Project on Azerbaijan Museums

Grantee: Ali Mozaffari

his research examines the use of historical collections in the construction and dissemination of an official and ideologically-sanctioned rendition of national identity in Azerbaijani museums. The proposed project is a pilot study, which contributes to a larger project about the official representations of Iranian culture and heritage within Central Asia and Caucasus (broadly, West Asia). The primary focus of the project is on the Independence Museum of Azerbaijan in Baku.Although establishment of museums in Azerbaijan dates back to the early days of the Soviet Union (1919 in Baku), arguably, it is since the fall of the soviets and during the reign of the Alyev’s that there has been a proliferation of new museums in the Azerbaijani capital. They are, in fact, central to a burgeoning culture and tourist industry that has emerged since independence. While belonging to different historical periods, both new and older museums appear to maintain a nationalist and ethnocentric curatorial narrative. Preliminary evidence suggests that this museum and its counterpartin Azerbaijan construct “myths of origin” and differentiation of an essential Azeri identity. Accordingly, historical events and material culture are appropriated into an ethnocentric — primarily pan-Turkist — ideological narrative one that counterposes Azeri (Turkish) and Persian identities, representing the latter as an historically colonialist and oppressing identity and culture.