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Opinion | On the apologists of Baku’s Military Trophy Park

5 May 2021

The recently opened Military Trophy Park in Baku is a shameful display that will bring no benefit to ordinary Azerbaijanis. Even the Park’s defenders are forced to rely on false and disingenuous comparisons to justify its existence.  

On 12 April, about five months after the end of the 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Military Trophy Park in Baku was opened to official fanfare and a highly publicised visit by President Ilham Aliyev. 

While some Azerbaijanis denounced this Park as uncivilised, many seemingly applauded it as the demonstration of Azerbaijani victory over the enemy. But the arguments of such apologists are not only misinformed and disingenuous, but they utterly fail ordinary Azerbaijanis who have nothing to gain from this park or from continued enmity with Armenians.   

The exhibition of dozens of helmets that once belonged to Armenian soldiers alongside wax figures of Armenian military personnel deliberately designed to show them as ugly and cowardly are not only inhuman, but also unnecessary. Defenders of the park have tried to justify this by claiming that similar parks or museums exist throughout Europe, which also exhibit the helmets and uniforms of enemy soldiers. But the comparison doesn’t hold water at even the most basic level. 

First, there is a factual mistake — the war museums that defenders of the park cited exhibit the uniforms, helmets, guns and other objects in a neutral way for the purpose of showing objects as artifacts as well as to inform visitors of the conditions combatants faced on the front. Those war museums do not humiliate enemy soldiers with grotesque wax statuary. 

For instance, the British Imperial War Museum collects ‘objects and stories’ with the purpose of giving ‘an insight into people’s experiences of war’. Similarly, the Belgian Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History aims to contribute to our ‘knowledge about military history’ and ‘encourages scientific research concerning military history and heritage’. 

I could go on and cite other war museums from foreign, especially European, countries which were (ab)used by some Azerbaijani apologists of the Military Trophy Park. But I think I have made my point — these apologists had their facts wrong.

Second, the Military Trophy Park in Baku is not a war museum at all. It is literally a trophy park. The website of the park clearly states its purpose: ‘to demonstrate the military trophies seized by the victorious Azerbaijani army as a result of the defeat of the occupying Armenia on the battlefield’. 

Hence the Military Trophy Park does not even pretend to pursue the aims of war museums cited by the apologists. It exhibits the military equipment seized by the Azerbaijani army and it humiliates Armenian soldiers. 

Besides, according to the presidential decree of Ilham Aliyev, a new Victory Museum will also be opened in Baku with the purpose of ‘demonstrating the unparalleled heroism and great historical victory of the Azerbaijani people in the Great Patriotic War [the 44-day war], to perpetuate the memory of our martyrs.’ This clearly shows that the Azerbaijani authorities opened the former museum solely to humiliate Armenians and will open the latter to glorify Azerbaijani soldiers. 

The authorities are, in this way, much more sincere than the apologists of the indefensible park.  

Third, and most importantly, even if there were war museums in other countries that aim to humiliate and dehumanise their enemy, this does not mean that Azerbaijan should repeat the same mistake. Others’ mistakes do not and cannot justify ours. 

The Military Trophy Park in Baku is condemned because it dehumanises the enemy — namely, Armenian soldiers. If the park exhibited uniforms, helmets, guns, and other military equipment used by Azerbaijani and Armenian soldiers in a neutral way, with the purpose of portraying  them as artifacts that reveal the conditions of war for visitors, I do not think that it would be condemned. 

The rationale behind the war was to retake the occupied territories and to restore the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. For many years Azerbaijani officials, in particular Ilham Aliyev himself, have repeated that Azerbaijan does not see Armenians as the enemy, and that all it sought was to control its internationally recognised territories and ensure that internally displaced Azerbaijanis can return to their homes and live peacefully side-by-side with local Armenians, as it was in the Soviet times. 

If the Azerbaijani authorities were sincere in their avowed purpose, they would not contribute to the current enmity between the two peoples. Treating a war over a certain territory as a blood feud between two tribes will continue to feed a virulent nationalism, which, in turn, hinders any chance of real co-existence between Azerbaijanis and Armenians.  

What good does this park serve? What do ordinary Azerbaijanis gain from this? Many apologists of the park have claimed that since Azerbaijan lost territories and thousands of lives in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, this park is an appropriate act of revenge. 

One has to be utterly short-sighted to fail to see that such an approach will only stoke more conflict and more bloodletting. Ordinary Azerbaijanis who had to flee from their homes or lost their loved ones in the First Karabakh War will not gain anything from ‘revenge’ or from this park. 

I also doubt if the park will be of comfort or consolation to those who will lose loved ones if the conflict continues.  Revenge at any cost is childish and petty, and it may carry a heavy price. 

The opening of the park also revealed the moral failings of many Azerbaijani intellectuals and public figures, who refused to speak out not only against the park, but also against the many other acts of the Azerbaijani government that fueled the enmity between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. 

The war over Nagorno-Karabakh was a war between two countries, it was not a tribal blood feud. Treating it as such misrepresents it and, implicitly or explicitly, fuels a future cycle of vengeance and atrocity. 

The Military Trophy Park in Baku is something that all Azerbaijanis who love their country and want peace should be ashamed of.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of OC Media’s editorial board.

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