Much of Armenian symbolism is about rocks. Starting from Mount Ararat - the highest peak of the Armenian highland - to the multitude of fortress-churches and associated cross-stones (khach-kars in Armenian). It's a rocky country with a rock-and-roll kind of history.
The cross-stones - man-sized slabs of stone with unique, complex and often intricate carvings - are much more than religious symbols. Serving primarily as gravestones they are intended to symbolize the uniqueness of each individual life even if packed into similar-sized human bodies. See http://www.armeniapedia.org/index.php?title=Khachkar
The tradition goes back many centuries. But faced by the elements - beaten by wind making writings unrecognizable, relocated to be used for construction (and often new khachkars), gone underground or under water because of shifting rivers and earth - not that many survive in their natural habitats rather than in museums.
I am aware of only two large medieval cemeteries that survived into modernity - one at Noraduz near Lake Sevan and another at Jugha in Nakhichevan.
Three years ago, the one at Jugha (or Julfa, Djulfa) was wiped out by the government of Azerbaijan. See http://www.djulfa.com
It was a multi-year project by Azerbaijan - there were just too many khachkars, they were hard to move, it was hard work done by army conscripts - essentially slave laborers.
It was an outrageous decision but one that fits into the overall logic of what has been happening to Armenians and Armenian things in places where Azerbaijani nationalism runs amock (see previous post).
Other than a statement here and a resolution there the international community has imposed no obvious costs on Azerbaijan's government for this and earlier outrages. As with most issues few people seem to understand the problem and those who may often don't care.
To be sure there is plenty of grievances that Armenians and Azeri can trade. But going after cemeteries?
In Baku Armenian cemeteries with less historical but more immediate sentimental value to many (including my family whose three generations made their home in Baku for nearly a century) were paved over for roads or new construction. That does not justify the disrespect they were afforded but makes some remote kind of sense.
In the case of Jugha, khachkars stood in the middle of nowhere and were simply crushed, dismembered, thrown into the river. They were targeted and wiped out for their Armenian symbolism and as the last remaining Armenian outpost. All remaining Armenian churches of Nakhichevan were done away with in years prior.
What can be done short of going to war about this?
There are no fast and easy solutions. In the hard years of the Karabakh war the only way to get your POWs or civilian hostages or even their dead bodies back was to trade them for those of the enemy.
Now I am thinking, perhaps Armenians should disassemble the remaining Azeri mosques and gravestones on their territory and exchange them for the khachkars and other Armenian heritage items of value?
Certainly some of the Azeri items have cultural value for Armenia and people who truly care about cultural heritage would rather not see them go. But what other options are there?
What do you think?