Human & cultural rights: Challenges of the protection of the Armenian cultural heritage of Karabakh

Alain Navarra-Navassartian

We know that UNESCO is often in search of political consensus, in the case of the protection of the Armenian cultural heritage of Nagorno Karabagh, the task will be difficult. The regional and even global geopolitical context, the anti-Armenian sentiment that has long prevailed in Azerbaijan, and the war will not make the task of this international organization any easier. Will UNESCO succeed in linking the cultural order of disinterestedness with the question of peace, without being a victim of conflicts of interest? Can the political nature of UNESCO be overcome? Will it be able to get rid of pressure groups?


Thus, in the continuity of what we have tried to do previously, we would like to specify that the defense of the Armenian cultural heritage of Nagorno Karabagh is to be put in relation with human rights and cultural rights. While remaining the closest to the UNESCO texts and conventions. Conventions which, through the semantic flow from the right to culture to cultural rights as the right of cultures to show a willingness to protect different cultural identities, especially those of minority cultures.


If the right to culture is well taken into account in articles 26 and 27 of the 1948 declaration, this right is understood as a right of access to universal culture, but the expression cultural right remains more indefinite because it does not imply that the culture in question is universal. A cultural right can mean a right to choose a culture, a right to one's culture or a right to cultural difference. The 1948 declaration does not speak of a right to cultural particularity. But the concern for human rights can no longer be satisfied with ensuring a right to culture because it meets the question of cultural rights, cultural diversity or cultural plurality.

UNESCO is clearly the main place where reflection on human rights relating to cultures should be developed at the international level. Respect for their diversity has been a major concern that has led to the adoption of various texts: the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which in 1989 issued a recommendation on the safeguarding of traditional cultures; in 2001 the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and in 2007, the Tehran Declaration on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity. It is therefore a central theme of this international organization. As for the Fribourg Declaration of 2007, relating to cultural rights, it confirms the evolution of the meaning given to cultural rights, the latter only being conceived in relation to identities. According to article 2a, the term "culture" covers the "values, beliefs, convictions, languages, knowledge and arts, traditions, institutions and ways of life by which a person or group expresses his or her humanity and the meanings he or she gives to his or her development and existence".


This is clearly an anthropological vision of which the arts are only one component among others.


The destruction, the hatred of heritage, the deprivation of the use of certain buildings, the predation, the denial or the instrumentalization of the Armenian heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh is a desire to annihilate memory, which would contradict all the initiatives of UNESCO. Protecting this heritage means recognizing the right of cultures in order to complete the universalism of cultural rights and to promote the cultural diversity of the region.


It is not a question of defending a right to particularism, but of underlining the need to take into account the singular unity and "system" character of a particular culture. It could be argued that cultural rights must be conceived independently of cultural identities so as not to forget that culture can be conceived autonomously without any link to a particular group. But the right to culture implies, in any case, the relationship and right to the community within which one has rights. The cultural identity of a subject is not only constructed from the set of references to which the person chooses to refer, it also consists in what he or she has been, the particular culture in which he or she has been formed, a culture of his or her own.


The right to culture goes hand in hand with the right to access it from the culture in which one was originally formed. Freedom is only possible and occurs only in the condition of a received culture.


The protection of the Armenian cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh is not only a "right to" and a "right of" for this people, but in the way individuals exist culturally. There are cultural conditions of existence without which individuals can no longer exist as individuals, the destruction of the Armenian cultural heritage (as well as any destruction or damage of heritage) would be detrimental to the exercise of human rights. It would be a serious attack on the protection of heritage as a fundamental value claimed by our societies (UNESCO, Europa nostra, etc.) who see heritage as a "catalyst" for the future. On the other hand, respect for cultural heritage and its protection must be considered as a possible construction of a peace process. All the actors of heritage protection should pay attention to these issues when considering the need to protect the cultural heritage of the Armenian group of Nagorno Karabagh.

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