Azerbaijan's Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape has been granted UNESCO's status of enhanced protection.
This decision was made during the eighth session of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which was held in Paris on December 18-19.
Being a part of the larger protected Gobustan Reservation, Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape features the remains of inhabited caves, settlements and burials, all reflecting an intensive human use by the inhabitants of the area during the wet period that followed the last Ice Age, from the Upper Paleolithic to the Middle Ages. This cultural object covers three areas of a plateau of rocky boulders rising out of the semi-desert of central Azerbaijan, with an outstanding collection of more than 6,000 rock engravings bearing testimony to 40,000 years of rock art.
Rock art engravings in Gobustan were discovered by accident during the works in the stone quarry, which were held here in 1930s. During the works, one of the workers noticed an unusual drawing on the rock and the more territory was cleared, the more paintings were discovered. Especially a lot of the pictures were found in the caves. Work in the quarry was stopped and scientists were informed on the discovery.
Azerbaijani archaeologist Ishaq Jafarzade began the first archaeological researches of the rock art engravings in 1939, and since then, researches are being conducted to this day.
Given the importance of this cultural object for the whole world, the Azerbaijani government has submitted necessary documents for its inclusion in the World Heritage List to UNESCO in 2002, and during UNESCO's 31st session of the World Heritage Committee, which was held in 2003, Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape was included in the World Heritage List.
Enhanced protection status, which was given to the Rock Art Cultural Landscape, is one of the features of the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. The granting of such protection by the Committee can be made under three conditions: first, the cultural object will have the greatest importance to humanity; second, it will be protected by adequate domestic legal and administrative measures recognizing its exceptional cultural and historic value and ensuring the highest level of protection; third, it will not be used for military purposes or to shield military objects.
This status goes beyond the regime of general protection and means that States cannot fall back on the argument of imperative military necessity for using or targeting cultural objects in times of conflict. It also involves the obligation by States to make intentional attacks against identified objects a criminal offence or to penalize use of such objects or their immediate surroundings in support of military action.
Another architectural legacy of Azerbaijan, Icherisheher or the Old City of Baku, including the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower, was also given the same status during the eighth session of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
Moreover, during the session, Azerbaijan has been elected Vice President of the UNESCO Committee.