The Turkic history of the khanate – on the territory of modern-day Armenia’s capital – has emerged as one of the Azerbaijani government’s main ideological weapons.
A new exhibit in Baku is showcasing never-before-shown artifacts from Yerevan’s Muslim past: the Erivan Khanate, a statelet that existed from the 16th through the 19th centuries on the territory of what is now the capital of Armenia.
The Erivan Khanate has emerged as one of Azerbaijan’s primary weapons in the historical wars it fights with Armenia, as the two countries trade claims over the “true” owners of lands across the Caucasus. Azerbaijani government rhetoric uses the history of the khanate – ruled by Turkic-speaking khans under Persian suzerainty – to try to delegitimize Armenia’s claim to its own territory and defend itself against analogous Armenian claims against its territory.
Now a high-profile exhibit devoted to the khanate displays about 300 artifacts, including paintings and miniatures, clothing, and items from the Sardar Palace, the khanate’s seat of power. The exhibition was put on by the Heydar Aliyev Center – dedicated to the former president and run by the wife of the current president, Ilham Aliyev – and the Azerbaijan Ministry of Culture.
Much of the exhibit comes from the Georgian National Museum, which inherited the collection from the tsarist era. When Russian forces conquered Erivan in 1827, valuables were taken to Tbilisi, then the center of Russian administration in the Caucasus. The items were first stored at the Caucasian Department of the Russian Royal Geographic Society, and then were eventually inherited by the Georgian National Museum. Until now they had never been shown.
Austin Clayton is a writer based in Baku.