Museum of Missing Soldiers
- darkometer rating: (3) -
UPDATE: after the renewed conflict over the region in 2020, and again in 2023, in which Azerbaijan reasserted control over Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh, it has to be assumed that this museum is doomed, if it is even still there now. It's likely that the chapter below will have to be moved into the Lost Places
section eventually. For now I'll let it stand here, though.
A small museum, of sorts, in Stepanakert
, devoted to those fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict that went (and still are) missing. It's more of a shrine-cum-educational/research institution than a museum proper, and only worth going to if you have a good grasp of Russian or Armenian and are really into the subject matter.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
for some background info about the war see under Nagorno-Karabakh
. The Museum of Missing Soldiers is actually only part of the HQ of the "Union of Relatives of Missing Warriors", to give it its correct, "official" title. The "Memorial Museum" inside it, blends in with other branches of the institution, such as the media rooms and offices.
I'm not sure, but I got the slight impression that there is some kind of "competition" between this institution and the Museum of Fallen Soldiers
next door. When we left there they directed us towards the city centre and looked slightly perturbed when instead we headed in the other direction towards the Museum of Missing Soldiers. There, in turn, no mention was made of the Fallen Soldiers Museum – or of the latter's particular angle. Instead only the issue of soldiers missing in action is pushed here.
For the foreign visitor, of course, it doesn't matter so much what the relationship between the two places may be. They do thematically complement each other. But despite some stylistic similarities they offer very different experiences. If I had to choose, I'd clearly favour the Fallen Soldiers Museum, to be frank. It's much more worth the dark tourist's while, whereas the Missing Soldiers place is, well, more "advanced" (if not to say "taxing") and rather special interest only …
What there is to see:
not a lot. The actual "museum part" is rather small and not particularly engrossing for the foreign visitor. There are photos of some of the missing (presumably), which are partly arranged on the wall in such a way that they roughly form a shape similar to that of the maps of Armenia
(such photo arrangements are apparently the done thing in these parts – cf. the Museum of Fallen Soldiers
). Otherwise it's just a few displays of the odd gun, a small diorama, sculptures and a couple of shelves with more assorted relics and stuff.
On one wall two dummies, which look like fashion shop window mannequins, stand like guards of honour in niches in the wall with the flags of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh between them. It's a rather odd sight.
It's all rather on the symbolic side – and overall the atmosphere is that of a kind of shrine rather than of a museum proper. Moreover, there is hardly any labelling – and almost no English at all, except for the odd Red Cross poster and a tourist map of the historical and architectural monuments of the region.
To get anything out of this place, you need to at least have a very good grasp of Russian or even Armenian – as the curator of the museum does not speak English. She is, however, there and extremely keen to give visitors a "guided tour" … which turned more into an intense personal lecture (if not a sermon!), which my Russian-fluent wife had to endure. She was only partly able to relay the contents to me afterwards – but what I remember best is the image of the curator even grabbing my wife by the arms with both hands while directing a particularly heartfelt speech at her … judging by the closed eyes while she was speaking, preacher-style.
The curator also led us round the other rooms besides the main exhibition room, e.g. a kind of library and a media room, where a range of video tapes is waiting for more dedicated visitors and/or researchers.
The overall point of the place is, of course, to promote the cause of those relatives of the missing. Apart from hoping that some of the missing may actually even come back one day, it mainly seems to be the desire that the "enemy", i.e. the Azerbaijanis, admit that they still, secretly, hold POWs from Armenia
has repeatedly dismissed the allegation … while directing similar claims at Armenia, which in turn are dismissed by the latter in the same fashion. Impossibly poisoned relations!
To me it seems pretty unlikely that either side would actually do that – at least not for such a prolonged period of time … after all, the war ended (if only in a ceasefire) back in 1994! But who can really know for sure …
What I found quite interesting was the relative size of the Red Cross files we were shown, laid out on a desk. The covers specified these as alphabetical lists of "civilians and military personal unaccounted for in relation with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict". To me, the volume listing those "of Azerbaijani origin" actually looked quite a lot thicker than the equivalent one for those "of Armenian origin" – at least three times as many pages, I would estimate. I found this observation just a little out of keeping with the museum's message … but never mind – I'm still not taking sides here (cf. Nagorno-Karabakh
If you decide that you can give this place a miss (I wouldn't blame you), you may still, on your way back from the (competing?) Museum of Fallen Soldiers
, have a quick peek into the staircase of Missing Soldiers Museum. This, in a way, is its most remarkable, most in-your-face feature: the walls of the staircase leading up to the first-floor museum are painted like a prison – complete with paintings of inmates behind bars against a black background. Almost a bit house-of-horrors like in style.
in the back of the large building with a faded pinkish facade on V. Sargsyan Avenue (also known as Yerevanyan Ave.) between Garegin Nzhdeh and Hakobyan streets, in Stepanakert
Google maps locator:[39.8158,46.7511
Access and costs: a bit tricky to locate, but central; free.
for directions see under the Museum of Fallen Soldiers, whose entrance is in the same courtyard.
I cannot recall seeing any official opening hours by the entrance, or published anywhere, but I presume they will be more or less the same as those of the (competing?) Museum of Fallen Soldiers opposite (i.e. Mondays to Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
basically no time at all, really unless you can speak Russian or Armenian. If you do, then be prepared for a guided tour, or rather a lecture, of indeterminable length (ca. half an hour when I visited with my wife – but it felt longer!).
Combinations with other dark destinations:
obviously, the Museum of Fallen Soldiers
, whose entrance is just across the courtyard of the same building, should be seen too, in fact first. And if you want to visit only one of them, then I'd say definitely give the Fallen Soldiers Museum preference. It's a lot better, really.
Furthermore, there's the Artsakh State Museum
, which is only a few hundred yards away and also caters well for international visitors, in English. Its section on the Karabakh war, however, cannot really compete with the one at the Museum of Fallen Soldiers. But it's probably more worth it than the Missing Soldiers Museum.
In general, and for things further afield, see under Stepanakert