Khurshidbanu Natavan: Monument of Women’s Freedom Vandalized in France

Khurshidbanu Natavan: Monument of Women’s Freedom Vandalized in France

By Ms. Shervin Najafpour, Chairwoman of the cultural bridge building organization CAN.

In line with the friendship and cooperation agreement signed in 2015 between the city of Ismailli in Azerbaijan and Évian-les-Bains in France led to the creation of a beautiful park along the Léman River, a testament to the enduring friendship and cooperation between the two nations.

On July 3, 2017 the inaugurating of the park of Azerbaijan took place, marking a significant milestone in the bond between Ismailli and Évian-les-Bains. The initiative came from the then UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and current President of Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Mehriban Aliyeva, who is recognized for her commitment to cultural and humanitarian causes. 

A statue of the daughter of the last ruler of the Karabakh khanate, Mehdi Gulu-khan, Khurshidbanu Natavan, celebrated as one of the most exemplary lyrical poetesses in Azerbaijani literature, embodying qualities of intelligence, aristocracy, philanthropy, and classic poetry was raised in this park.

Amidst the prevailing trend of female writers in Europe adopting male aliases, Natavan fearlessly embraced her Islamic principles and blazed a trail as the orchestrator of literary gatherings in Shusha, the esteemed cultural capital of Azerbaijan. Her historic encounter in 1858 with the renowned French writer Alexandre Dumas served as a significant cultural bridge between the East and the West. This historic meeting not only solidified Natavan’s influence as a literary figure, but also left a lasting impact on Dumas, who immortalized Natavan’s remarkable initiative in his timeless masterpiece “Journey to the Caucasus” which documented Natavan’s remarkable initiative to construct a stone road from Baku to the picturesque village of Shikh. Through this encounter, a connection was forged between two influential literary figures, representing a unique and powerful collaboration between Azerbaijan and France.

Crafted by Salhab Mammadov and Ali Ibadullayev, this statue represented the deep cultural connection between the two nations, until the recent act of vandalism targeting the statue took place.

Cultural heritage under threat: Azerbaijan’s ongoing struggle

The vandalism act against the statue of Khurshidbanu Natavan, has sparked considerable controversy and concern. As there are no doubt that politics is at heart of this heinous action, the situation has drawn attention to the broader issue of Azerbaijanophobia in French society, raising questions about the preservation of Azerbaijani heritage and the stance of French authorities on this matter.

The preservation of cultural heritage is a matter of global concern, and the recent events have brought to light the ongoing challenges Azerbaijan keeps on facing beyond Azerbaijan’s borders.

Tragically, the aftermath of the occupation reveals a haunting tableau of devastation. The deliberate targeting of historical, cultural and religious monuments, including mosques, temples, and sanctuaries, paints a grim picture of the systematic cultural erasure carried out by Armenian forces. The scope of this destruction is staggering, with reports indicating that 403 historical-religious monuments, including 67 mosques, fell victim to this deliberate campaign.

The profound impact of this cultural genocide has not gone unnoticed on the international stage. Salim bin Mohammed al-Malik, head of the Islamic World Education, Science and Culture Organization (ICESCO), who described the scenes witnessed in the liberated lands as a “real tragedy,” unequivocally condemning the destruction of villages, townships, and historical and religious monuments. The wanton destruction and desecration perpetrated by the Armenian forces stand as a stark testament to the unacceptable affront to cultural and religious heritage.

Furthermore, the extensive looting and illicit trafficking of cultural artifacts from museums and archaeological sites further compounds the cultural devastation wrought by the occupation. The smuggling of invaluable relics and manuscripts, as well as the destruction of 22 museums and the displacement of over 100,000 cultural artifacts, underscores the flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law, including UNESCO norms and conventions.

In the wake of these heart-wrenching revelations, the deliberate campaign of cultural genocide perpetrated by Armenian forces stands as a sobering reminder of the enduring impact of these actions. The scars left on the cultural and historical landscape of Azerbaijan serve as a testament to the urgent need for awareness, preservation, and justice in the face of such deliberate and systematic cultural obliteration.

The controversy surrounding the vandalized statue of Khurshidbanu Natavan is a poignant reminder of the importance of upholding cultural heritage and fostering harmonious relations between nations.

Regardless of this vandalism, Natavan’s legacy continues to inspire and resonate as a testament to the enduring impact of women in literature and cultural leadership.