Научная статья на тему 'Azerbaijan’s cultural relics in the global civilizational context'

Azerbaijan’s cultural relics in the global civilizational context Текст научной статьи по специальности «История и археология»

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The Caucasus & Globalization
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Аннотация научной статьи по истории и археологии, автор научной работы — Neymat Meshadikhanum, Kulieva Vafa

The authors take a look at the global civilizational context of Azerbaijan’s cultural relics and trace their historical origin in Karabakh and Western Azerbaijan.

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Текст научной работы на тему «Azerbaijan’s cultural relics in the global civilizational context»

Meshadikhanum NEYMAT

D.Sc. (Hist.),

Corresponding Member of the National Academy of

Sciences of Azerbaijan (Baku, Azerbaijan).


D.Sc. (Hist.),

senior fellow at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan (Baku, Azerbaijan).



The authors take a look at the global cultural relics and trace their historical ori-civilizational context of Azerbaijan’s gin in Karabakh and Western Azerbaijan.

I n t r o d u c t i o n

Azerbaijan is one of the oldest seats of civilization. Throughout its history, its people created a highly developed and original material and spiritual culture. Its contribution to the treasure-trove of world civilization cannot be overestimated. This article is the first attempt in national historical science to cover the geographical range of Azerbaijan’s cultural relics, which are all interconnected and an intrinsic part of the global culture.


Azerbaijan’s Earliest Relics

A fragment of a mandible of a hominid (Azykhanthropus) and traces of the pebble culture discovered in 1968 in the Azykh Cave (Fizuli District of present-day Azerbaijan) were two valuable additions to the history of world culture confirming that man lived there during the Paleolithic Age. They also meant that the ancestors of homo sapiens probably lived in Azerbaijan, as well as throughout the whole of the Central Caucasus and Asia Minor. Similar sites of ancient men were discovered in Africa.

The finds testify that Azerbaijan was one of the earliest seats of human civilization. A comparative analysis suggests that the local Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures were closely related to the Central Caucasian and Mediterranean cultures.1

The Taglar Cave, not far from the Azykh Cave, is an invaluable Neolithic monument with three cultural layers: two of them date back to the Mousterian, and the third, the upper one, to the Upper Paleolithic Age.2

The petroglyphic drawings of Gobustan can be described as absolutely unique and, therefore, very important. The early rock painting and other archaeological relics (ancient sites, settlements, burials, etc.) dated to different periods of earliest human history found in Beiukdash, Kichikdash, and Jingirdag-Iasyly Tepe were carefully studied.

The archaeological diggings of 1973 and 1983 at the Shongar site, which revealed stone Mesolithic implements, a small quantity of animal bone remains, and 26 chipped stone tools, allow us to describe it as one of the most exiting discoveries.3 The early petroglyphs universally recognized as works of art usually represent people and animals. Most figures are depicted in isolation or in group compositions (collective dances, collective labor, hunting, animal fights, wild animals attacking grazing cattle, and other scenes).

The Beiukdash and Kichikdash mountains are found in the coastal zone, which explains the numerous representations of boats, several types of fish, and fishing nets.

The pictures of boats dated to different periods, the archaeological finds from the Gobustan Stone Age settlements—stone sinkers for fishing nets, bone implements used to make fishing nets, as well as objects shaped as fish hooks and also fish bones—testify to the fact that as early as ancient times people were engaged in fishing as their main occupation. One of the petroglyphs that shows over 100 boats is another confirmation of this.

The earliest Gobustan boats date back to the late Stone Age; the latest boat representations were made during the early centuries of our era. There are lineal representations of wooden and wicker boats.4 When in Gobustan, Thor Heyerdahl, a well-known Norwegian scholar, discovered many common features between the local rock boat paintings and representations of Viking boats that were several thousand years older and concluded that the Azeri and Norwegians had common cultural roots.

The Norwegian scholar went even further in his surmises: “Azerbaijan, and not Europe, was part of the fermenting kettle of brewing civilization with navigators that spread early trade and cultural impulses far and wide. Many clues are still invisible about the human history prior to the sudden cultural bloom in Egypt, Sumer and the Indus valley some five millennia ago. But with advanced technology, some day the answers may be found under the sand and sea. The challenge for scholars is to look deeper into foreign relations in the region of present-day Azerbaijan to determine what those prehistoric roots and linkages were.”5

1 See: M. Guseynov, Arkheologia Azerbaidzhana. Kamenny vek, Baku, 1975, pp. 24, 25, 28.

2 Ibidem.

3 See: D. Rustamov, F. Muradova, Petroglify Gobustana, Baku, 2003, pp. 72-73.

4 Ibidem.

5 Th. Heyerdahl, “The Azerbaijan Connection Challenging Euro-Centric Theories of Migration,” Azerbaijan International, Spring 1995, No. 3.1.


