Karolina Pawłowska

By Karolina Pawłowska

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

The news about a theme park opened in Azerbaijan in April, a place which includes not only the display of original helmets, but also wax models of injured or dead Armenian soldiers, has caused outrage among Armenians around the world. It has been interpreted as an act of sheer ruthlessness of Ilham Aliyev, which though somehow true, flattens the analysis that can be provided if anthropological, sociological, and political factors are considered. In fact, such move shows a variety of strategies both symbolically and practically.

Firstly, the park does indeed celebrate; however, this is obviously not its sole function. Combining the educative aspect of a museum and entertaining features of an interactive display creates a monument both to Azerbaijani victory and Armenian failure. Subsequently, it establishes the space where joy and hate merge in a rather gruesome and worrisome manner and such management of public emotions, especially contradictory ones, is common in autocracies. Arzu Geybullayeva notices rightfully, that the park offends not only the memory of fallen Armenian soldiers, but also Azerbaijani servicemen. However, commemorating the death of one’s own people in a respectful manner does not fit with the narrative designed to shape common perception of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in Azerbaijan. In the context of Aliyev’s statements since November 10, it may seem that the events of the 44-day war can be framed only in extremely positive terms with no space left for public displays of grief and loss. The end of the conflict is presented as an undoubted victory, despite the fact that multiple lives have been lost.

Secondly, the open and public dimension of the venue visited by entire families aims at showing that the support for the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in Azerbaijan is by no means unanimous, despite external views that some segments of Azerbaijani society are simply too intimidated to vocalize remorse. Moreover, it is a shared feature of autocratic governments to familiarize citizens with violence from an early age. For such a regime to survive, it is necessary to eradicate empathy and compassion and subsequently shape new generations to be capable of cruelty, not only against others but also against each other.

Thirdly, it is arrogance directed in all possible directions. Internally in Azerbaijan, it is the projection of strength. Internationally, both Azerbaijan and Turkey have been testing for months how much so-called humanism is worth in Western and Eastern politics and successfully have proven that it is worth little or nothing. No clear condemnation has been voiced by the international community, which is not surprising considering that the more prompt and tragic issue of over 200 Armenian prisoners of war kept captive has not been approached with the expected firmness. Even though the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) EURO Championships could have been a perfect opportunity to address the issue, only the Dutch parliament decided on a boycott, thanks to the efforts of Armenians in the Netherlands.

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Since the beginning of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, Aliyev’s regime has been feeding the international community with a narrative which described the aggression as merely the attempt to win back its rightful territory and the execution of 4 UN Resolutions adopted in 1993. The Soviet mandate of Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh territory seemed to justify the violation of the United Nations Mercenary Convention, targeting civilian population and cultural heritage, the use of phosphorus weapons and other war crimes. The dogmatic belief in the principle of inviolability of borders has created the impression that if Nagorno-Karabakh legally belongs to Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan has the full right to do with it whatever it pleases.

Recent actions such as the refusal to return the remaining POWs and captured civilians, their inhumane treatment reported by Human Rights Watch, and violating the Armenian border in the Syunik region cannot any longer fit that narrative. They seem, however, to be somehow acceptable worldwide. To Armenians, they send a message of terror, causing, obviously, fear and insecurity. Combined with the meek response of the international community and the inefficiency of the Armenian government in dealing with these developments, the sheer ruthlessness and arrogance of Ilham Aliyev continues to prove that, indeed, he can do whatever he pleases and will stop at nothing. He knows very well what he is doing and most probably, the war of terror is just beginning.

Karolina Pawłowska is a cultural anthropologist finalizing her Ph.D. thesis on the repatriation of the Armenian diaspora, affiliated with the University of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznań (Poland). She used to work at the American University of Central Asia and the American University in Armenia, teaching mainly academic writing, anthropology, and culture studies. Living in Armenia for more than six years within the span of the last decade, she has witnessed various social and political processes and developed a deep interest in multiple aspects of Armenian culture and society. During the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, she was engaged in initiatives aimed at fighting disinformation and raising awareness of Karabakh issues. 

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