Inauguration Of Azerbaijan’s New Contentious War Museum Sparks Controversy

Earlier this month, Azerbaijan inaugurated the “Military Trophies Park” or “Spoils of War Park” to commemorate its victory in the Artsakh War that ended in 2020. The museum demonstrates military equipment used in the war such as tanks and other weapons seized by the Artsakh Defense Army. The war caused the death of thousands of troops and settled with a peace agreement back in November 2020.

The museum was deemed controversial because of the disrespectful way in which it depicts Armenian soldiers on the frontline. For instance, life-size wax mannequins are displayed to portray scenes of distress from Armenian combatants, often arranged in compromising and vulnerable positions.

The entrance of the museum reads the phrase “Karabakh is Azerbaijan” written using thousands of Armenian license plates, which is significant because Karabakh still holds a majority of ethnic Armenians. In a corridor, the museum displays hundreds of helmets from Armenian soldiers that died during the war. Notably, one scene presents Armenian prisoners chained in a jail cell looking to the sky in their dying moments, symbolizing Azerbaijan’s reluctance to release Armenian prisoners during the war.

President Ilham Aliyev prompted the construction of the museum and used humiliating material from the war to portray Azerbaijan’s military might and dominance over the Armenian armed forces. Since the opening, Armenia has denounced the park as being humiliating to Armenian soldiers and reflecting Azerbaijan’s “intolerance and xenophobia.”

Journalists like Bobby Ghosh have since compared the gruesomeness of the museum to Saddam Hussein’s “Victory Arch” that displayed the helmets of Iranian soldiers who had died in the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988.

Arman Tatoyan, an Armenian human rights advocate, accused the museum of being “another manifestation of the morbid Armenophobia of the Azerbaijani authorities” that further damages the dignity of Armenians.

The opening of this museum follows Biden’s recognition of the Armenian genocide of 1915, becoming the first American President to do so. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan asserted that Biden’s statement had honored the memory of the lives lost during the massacre, and saluted the United States’ commitment to conserving universal values and human rights.

On the other hand, the statement was promptly rejected by Turkey who suspects the terminology to be forced upon the President by radical Armenian or anti-Turkey groups. Ultimately, the statement is likely to further damage diplomatic relations between the two NATO member countries.