Martyrs' Lane, Baku

  - darkometer rating: 3 -
Baku's main memorial to those killed in the 1990 clashes with the Soviet Union's Red Army in Azerbaijan's struggle for independence, and also some of those soldiers "martyred" in the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations


More background info: The central section of the Martyrs' Lane complex ("Shahidler Xiyabani" in Azeri) serves as a memorial to those who perished when the Soviet Red Army intervened in Azerbaijan, by marching into Baku, declaring a state of emergency, in order to heavy-handedly crush the nascent independence movement that had formed here. The death toll of the shootings numbers between nearly one hundred, to possibly as many as 300.
The intervention soon backfired for the Soviet Union, as it ended any hope of reconciliation and preservation of the Azeri SSR or Azerbaijan remaining part of the USSR, which was heading towards collapse anyway. Instead the independence movement was strengthened in Azerbaijan, just as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and eventually also in Central Asia. Azerbaijan declared its independence in October 1991, two months ahead of the official dissolution of the USSR in December of that year.
The ones buried on this hill above Baku are seen as the heroes and martyrs of the independence struggle. So this is a very important place in the Azeri national psyche.
Soon there were to be more dead in the years that followed – namely when the war over Nagorno-Karabakh took its toll. And many of the Azeri Karabakh war dead were buried here to as martyrs, parallel to their 1990 predecessors.
Azerbaijan effectively lost this war against Armenia, which still occupies the region as well as a "buffer zone" of Azerbaijani territory around the enclave, and the unilaterally declared independence of Nagorno-Karabakh was never recognized by Azerbaijan ... nor, for that matter, by anyone else, at least not officially. This other section of Martyrs' Lane can be seen as the counterpoint to the main section. While the latter commemorates the Azeris' own victorious independence struggle, the Karabakh section mourns the dead of a lost war over an independence the Azeris could not prevent.  
For more background information about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict see its own separate entry.
What there is to see: The focal point of the whole complex is the main memorial with the eternal flame at the bottom at the end of the central avenue. The eternal flame is indeed a massive one – you can feel the heat from a couple of yards away (so don't get too close or you might burn yourself).
The monument stands in the centre of a round open plaza right at the edge of the hillside. From up here you get one of the best views over Baku and the bay curving to the horizon to the east.
Closer to the bottom of the hillside you can also catch a good glimpse into the harbour and shipyards – as well as the new National Flag Square (see below).
The central avenue is lined with walls of white marble into which polished black marble stones are set with the names of the martyrs honoured here and mostly also a photographic portrait etched on. Note that a few of the martyrs remain nameless. Here and there you may find a rose placed on the marble ... on the anniversary date there'll be thousands of them.
In this part, the deceased all share the same death date: 20 January 1990, i.e. these are the victims of the Soviet Red Army's military intervention in Baku on that day. Towards the northern end of the avenue spot the double stones for a married couple who apparently became victims joined in matrimony as well as the massacre.
Running parallel to the central avenue are shady rows of even more graves – and these are of casualties from the Karabakh war. Going by the dates on the stones, 1992 must have been a particularly bad year for warriors from Baku. Many of the graves are lavishly adorned with flowers, testament that they – or the conflict they died in – are not forgotten.
Slightly hidden, next to the Karabakh row of graves ca. a third of the complex's distance from the road, there's a British memorial stone commemorating those of the military personnel who died here at the end of World War One. Since the British military mission here was to help prevent a Turkish take-over which many Azeris actually welcomed, this memorial is stone is quite controversial.
Location: on top of a hill just beyond the south-western end of Baku city centre, about a mile (1.6 km) from the Old Town.
Google maps locator: [40.3558,49.8294]
Access and costs: fairly easy, free.
Details: to get to the memorial complex, you can first walk from the western end of the Old Town, cross Niyazi street and either fiddle through Shovkat Alahbarova and/or Adil Isgandarov or from the roundabout by the Bulvar and marina walk down Mikayiluseyov Prospect to the bottom station of the funicular behind the square with a monument in the middle. Have some small change on you as the ride with the funicular (ca. every 15 minutes) is very cheap (something like 0.2 AZN, if I remember correctly).  
