Azerbaijan’s long-time leader, Ilham Aliyev, has officially opened a museum dedicated to the country’s victory over neighboring Armenia in a series of bloody battles that claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers on both sides.
On Monday, the presidential press service released a series of photographs showing the leader inspecting captured hardware and equipment, and a video of him addressing troops decorated for their service in the Nagorno-Karabakh war. The features of the Military Trophy Park, located in the capital of Baku, include Armenian tanks, trucks, weapons and even helmets gathered up from the battlefields.
Among the attractions is a supposed reconstruction of a barracks used by Armenian troops, featuring hook-nosed, bearded and dead-eyed waxwork caricatures of enemy soldiers. The figures are portrayed as bereft, hopelessly staring at their paperwork in despair. Others are shown climbing out of armored vehicles wounded, or slumped in the driver’s seat of trucks.
Aliyev, himself the son of former Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev, was educated at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations before becoming a lecturer in history. He then embarked on a series of business ventures before taking on the country’s top job in 2003. However, for his photocall on Monday, he posed in full combat camouflage as he inspected captured artillery guns and burned out Armenian tanks.
In November, officials in Yerevan signed a Russian-brokered ceasefire with Azerbaijan, effectively putting an end to the fighting that had raged through the disputed territory. Nagorno-Karabakh, while considered a de jure part of Azerbaijan, had been controlled by ethnic Armenian officials and operated largely autonomously as the so-called Republic of Artsakh.
The deal relinquished swatches of territory to Aliyev’s government, handing him a personal victory back home, with large parades attended by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
However, in February, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of violating the truce “by firing 20 machine guns at the border checkpoint.” Armenia’s Defense Ministry branded the allegations “an absolute lie.” Russian peacekeepers have been deployed to the region under the terms of the ceasefire, with the hope that they will be able to protect civilian settlements and prevent the territorial demarcation lines from shifting still further.
Both sides have accused each other of pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing in Nagorno-Karabakh. In December, footage emerged that was said to show an Azerbaijani soldier cutting the throat of an ethnic Armenian. Another purported to capture one of Baku’s troops boasting of killing and mutilating a civilian. A third grisly video claimed to capture an Armenian enlisted man cutting an ear off the corpse of a fallen Azeri.
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