Medieval Cultural Relics in Azerbaijan

The territory of Azerbaijan at the crossroads of the great historical routes that united the East and the West—the famous Great Silk Road—is rich in medieval cultural relics.

The routes of trade caravans that crossed the country’s territory in all directions are dotted with hanega and zavii (dwellings of Sufi sheikhs) that speak of the huge role of the Muslim clergy in the sociopolitical and cultural life of Azerbaijan in the Middle Ages.

The caravan-serais, ribats, imarats, and inevitable wells (ovdans) at each of them, which offered shelter and food to travelers and fodder and water to their cattle, were spaced along trade caravan routes at a day journey’s distance. Not infrequently ribats (large caravan-serais) were transformed into fortresses complete with towers and embrasures.

The Sanchagal imarat built on the order of Shirvanshah Halilallah I in 848 Year of Hegira (1439/40) 40 km from Baku is one such structure. The windowless building with thick high walls and semi-towers looks like a fortress. The caravan-serai also included a two-storied balakhana (guest premises) of five rooms, barn, and stables. A similar structure can be seen on the Baku-Shabran trade route on the slopes of the Beshbarmak Mountain.

Not infrequently caravans used multi-purpose constructions and various types of social-religious facilities with small caravan-serais nearby. Tombs and sanctuaries of sheikhs, imams, and great medieval scholars Pir Husain, Maulan Yusuf, Diri-baba, Tair Taj al-Huda b. Ali Madakani, etc., prominent in the country’s social and political life can be seen along the trade routes that connected Baku and Shemakha via Maraza and Saliany.6

Under the pressure of the sheikhs’ authority, the feudal lords had to bequeath considerable parts of their property as waqf and build cultic centers, especially along the trade routes. This tradition helped promote the religious and philosophical ideas of Azerbaijan in neighboring countries.

All feudal states concerned with cementing their authority and influence along the trade routes bequeathed considerable waqfs to religious organizations. The Mongolian rulers (ilkhans) and the khans of the Golden Horde embraced Islam to tighten their grip on power and performed pilgrimages to the religious centers of Azerbaijan. After visiting the hanega of Pir Husain, Khan Uzbek of the Golden Horde returned the property his troops, which raided Shirvan, had plundered. The memorial plaque above the entrance to the minaret at the Pit Husain hanera reminds us that Argun-aka not only funded its restoration, but also helped it in many ways.7

Cultural Relics in Western Azerbaijan

The historical territory of Azerbaijan abounds in cultural relics that testify to its status of one of the earliest seats of civilization.

Such are the monuments found on former Azeri territory: the medieval necropolis in the village of Urud in Zangezur (now the village of Oront, Sisian District of the Republic of Armenia); the cemeteries and tombs in the village of Jafarabad (the village of Argavang in the Republic of Armenia), the caravan-serai at Selim Pass in Zangezur (today the territory of the Republic of Armenia); and monu-

6 See: V.A. Kulieva, Rol i pozitsia musul’manskogo dukhovenstva v sotsial’no-politicheskoy i kul’turnoy zhizni Azerbaidzhana v XIX—nachale XX vv. v rakurse armiano-azerbaidzhanskikh politicheskikh otnosheniy, Baku, 2003, pp. 26-43.

7 See: M.S. Neymat, Korpus epigraficheskikh pamiatnikov Azerbaidzhana, Vol. I, Baku, 1991, pp. 7, 8.


ments in the village of Alayaz. The stone monuments at the Urud cemetery shaped like rams and the inscriptions on them, together with the representations of deities (ongons) done in relief, are the best proof of the fact that Turkic artifacts were widespread across the Caucasian Albania, the historical territory of present-day Azerbaijan.8

