Karabakh (Azerbaijani: Qarabağ) is a geographic region in southwestern Azerbaijan, extending from the highlands of the
Lesser Caucasus down to the lowlands between the rivers Kura and Aras. It includes two sub-regions, as follows:
Mountainous Karabakh (better known as Nagorno-Karabakh) and Lowland Karabakh (the southern Kura plains and
mountains, which includes the districts of Aghdam, Aghjabedi, Barda, Fuzuli, Gubadli, Jebrayil, Kelbajar, Lachin, Terter, and
Origins of the name
The word Karabakh originates from the Azerbaijani Turkish language, and literally means "black garden.” The place name is
first mentioned in the Georgian Chronicles (Kartlis Tskhovreba), as well in Persian sources from the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries. The name became common after the 1230s, when the region was conquered by the Mongols.
Ancient and medieval
Lowland and Mountainous Karabakh, dating back more than two millennia, were populated with several autochthonous
Caucasian tribes that made up the Caucasian Albanian nation. The Caucasian Albanians were the ancestors of modern-day
Azerbaijanis and organized as the Artsakh province of the Caucasian Albanian kingdom. Most of the population at that time
were Fire Worshippers (Zoroastrians). Some of the first churches in the Caucasus were built in Karabakh region, especially
since Caucasian Albania officially converted to Christianity in 313 A.D., making it one of the world’s first nations to officially
proclaim Christianity as a state religion.
After the Arab caliphate conquest in 705 A.D., most of the Caucasian Albanian population started to convert to Islam,
consolidating into the Azerbaijani nation—a Turkic-speaking mostly Muslim nation with strong Caucasian roots and
Centuries of change
As the rule of the Arab caliphate started to be brought down by native resistance and freedom fighters such as Babek
(the Azerbaijani Spartacus), the entire area came under the control of successive Turkic empires and dynasties, including
the Seljuks, the Atabeks, the Mongol-Tatar Ilkhanids, the Qara-Qoyunlu, the Ag-Qoyunlu, the Safavids, and the Afshars.
Roughly from the 1500s, the powerful Azerbaijani Turkic Safavid Dynasty created a Karabakh Ganja Beylerbeyliq, which
was one of the four such administrative super-regions (beylerbeyliqs) into which they divided Azerbaijan.
The first beylerbey of the Karabakh Ganja beylerbeliq was Shahverdi Soltan Ziyadoglu of the Qajar dynasty. In 1747
Panah Ali khan Javanshir, a local Azerbaijani Turkic noble and military leader of the Javanshir Otuz-iki Turkic tribe,
returned back to the region after the death of the Nadir Shah Afshar, the ruler of the Afshar Azerbaijani Turkic dynasty of
the Iranian Empire, and in whose army Panah Ali khan was a general, and both Lower Karabakh and Mountainous
Karabakh were declared as the new independent Karabakh khanate.
In 1805 the Karabakh khanate accepted Russian suzerainty, and in 1822 the Russian Empire abolished the khanate and
incorporated Karabakh, like all other Azerbaijani khanates, into its administrative territorial structure, where Karabakh
remained until the fall of the Russian empire.
As Azerbaijan was able to establish its independence in 1918 until 1920 as the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR), the
world’s first predominantly Muslim parliamentary democracy, Karabakh was part of it and remained as such after the
Bolshevik Russia overtook Azerbaijan and proclaimed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.).
While remaining part of what became Soviet Azerbaijan, the Karabakh region had its highland portion carved up into a
Mountainous Karabakh Autonomous District (best known by its Russian acronym NKAO), whereas the remaining parts of
the historic Karabakh were divided into multiple smaller districts of Aghdam, Aghjabedi, Barda, Fuzuli, Gubadli, Jebrayil,
Kelbajar, Lachin, Terter, and Zangilan.
About the Karabakh Foundation
The Karabakh Foundation seeks to increase awareness and understanding in the United States of the cultural heritage and
traditions of the country of Azerbaijan, the Caucasus area, and the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. While coalescing
significant artistic and scholarly talent, the Foundation is nurturing a new generation of artists and scholars toward
The Foundation serves as a dynamic facilitator and clearinghouse raising the public profile of Azerbaijan, its Karabakh
region, and the Caucasus region in general. Main activities include preserving and disseminating cultural content via
archival collecting, public programs, publications, exhibitions, speaking forums, international collaborations, scholarly
exchange, artistic sponsorship, and related venues.
Foundation support comes primarily from Khazar University, the first private university in Azerbaijan and one of the
country’s leading institutions of higher learning. Additional information about the Karabakh Foundation may be found at
L o o k i n g B a c k , L o o k i n g F o r w a r d
The Karabakh Foundation’s Azerbaijani Documentary Project collects and preserves
personal histories (oral histories) and material artifacts (objects) from individuals with
connections to Azerbaijan. The ADP Archive provides researchers in the United States
with documentary evidence of Azerbaijani life, history, and culture. Elements from the
ADP are available for viewing via www.KarabakhFoundation.org.