At the top keep going straight ahead and you will come to the big sandstone sign for Martyrs Lane in Azeri (transliterated here as "Shahidler Xiyabani"), roughly opposite the parliament building. It's most dramatic to walk the central avenue to approach the main monument at the end. You can explore the side paths afterwards.
The memorial complex can be freely accessed and is theoretically open all hours. Of course at night you won't see much of the rows of memorial headstones, but you'll get a night view of  Baku. I'd still rather recommend a daytime visit (or go twice).
Time required: Around an hour, depending how long you linger and how many of the memorial/grave stones you are inclined to study. Add another half an hour or so for getting there and away.
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see Baku and Azerbaijan – not far away, a bit further north-west from Martyrs' Lane, is the cemetery with the grave of Heydar Aliyev, the "National Leader" of post-independence Azerbaijan, who died in 2003. It's a pilgrimage that official state visitors are regularly made to make – as a tourist you could also do it voluntarily.
Down by the seaside is the new National Flag Square visible from the main monument of Martyrs Lane featuring what is now claimed to be the world's highest flagpole. It would thus have supplanted previous record holders South & North Korea (see DMZ) and Turkmenistan (see Ashgabat). The massive flag itself has reportedly been difficult to fly from the 162 m (531 feet) pole – given the often strong winds that the city of Baku is known for, but presumably that's not to dent the associated national pride. There's even a "National Flag Museum" beneath the flag pole's pedestal, with a variety national symbols on display, including – naturally – various specimens of the national flag that are of some kind of importance, e.g. ones kissed by "National Leader" Heydar Aliyev on official occasions. It must be a truly quirky kind of museum …
These new sites of national pride were opened only in September and November 2010, respectively, by president Ilham Aliyev. They may not be so much dark sites proper, but certainly weird enough to be of interest to many dark tourists too. I would certainly have wanted to go and see this, but when I was there in early August 2010 it was still a building site … And the shiny new "Crystal Hall", purpose-built as the venue of the 2012 European Song Contest, hadn't even been dreamed up yet at that time. Now it complements this cluster of new sights.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Many people come here primarily for the good view you can have over Baku and the bay, which is indeed splendid. Otherwise all other touristy things to do are to be found back down in central Baku itself.
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 01 -  with parliament in the backgroundBaku Martyrs Lane 01 - with parliament in the background
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 02 - main avenueBaku Martyrs Lane 02 - main avenue
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 03 - main monumentBaku Martyrs Lane 03 - main monument
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 04 - flowers and flameBaku Martyrs Lane 04 - flowers and flame
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 05 - big eternal flameBaku Martyrs Lane 05 - big eternal flame
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 06 - flame and laneBaku Martyrs Lane 06 - flame and lane
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 07 - monument and TV towerBaku Martyrs Lane 07 - monument and TV tower
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 08 - view over the BayBaku Martyrs Lane 08 - view over the Bay
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 09 - view over shipyards and National Flag SquareBaku Martyrs Lane 09 - view over shipyards and National Flag Square
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 10 - looking backBaku Martyrs Lane 10 - looking back
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 11 - closer upBaku Martyrs Lane 11 - closer up
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 13 - with roseBaku Martyrs Lane 13 - with rose
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 14 - namelessBaku Martyrs Lane 14 - nameless
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 15 - couple killed in 1990Baku Martyrs Lane 15 - couple killed in 1990
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 16 - shady gravesBaku Martyrs Lane 16 - shady graves
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 17 - Karabakh casualtiesBaku Martyrs Lane 17 - Karabakh casualties
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 18 - controversial British memorialBaku Martyrs Lane 18 - controversial British memorial
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 19 - top funicular stationBaku Martyrs Lane 19 - top funicular station
  • Baku Martyrs Lane 20 - funicularBaku Martyrs Lane 20 - funicular

©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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