Another monument of Azeri architecture—the mausoleum of the emirs of the Azeri Kara Ko-yunlu state—is found in the village of Jafarabad. The twenty-sided building built of dressed tufa was 12 meter-high (not counting the now absent cupola). The wide frieze running under the cupola contained an Arabic inscription, done in large Naskh script with suls elements. The text said: “In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful! Koran, II-256. Supreme and most honorable amir Pir Husain, let (Allah) prolong his justice, former al-amir al-deceased, who achieved forgiving mercy, al-amir Sad, may he rest in peace, during the reign of supreme sultan, most honorable sovereign, sultan of sultans of the East and South, sovereign of the state and religion Pir Budag khan and Yusuf noyon, let Allah prolong their reign, all generosity (invested with nobleness and good morals), support of the sovereigns and sultans, refuge of the downtrodden and outcast, patron of the wise men and those craving knowledge, patron (helper) of the wandering dervishes and those taking the path of divine knowledge (mystics), glory of the state and religion, ordered for a blessed sepulcher to be built—date: 15 Rajab 816 Year of Hegira = 11.10.1413.”9

Another monument of Azeri architecture is also found in Zangezur, at Selim Pass. The T-shaped caravan-serai, a rare and therefore highly interesting architectural monument, has a gable roof of dressed stone slabs. Its detailed architectural description can be found in V. Sysoev’s Materialy Kavkazskoy arkheologii (Caucasian Archeological Materials) compiled in 1907 and 1908.

Inside, the building was divided into two premises; the main one stretched from the north to the east; the second, perpendicular to the first (in full accordance with the T-shaped plan), stretched from the left to the right. The first was 15 arshins long and 7 arshins wide; the second 45 arshins long and 21 arshins wide (1 arshin = 5 m 60 cm). There is an Arabic inscription over the door carved in stone.

The Arabic inscription was mounted while the caravan-serai was in the process of construction—an important and highly relevant fact. There is other proof that the monument was built by an Azeri architect: the shape of the stone, the carving technique and the paleographic features are identical to the inscription found above the entrance to the mausoleum of Yahya bin Muhammad (d. 704 Year of Hegira or 1305) found in the village of Mamedbeyli (Zangelan District, Republic of Azerbaijan), one of the points on the Great Silk Road. This inscription features the name of Maj ad-Din Ali, an architect and founder of the Karabakh architectural school of Azerbaijan. Several architectural details relate the caravan-serai at Selim Pass to the same architect, together with several other constructions found along the Arax River, on the Great Silk Road that connected European countries with the Middle East via Azerbaijan.

Choban Salduz-noyon, vizier of Abu Said, built the bridges at the confluence of the Arpachai and Arax rivers, as well as above Daralaiaz and in Koprukend on the Great Silk Road that connected the Middle East and Europe via Kars and Erzurum in Anatolia.

A place of veneration of Ahi Tawakkul is found in the village of Alayaz; it consists of the foundations of a ruined mausoleum and other ruined buildings. The stone stele bears what remains of an inscription in the Naskh script: “This is the burial (of the late) forgiven martyr (who needs the grace of Most High Allah) Ahi Tawakkul—may Allah forgive his sins (in the month of Muharram nine thousand fifty ... year. Muharram 950 Year of Hegira = 6.4-6.5 1543).”10

Until 1918, the territory of Western Azerbaijan abounded in mosques, madrasahs, maqtabs, mausoleums, hanegas, and other cultic Muslim constructions. The State Historical Archives of the

See: M.S. Neymat, Korpus epigraficheskikh pamiatnikov Azerbaidzhana, Vol. III, 2001, p. 10.

Ibid., pp. 66-67.

1 Ibid., pp. 58, 66, 71, 75.


Azerbaijan Republic contains information about the number of Azeris and the Turkic-Azeri names of the villages. Today, out of several mosques of the early 20th century—the Ancient Shakhar (city) Mosque, the Main (Gey) Mosque, the Hajji Novruzalibek Mosque, the Hajji Imamverdi Mosque, the mosque of Mirza Safibek, and the mosque of Hajji Jafarbek—only the Main (Gey) Mosque remains standing in the city of Irevan (Erevan). The Armenian authorities transferred the surviving mosque to the Iranian embassy.11

Until 1915, there were 38 Shi‘a mosques in the Zangezur District alone; the entire Irevan Gubernia contained 382 Shi‘a and 9 Sunni mosques.12 There were also mosque parishes functioning as village councils that registered births, deaths, marriages, etc.

