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Men Posing as Officials Attempt to Remove Art in Armenian Pavilion at Beijing Biennale

Three men in suits, posing as authorities, reportedly attempted to disrupt the Armenian pavilion at the sixth Beijing International Art Biennale and to destroy artwork on view, according to Armenian sources, which allege that the men are Azeri. (Azerbaijan and Armenia have long been engaged in conflict, with the two countries clashing over the Nagorno-Karabakh region since 1988.)

After the incident, organizers closed the ‪‎Armenian pavilion on Sept‬ember‪ 24‬, “due to aggressive behavior experienced by certain visitors,” according to Armenian Weekly. The pavilion’s curator, Anna Gargarian, said the men targeted works by photographer Karen Mirzoyan that depict the contested region. “For now I can say that our team and artworks are safe,” she said.

Meanwhile, an Azeri site reports that the men were in fact Azeri delegates who were merely attempting to inform visitors that the photographs depict “Azerbaijani lands occupied by Armenia.”

The pavilion features work by a total of eight artists from Armenia and the Armenian diaspora, including Allen Sayegh, Hrair Sarkissian, and Mikayel Ohanjanyan.

Less known in the global art world than other festivals, the Beijing Biennale is backed by China, and allows the state to build diplomatic ties and create goodwill. Perhaps anticipating controversy, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already urged biennale organizers “to remove sensitive words like ‘massacre,’ ‘Armenian genocide,’ and ‘mass atrocities’ from both the catalogue of the biennale and the exhibition itself,” reports Aria Titizian for CivilNet, an Armenian website.

The pavilion’s organizers posted a photo of the men on its Facebook page, which has led to a series of heated comments between supporters of Armenia and Azerbaijan.