Azerbaijan celebrated a victory over Armenian fighters with a macabre display of the helmets of Armenian soldiers and wax mannequins that were altered to appear as grotesque caricatures of Armenians. The helmets are allegedly from the war Azerbaijan fought last year against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed area.
For some online, the images and caricatures evoked “genocide,” with posts comparing the helmets to “trophies” collected by other regimes. For Azerbaijan, it is an example of victory in a war last year. It is unclear how celebrating the victory with helmets of the dead will heal the wounds of war.
Azerbaijan’s president visited the “park of trophies” and online posts claimed that others, including pro-Azerbaijan Western commentators toured the site. The park, which is supposed to open soon, led to anger in Armenia and among many online who are critical of Azerbaijan.
Last year’s war, which lasted for more than a month, saw tens of thousands of Armenians forced to flee, churches shelled and the use of drones by Azerbaijan to destroy the Armenian forces in Artsakh, an area in Azerbaijan that was once autonomous and has been controlled by Armenians since the 1990s. Russia swept in to enforce a ceasefire.
Turkey encouraged Azerbaijan in its war aims, even sending Syrian mercenaries Turkey had recruited. The war included scenes of human rights abuses, including alleged beheading of Armenians and murder of Armenian prisoners of war. Azerbaijan rejected the claims of abuses, but videos appear to document them. Azerbaijan complained of Armenia firing missiles indiscriminately at Azeri cities.
Azerbaijan has been a strategic partner of Israel and Israeli defense companies have sold the country drones and other defense products. Israel and Azerbaijan have had close relations. A documentary on Israel’s Uvda program claimed to show how Azerbaijan had successfully used Israeli drones to defeat Armenian air defenses. Azerbaijan has long celebrated its Israeli drones; Israeli relations with Armenia are strained.
There is widespread outrage on social media over the photos of the exhibits. One video appears to show a pro-Azerbaijan journalist smacking the helmets as he speaks to the camera. Others show men in suits touring the facility and taking photos of the mannequins. The distorted faces of the mannequins make them appear hideous, purposely caricatured to dehumanize Armenians.
In Washington last September and October, pro-Turkey lobbyists and Western commentators who are pro-Turkey sought to characterize the war as being against Iran and Russia. Turkey had long tried to get favors from the Trump administration for its aggressive policies by pretending it was confronting Iran. Armenia, threatened by Turkey and Azerbaijan, has long had to seek help from Russia. Moscow has sold Ankara S-400s and works with Turkey and Iran on Syria policy.
It was unclear how shelling churches, destroying the lives of Armenians and celebrating over dead ones was a setback for Iran last year. The war was encouraged by Turkey to take place before the US elections because Ankara may have feared that if Trump lost, its blank check for sending Syrian mercenaries to fight wars would be reduced. US President Joe Biden has sought to make human rights a key part of his foreign policy. Today, Russia’s role has expanded in Nagorno-Karabakh.