The Karabakh Foundation would like to thank all of the preservers of Azerbaijani
culture and all of the contributors to the KARABAKH: Looking Back, Looking Forward
calendar. Supporters include the staff, friends, and donors of the Karabakh Foundation,
Washington, D.C., United States; Wikimedia Foundation, California, United States;
Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Baku, Azerbaijan; Behruz Huseynli, Baku, Azerbaijan;
Gunay Ragimli, Baku, Azerbaijan; Sefer Ibrahim, Baku, Azerbaijan; Lala Karimli,
TheKarabakh Foundation:OnDocumentingandSharingCulture. . .
We are often asked, why the “Karabakh” Foundation? When we started the Karabakh Foundation, a
U.S. 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable cultural foundation, in 2009, our primary interest was in
educating Americans about the proud culture and heritage of Azerbaijan and the Caucasus region.
We selected the name Karabakh Foundation to call attention to the historic Azerbaijani region of
Karabakh, which is the cradle of culture for the greater Caucasus region and is considered the heart
of Azerbaijan. Right now much of the historic Karabakh, unfortunately, is militarily occupied and a
Azerbaijanis—whether the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who used to live in Karabakh, the
refugees now living in Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijanis from other parts of the country, or individuals
who are part of the worldwide Azerbaijani diaspora—come together in their yearning for Karabakh.
Once a place of tremendous cultural achievement, the Karabakh of old lives on in the hearts and
minds of Azerbaijanis of all ages. This calendar, a collector's item, is our way of showing what's in our
hearts and minds for the world to see.
We have produced this first-in-a-series publication KARABAKH: Looking Back, Looking Forward
as an educational tool, memorabilia, and as a symbol of the dedication and perseverance embodied in
the name “Karabakh” for all Azerbaijanis.
We wish you a year marked by health and many successes. We hope to hear your feedback and
comments as well as count on your tax-deductible donations and support to the Karabakh Foundation
Prof. Hamlet Isakhanli, Co-founder and Member, Board of Directors
Dr. John Vafai, Esq., Co-founder and Member, Board of Directors
Dr. Adil Baguirov, Co-founder and Member, Board of Directors
Diana Cohen Altman, Executive Director
KARABAKH: Looking Back, Looking Forward
The Shusha Castle Wall
―Let us build such an everlasting and unassailable castle in a strong and impassable highland area that no
enemy could besiege it.”— Council members of the Karabakh khanate, 1747. Russian sources indicate that Panah
Ali Khan Javanshir (founder and first ruler of Karabakh khanate) commissioned Shusha Castle and completed it
in 1753. The area was picked because of its high plateaus and deep brooks, which provide a natural fortification.
Ganja Gate, Shusha City (1753)
Located in the northern part of the city of Shusha, the Ganja Gate received its name from the road leading to Ganja,
one of the largest and most important cities of Azerbaijan. Three other gates connected the city to outside environs,
including Irevan Gate, which connected Shusha with Azerbaijan’s western regions, and two gates that provided
access to surrounding highland villages. The writing above Ganja Gate reads ―Shusha‖ in Cyrillic.
Traditional Novruz Plate
Novruz Bayram (New Year) is celebrated on the first day of spring (March 21, corresponding to the vernal
equinox, when the day and night are of equal length) and is an important holiday in all Turkic, Iranian, and
Caucasus cultures. New beginnings and rebirth are repeatedly emphasized in many of the holiday activities, such
as when people purify themselves by jumping over a bonfire on the last Wednesday before Novruz.
No Novruz table is complete without semeni (sprouting wheat), pakhlava, shekerbura, and shorgogal.
Ashaghi (Lower) Govhar Agha Mosque, Shusha
Building began on Ashaghi (Lower) Govhar Agha Mosque and Yukhari (Upper) Govhar Agha Mosque during the
reigns of Panakh Ali Khan Javanshir and Ibrahim Khalil Khan Javanshir in the 18th century, but were completed in
the 19th century. The mosques were named after Govhar Agha (1796-1868), a poetess and the daughter of Ibrahim
Khalil Khan Javanshir, who was also the primary sponsor of the mosques.
Street in Shusha
Shusha is a well-preserved example of Azerbaijani medieval urban planning. The city encompasses 29
neighborhoods that are connected by narrow and curved streets. Two-story houses often contain a private
patio, beautiful stained-glass windows, and interior walls with multicolored painted decorations.
Seyid Shushinski (1889-1965) with
Other Folk Music Performers from Karabakh
One of Azerbaijan’s ancient traditional folk compositions is mugham, which combines classic poetry with local
musical improvisation. Three major schools of mugham performance existed during the late 19th and early 20th
centuries—Karabakh, Shirvan, and Baku. The city of Shusha was particularly renowned for this art, and in 2003,
UNESCO named mugham a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Uzeyir Hajibeyov (1885-1948), Azerbaijani Musical Icon,
as a Schoolteacher in Karabakh, with Students (1911)
Uzeyir Hajibeyov was Azerbaijan’s greatest composer and one of the most celebrated in the entire Muslim world. A
native of Karabakh, Hajibeyov’s accomplishments include composing the Azerbaijani national anthem and bringing
traditional Azerbaijani music to the Western world through his operas, such as Leyli and Majnun and Koroglu.
