Norwegian envoy says alterations to Azeri church "tantamount to vandalism"

525 Qazet, Baku
26 Feb 05

Excerpt from unattributed report by Azerbaijani newspaper 525 Qazet
on 26 February headlined "The Norwegian ambassador does not justify
Armenians' archaeological excavations in Susa" and subheaded "Steinar
Gil: It is not appropriate that archaeological excavations are carried
out in the conflict zone while the conflict remains unresolved"

The Azerbaijani public are seriously concerned about archaeological
excavations in the Armenian occupied territories of Azerbaijan.

International organizations have failed to react to the excavations
carried out in Susa. So have the foreign embassies in Baku.

The Norwegian ambassador to Azerbaijan, Steinar Gil, has said in
his interview with APA news agency that he has no information on
the excavations.

"I do not have specific information about that. However, I think that
this will not have a positive effect on the peace process. It is not
right to carry out archaeological excavations in the conflict zone
while the problem remains unresolved," Gil said.

An Albanian church has been renovated in the Udi-populated village
of Nij in Qabala District [northern Azerbaijan], and a Norwegian
humanitarian organization [Norwegian Humanitarian Enterprise, NHE]
financed the project. The NHE stopped funding the renovation after
some inscriptions, which were presumed to be in Armenian, were
erased. Ambassador Gil also commented on this.

"Any historical monument should be protected. One should take care
of historical monuments despite political relations. I visited that
village in November last year and saw the Armenian inscriptions. I
regret that the inscriptions have been erased. It would be better if
they had been preserved. This was a chance for Azerbaijan to set an
example for the whole world," Gil said.

A letter signed by over 100 villagers, who supported the removal of
the inscriptions, has not changed the ambassador's mind either. Gil
believes that historical monuments should be preserved and any
alteration to them is tantamount to vandalism. By this move the
Azerbaijani side has violated international conventions and gone back
on the promise it had given before the renovation started, he said.

[Passage omitted: minor details]
From: Baghdasarian