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Armenian Karabakh Official Says Mosques Being Repaired

A partly restored Shia Mosque in the town of Shusha/Shushi.
STEPANAKERT -- A senior Karabakh Armenian official says five Azerbaijani mosques and other Islamic sites located in and around the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh have been repaired in recent years as part of a government effort to preserve the region's Islamic heritage, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Sergey Shahverdian, the head of Karabakh's tourism department, told RFE/RL that the government in Stepanakert, the Karabakh capital, has spent 30 million drams ($83,000) on the Islamic religious sites since 2008 and has plans for more restoration work next year.

"All the cultural heritage preserved in the [self-declared] Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is the property of the Karabakh people," Shahverdian said. "Accordingly, in restoring monuments, we don't differentiate between Armenian [Orthodox] and Muslim architectural sites."

He said two of the three Shia mosques as well as a madrasah, or Islamic school, that have been mostly repaired by the Karabakh authorities are located in Shusha/Shushi, the disputed region's second-most important town.

It was mainly populated by Azerbaijanis before being captured by Karbakh Armenian forces in 1992.

Shahverdian added that the repairs there were also sponsored by Archbishop Pargev Martirosian, the Shusha/Shushi-based head of the Karabakh diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church. But he gave no details of diocese's assistance.

Town residents, many of them former Armenian refugees from Baku and other parts of Azerbaijan, seemed divided in their assessment of the restoration effort. "I agree [with the restoration of the mosques] so long as they remain only historial monuments," one woman told RFE/RL.

"If the Azerbaijanis destroyed our cemeteries and churches, why are we restoring their mosques?” said another.

Karabakh authorities said the mosque in Agdam, an Azerbaijani town that has been under Karabakh Armenian control since 1993, has also been refurbished. It is one of the town's few structures that was not destroyed during and after the Armenian-Azerbaijani war.

Agdam's Azerbaijani population fled the town, which is currently uninhabited.