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Museum of Independence, Baku

  
  (  if you know Azeri or Russian)  - darkometer rating:  4 -
 
Baku Museum of Independence 11A museum in central Baku dedicated not only to Azerbaijan's independence as such, but more so to the struggle for it as well as the achievements since. It's quaint and a bit obscure in parts, but worth a look. 

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

    
What there is to see: Once you've made it to the entrance (dodging the crazy traffic on the wide boulevards either side of the building) you first have to go upstairs, ignoring the entrance to the main feature of the museum complex, the Carpet Museum. Curiously, the building used to be a Lenin Museum in Soviet days ... I wonder what the exhibits were and what became of them.
 
The Museum of Independence is to the left on the second floor and comprises four connected halls, set out in a classic, or even old-fashioned museum manner.
 
Labelling is all in Azeri and sometimes in Russian. Many of the text documents displayed, especially of course those from Soviet times, are also in Russian. You'll find hardly anything in other languages, except the odd book title, a couple even in English. Without some knowledge of Azeri/Turkish or at least Russian, you won't get that much information out of the museum. Still, several artefacts speak for themselves. And some of the Azeri can be semi-deciphered through educated guesses. 
 
The museum exhibition follows a roughly chronological path, with a section devoted to the brief period of independence at the end of World War One, which was quickly ended by the Soviet Union swallowing up Azerbaijan in the 1920s. The dark days under Stalin, as well as WWII get a mention, including the threat to Baku coming from Nazi Germany.
 
A particularly poignant section is that devoted to the Karabakh conflict. There is text and photo material covering atrocities committed by Armenia, and in general the Armenians are portrayed pretty unabashedly as the villains, even as terrorists. There's a map of Azerbaijan showing the occupied territories the country has "lost" to Armenia. Some grim paintings add to the accusatory overall tone, in which Armenians and/or Soviet soldiers with mean grins on their faces slaughter angelically looking Azeris … until the national flag ferociously comes to the rescue.  
 
There is one striking similarity to the museums in Nagorno-Karabakh itself, which otherwise obviously convey rather the opposite picture of who were the good and bad guys in that war (see especially the Museum of Fallen Soldiers in Stepanakert): in both there are whole walls of little portrait photos of soldiers who perished in the battles of Karabakh: Here there is even a tapestry one! The man depicted in the latter, however, looks disturbingly familiar to viewers of the British tragicomedy classic "Blackadder Goes Forth".
 
The final room of the museum turns to the more uplifting stories of success following independence, the Karabakh war and the re-kick-starting of the oil industry, which brought the country most of its current riches.
 
There are intricate scale models of oil rigs and a diorama showing the course of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. The latter is the key supply line through which much of Azerbaijan's oil is pumped in the direction of its Western customers – bypassing both Armenia (ha!) and Russia, as well as Iran. It is thus as much a strategic political statement as it is an economic tool.
 
Numerous photos show the "National Leader" Heydar Aliyev, or more recently his successor son Ilham Aliyev, together with various heads of state, sitting on sofas, shaking (or even holding) hands, and generally trying to look convivial and important at the same time. Represented dignitaries include Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazabayev, Russia's Vladimir Putin, and, interestingly, Yasser Arafat (!).
 
Also on display are books of economic and strategic wisdom penned by the Aliyevs, and, last but not least, a full wall flag of the national colours of Azerbaijan marks the end of the exhibition.
 
It may lack the modern multi-media approach and be overall rather old-fashioned and one-sidedly propagandistic, but that also makes for the quirkiness of this museum which is precisely the attraction for those in search of not only the dark but also the weird in the world of the former Soviet empire, of which you wouldn't find anything in the Carpet Museum downstairs …
 
 
Location: in the same building as the better known Carpet Museum, right in the centre of Baku, mere steps from the central section of the waterfront Bulvar, and only a few hundred yards from the Old Town
 
Google maps locator:[40.3698,49.8424]
  
 
Access and costs: easy to get to, cheap. Details: the location could hardly be more central. The Museum of Independence is housed on the second floor in the west wing of the same building that the more famous Carpet Museum is in, which is bang in the middle of Baku, just off the Bulvar waterfront. The main obstacle to access is crossing the busy roads the museum building is sandwiched between.
 
Head straight upstairs and pay the lady museum wardens by the entrance the 2 AZN admission … in addition you may have to fend off any requests that you visit the other parts of the museum building as well.
 
Opening times: daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
 
 
Time required: very much depends on whether you can read Azeri and/or Russian. If not you'll probably be out again within 10-15 minutes. Otherwise you might linger up to an hour. Personally I found ca. half an hour sufficient.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: see under Baku and Azerbaijan.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: in general see Baku – one of the main attractions of the city is just outside the door: the Park Bulvar on the waterfront of Baku Bay. The Old Town is just a couple hundred yards to the west as well, and the rest of central Baku extends just north of the museum.
 
Of course one of the most hailed museums of the city is even in the same building: the Carpet Museum (same opening times, 5 AZN admission). If you're like me and couldn't think of anything more boring, just ignore it. Otherwise, by all means do go in and admire the rugs. It is recommended that you invest in a guided tour (3 AZN) to get the significance and meaning of the ornamentation and symbols explained to you. Apparently there's lots to be said about these pieces, some of which are supposedly rare and valuable. 
 
 
 
  • Baku Museum of Independence 01 - in the same building as the Carpet MuseumBaku Museum of Independence 01 - in the same building as the Carpet Museum
  • Baku Museum of Independence 02 - early indendence post WW1Baku Museum of Independence 02 - early indendence post WW1
  • Baku Museum of Independence 03 - the importance of having oilBaku Museum of Independence 03 - the importance of having oil
  • Baku Museum of Independence 04 - the dark years of WWII and USSRBaku Museum of Independence 04 - the dark years of WWII and USSR
  • Baku Museum of Independence 05 - presumably the helmet of a martyrBaku Museum of Independence 05 - presumably the helmet of a martyr
  • Baku Museum of Independence 06 - early atrocities in the 90sBaku Museum of Independence 06 - early atrocities in the 90s
  • Baku Museum of Independence 07 - and more on KhodjaliBaku Museum of Independence 07 - and more on Khodjali
  • Baku Museum of Independence 08 - Nagorno KarabakhBaku Museum of Independence 08 - Nagorno Karabakh
  • Baku Museum of Independence 09 - here the Armenians are portrayed as the villains of courseBaku Museum of Independence 09 - here the Armenians are portrayed as the villains of course
  • Baku Museum of Independence 10 - drastic paintingBaku Museum of Independence 10 - drastic painting
  • Baku Museum of Independence 11Baku Museum of Independence 11
  • Baku Museum of Independence 12 - war casualtiesBaku Museum of Independence 12 - war casualties
  • Baku Museum of Independence 13 - Captain Blackadder look-alikeBaku Museum of Independence 13 - Captain Blackadder look-alike
  • Baku Museum of Independence 14 - model oil installationsBaku Museum of Independence 14 - model oil installations
  • Baku Museum of Independence 15 - model of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipelineBaku Museum of Independence 15 - model of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline
  • Baku Museum of Independence 16 - with NazarbayevBaku Museum of Independence 16 - with Nazarbayev
  • Baku Museum of Independence 17 - with ArafatBaku Museum of Independence 17 - with Arafat
  • Baku Museum of Independence 18 - with PutinBaku Museum of Independence 18 - with Putin
  • Baku Museum of Independence 19 - books of wisdomBaku Museum of Independence 19 - books of wisdom
  • Baku Museum of Independence 20 - flag and National LeaderBaku Museum of Independence 20 - flag and National Leader

 

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