events in Nazi Germany. Akram Aylisli was expelled from the Writers’ Union of Azerbaijan, his son and wife were fired from their respective jobs, all of the books by Aylisli were withdrawn from the school curriculum, and plays were banned for productions. Azerbaijani MPs demanded to check his “genetic code”, and the pro-government party “Modern Musavat” announced a reward of 10 thousand manats to the one who cuts off the writer’s ear. The President of Azerbaijan, through a special decree, deprived Aylisli of all of his titles, including that of the “People’s Writer of Azerbaijan” and his state pension.
While Polad Bülbüloglu was the Minister of Culture Akram Aylisli was glorified and appreciated by the Ministry with all honors and privileges. However Mr. Bülbüloglu did not utter a single word in defense of the 80-year-old writer when he was persecuted and made no attempt to support him.
As the Minister of Culture for eighteen consecutive years, Mr. Bülbüloglu is accountable, regardless of the level of intent (even though we believe that this wicked man is a key player in the cultural and ethnic tragedy of Azerbaijan) for the impoverishment of the culture of the South Caucasus region through his inactivity for the preservation of the culture and languages of ethnic and national minorities, which were supposed to be under special protection from the United Nations and from UNESCO in particular. Hence, it is reasonable to claim that if Mr. Bülbüloglu, in eighteen years as the Minister of Culture, was unable to successfully uphold the principle to “give fresh impulse to […] the spread of culture” and, especially, “preserving the independence, integrity and fruitful diversity of the cultures” (as mentioned in the Preamble and Article 1.1 of the UNESCO Constitution), there is no basis to assume that he will be able to successfully fulfill these expectations from a much higher office, where failure to uphold them can have devastating results on the institution of UNESCO and the dark ages of gross negligence and bias towards cultural values worldwide shall be upon us.
3. Pro-War Rhetoric
UNESCO Constitution: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”.
Since 2006, when Mr. Bülbüloglu was appointed as the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to the Russian Federation, he has supported the position of the government of Azerbaijan towards the military resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. On countless occasions he has expressed willingness to personally take part in the military operations with a weapon in his hands (his speech at a meeting with Azerbaijani veterans, Moscow, May 8, 2010). More recently, on April 2, 2016, in an interview to “Russia Today”, he continued his pro-war rhetoric by supporting the idea of resolving the conflict by military meansx.
Surely, his actions can be attributed to his duties of expressing the official position of the government of Azerbaijan. Nonetheless, the warmongering rhetoric, unfortunately, extends beyond his duties of office, as proven by the following speech, given to the Azerbaijani population in Russia on 29 December 2009:
“… Every Azerbaijani must take part in the liberation of our lands. In the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a lot will depend on Azerbaijanis who live in Russia, and each one of us must be ready for this. If anybody hopes to stay behind and sit snug at home, and the army will reclaim our lands, will not be happening. The country, the whole society, all the people must rise and clench themselves into a single fist to back our president and liberate the lands.
As the speech abstract provided above does not entail any essence of official protocol, it represents the personal position of Mr. Bülbüloglu as a private individual. The question is, to what extent does this way of thinking resonate with the ideals, engraved in the maxims of UNESCO.
In conclusion, we would like to note that it was extremely challenging for us a conscious human beings with sincere respect towards human, humanitarian and cultural values of any nation, to construct this address without straying towards our feelings about this person who, for the past three decades, has proven through his monstrous acts, that his world has no place for culture, respect, diversity, concern for human values even for his own people.
We believe that the presented facts are noteworthy enough to be brought up during the candidate interviews on the 201st Board Session on 26-27 April 2017. If you deem necessary, we will be happy to provide additional proof of the statements made above and are willing to travel to Paris to discuss these questions with your representatives or any interested party. Moreover, taking into consideration the urgency of the matter and the level of significance of the allegations that we have presented , the RA Civic Coalition in Support of the UN Charter deems it necessary and intends to distribute this letter among the representatives as well as alternates of the 58 Member States of the UNESCO Executive Board, which are going to be present at the 201st Board session. We sincerely hope that this letter provides much needed transparency and insight to allow the representatives to conduct a fair, transparent and informed interview and voting procedures.

Republic of Armenia Civic Coalition in Support of the UN Charter

1) UNESCO. Armenian cross-stones art. Symbolism and craftsmanship of Khachkars, 2010

2) American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), “High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and the Destruction of Cultural Artifacts in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan”, 2009.

3) The Independent, “Azerbaijan ‘flattened’ sacred Armenian site by Stephen Castle”, 2006.

4) Video footage of Azerbaijani soldiers destroying khachkars in Nakhijevan.

5) Archaeology: A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America, “Tragedy on the Araxes by Sarah Pickman”, 2006.

6) The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) Report on Azerbaijan, 2007.

7) Radio Free Europe, “Do Azerbaijan’s Ethnic Minorities Face Forced Assimilation? By Liz Fuller”, 2008.

8) Regnum News, “Muslim Magomayev Denounced his Azerbaijani Citizenship Because of the Minister of Culture”, 2005.

9) Azerbaijani Writer’s Books Burned over His Controversial Novel (VIDEO)

10) RT News, “Azerbaijan envoy says ready for military solution to Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Erdogan backs Baku”, 2016.

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