Azerbaijan has nine of the world’s eleven climate zones, which contributes to the richness of the country’s cuisine.
Popular Azerbaijani dishes include kebab (pictured above), plov, dolma, kutab, dushpara, piti, dogha, and pahlava.
Purchase a copy of the Karabakh Foundation’s cookbook , The Cuisine of Karabakh,
Wall Drawings inside Sheki Khan’s Palace
Sheki Khan’s Palace was built in 1762 under the orders of Hussein Khan, the ruler of the independent Sheki khanate,
and served as his summer retreat. Elaborate frescoes cover the walls of the interior façade; hunting and battle
scenes predominate on the first floor, while a profusion of flowers bring to life the ancient palace’s second floor.
In 2001 UNESCO recognized Sheki Khan’s Palace as a World Heritage Site.
Castle of Poetess Aghabayim Agha
Ibrahim Khan’s Daughter (1781-1831)
Women have contributed to the literary culture of Karabakh for centuries. Notable women poets from the region
have included Ashuk Peri, Aghabayim Agha, Fatma khanum Kemine, Govkhar Agha, and Khurshid Banu Natavan.
Azerbaijani Carpets (Rugs from Karabakh Region)
Azerbaijani carpets can be divided into four regions: Karabakh, Guba-Shirvan, Ganja-Qazakh, and Tabriz, each with
multiple weaving and pattern styles. During the latter half of the 19thcentury, Shusha became the flourishing center of
the Karabakh style, which heavily influenced carpet weaving techniques in the regions of Naxcivan and Zangezur.
Tea in “Armudu” (Pear-Shaped) Glasses
Tea is an integral cultural component of Azerbaijan and is considered to be the national beverage. It is typically
served with fruit preserves, cane sugar, and lemon, in an elegant armudu glass. Not only is the glass aesthetically
pleasing, but its narrow center also prevents tea from cooling, making the beverage more enjoyable for the drinker.
Literature and Music in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan preserves a centuries-old legacy of reverence for all of its great musicians, writers, poets, and intellectuals,
many of whom have hailed from Karabakh. ―The people of Azerbaijan have retained their ancient musical tradition.
For example, the art of ashugs, who improvise songs to their own on an instrument called a kobuz, remains extremely
popular. Mug[h]ams, vocal and instrumental compositions, are also widely known, the town of Shusha being
particularly renowned for this art.‖ (Source: Azerbaijan: Cultural Life, Encyclopædia Britannica.)
Christianity in Azerbaijan
Dadivang (Khudavang) is a Caucasian Albanian Monastery in Kalbajar region of Azerbaijan, dating back to at least
the 6th century. Its name is from St. Dadi, whose mentor was Apostle St. Thaddeus, one of the 72 apostle’s sent to
spread Christianity (who in turn was the brother of Apostle St. James, one of the 12 original apostles). Caucasian
Albania was one of the first nations in the world to officially recognize Christianity as a state religion in 313 AD.
Azerbaijan is home to a variety of ancient dances that have been influenced by hunting and ceremonial rituals.
These dances are typically fast-paced and evoke a sense of optimism. Among many others, popular Azerbaijani
dances include fast-paced dances Kaytaghi, Jengi, Lezginka, Qazaghi, and Khanchobani, as well as Ay Bari
Bakh (female), and Asta Karabakhi (Slow Karabakhi), which is an ancient dance originally from Karabakh.
Karabakh Endures . . .
Over the centuries, Karabakh has endured many sieges and acts of occupation yet has emerged as a center of
Azerbaijani culture beloved by Azerbaijanis around the world. These are our mountains and this is our heritage.
From a reported exchange during the 1795 Siege of Shusha, then capital of the Karabakh khanate
"Lunatic! A hail of stones descend from the catapult of heavens, while you await wonders in walls of glass?"
– Message transmitted via bow and arrow to the town of Shusha by Aga Muhammad shah Qajar,
Azerbaijani-Turkic ruler of the Iranian Empire, written by his court poet Urfi
"If my protector is the one that I know, [he] would protect the glass along side the most solid stone.”
– Response sent back by Ibrahim-Khalil khan Javanshir, the ruler of the Karabakh khanate,
written by his vizier, the renowned poet Mollah Panah Vagif (1717-1797)
Volunteer for the Azerbaijani Documentary Project • Nominate someone to be interviewed
for the Azerbaijani Radio Hour: The Voice of the Karabakh Foundation • Attend a
Karabakh Foundation event and bring a friend • Submit an item to be considered for
publication • Contribute your artistic talents to help share the culture, arts, and heritage of
Azerbaijan and the Caucasus • Make a tax-deductible donation. . . .
Visit www.KarabakhFoundation.org to find out more!
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