Museum of Missing Soldiers
formerly - darkometer rating: 3 -)
A small museum, of sorts, in Stepanakert
, devoted to those fighters in the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict of the early 1990s who went (and still are) missing. It was more of a shrine-cum-educational/research institution than a museum proper.
(re)captured the region and its capital in September 2023, it has to be regarded as extremely unlikely that this very Armenian/Artsakh institution could possibly still exist. It has to be assumed it’s a lost place
The text below was penned after my visit to Stepanakert in 2010. It’s now maximally outdated and only left here, in adapted form, for historical interest.
>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 of the 1990s see under Nagorno-Karabakh
The Museum of Missing Soldiers was actually only part of the HQ of the "Union of Relatives of Missing Warriors", to give it its "official" title. The "Memorial Museum" inside it, blended 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 we were directed towards the city centre and it caused a slightly perturbed look when instead we headed in the other direction towards the Museum of Missing Soldiers. Here, 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 was pushed here.
For the foreign visitor, of course, it didn't matter so much what the relationship between the two places may have been. They did thematically complement each other. But despite some stylistic similarities they offered very different experiences.
What there was to see:
not a lot. The actual "museum part" was rather small and not particularly engrossing for the foreign visitor. There were photos of some of the missing (presumably), which were partly arranged on the wall in such a way that they roughly formed a shape similar to that of the maps of Armenia
(such photo arrangements were apparently the done thing in these parts – cf. the Museum of Fallen Soldiers
). Otherwise it was 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 looked like fashion shop window mannequins, stood like guards of honour in niches in the wall with the flags of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh between them.
It was all rather on the symbolic side – and overall the atmosphere was that of a kind of shrine rather than of a museum proper. Moreover, there was 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 needed to at least have a very good grasp of Russian or even Armenian – as the curator of the museum did not speak English. She was, however, 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 was waiting for more dedicated visitors and/or researchers.
The overall point of the place was, 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 seemed to be the desire that the "enemy", i.e. the Azerbaijanis, admit that they still, secretly, hold POWs from Armenia
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!
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.
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
. But those street names will by now have been changed to some Azeri alternatives.
Google maps locator:[39.8158,46.7511
Access and costs: a bit tricky to locate, but central; free.
Details: 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.).
Time required: 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 and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see Stepanakert, whose central parts, including a couple of "cute" amusement parks, are just a couple of blocks away.
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 1a
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 1b - sign by the door
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 2 - staircase
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 3 - mock bars
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 4 - main room
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 5 - diorama display
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 6 - jumble
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 7 - dummy guards
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 8 - symbolism
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 9 - relative ICRC stats
- Museum of Missing Soldiers 9b - praise the Lord and pass the ammunition