In 1885, the Irevan District of the Irevan Gubernia (the territorial-administrative division of the Russian Empire) had 2 Sunni parishes that served 238 Azeri households. Five mosque parishes that served 2,016 households functioned in the Novo-baiazet District of the same gubernia; there was one parish with 312 households in the Alexandropol District of the same gubernia; in the Sharur-Daralagez District, one parish united 142 households; in the Surmali District, one parish served 817 households.13 By 1891, the number of mosque parishes in the Novo-biazet District had increased to 19; in the Sharur-Daralagez District to 44; and in the Etchmiadzin and Alexandropol districts to 22.14

It should be said that the Armenian authorities are resolved to appropriate all the cultural relics and wipe away all the historical Azeri toponyms. For some strange reason neither state figures, nor Armenian academics have tried to change the proper names and family names of obviously Azeri origin, such as Ataian, from the Azeri “ata” (father); Balaian, from “bala” (child); Kocharian, from “kochari” (nomad); Kaputikian, from “gapytikian” (door maker), etc.

Cultural Relics in Karabakh

Burial monuments shaped like chests, steles, stone horses, and rams dated to the 14th-19th centuries with Arabic, Persian, or Azeri inscriptions and representations of different objects in relief on them bear witness to various sides of everyday life, are related to the local toponymics, history of folk medicine, and ethnogenesis of the Azeri nation, and shed light on other sides of the medieval culture of Azerbaijan. The epigraphic and artistic representations on these monuments from Karabakh allow us to identify the places where the earliest Turkic tribes were concentrated in the Central Caucasus, which played an important role in the enthogenesis of the Azeris.

The stone horse-shaped monuments in the village of Malybey (Lachin District of Azerbaijan) carry symbols of the Sun and a human figure holding a bird in his right hand. The ancient Turkic tribes venerated the Umai deity as the patron of children. The traditional representation of a man with a bird on monuments and other constructions was intended to preserve them. Stone horses with similar figures done in relief can be seen in the village of Giuliabird of the same district.

A hanega and the eight-sided mausoleum of Sheikh Baba Yaqub (the 13th century) is found in the village of Baba (Fizuli District), 6 kilometers away from the Goradiz railway station. According to medieval sources, the sheikh lived in Arran, was highly respected as the leader of a popular movement that fought the feudal lords and Mongolian invaders.

11 See: V.A. Kulieva, op. cit., p. 178.

12 See: Ibid., p. 183.

State Historical Archives of the Azerbaijan Republic (SHAAR), rec. gr. 291, inv. 4, f. 211, sheet 2.


14 SHAAR, rec. gr. 290, inv. 3, f. 1574, sheets 21, 22, 44, 45, 48.


The mausoleum of Yhya ibn Muhammad al-Hoja (d. 1305) is found in the Mamadbeyli village (Zangelan District) on the Great Silk Road. A mausoleum and parts of the foundation of the Ah-sadanbaba mausoleum built by Azeri architect Ahmed bin Ayiub al-Hafiz an-Naxcivani can be seen in Bard.

A hanega and a round mausoleum of Shyhbaba are found in the Shykhlar village (Jebrail District), another point on the Great Silk Road. The mausoleum is part of a medieval necropolis. Sheikhzade Sheikh abd as-salam bim Sheikh Giyas ad-Din is buried not far from the mausoleum; it is encircled by steles on the burials of the sheikh’s followers. Paleography, the content of the inscriptions and carving techniques, as well as the artistic decorations on the steles date the Sufi hanega of Qadiriya to the 13th-14th centuries.

The old cemetery in the Hojaly village (Jebrail District) produced a fragment of an inscription done in large and elegantly shaped suls. Two more steles were found close to the cemetery on the road. Their upper parts bore animal representations (ibexes, mouflons) and various tamgas that resembled the rock paintings of Gobustan and Absheron.

A medieval necropolis with a ruined mausoleum surrounded by gravestones of varied artistic styles is found on the Diridag Plateau (Jebrail District). The inscriptions date them to the 14th-15th centuries; two figures close in style to monuments from Azerbaijan’s other piedmont districts are found in the same cemetery. The State Historical Architectural Museum and Reserve “The Palatial Complex of the Shirvanshahs” has similar figures brought there from the Iardymlin and Lerik districts. Similar gravestones can be seen in the Terter District.

The complex of architectural monuments Imaraty in the Agdam district center has gathered a good collection of 16th-century gravestones shaped like chests with a stylobate from medieval necropolises.

Stone gravestones of the 16th century shaped like horses and chests can be seen in the Lachin District, the Shalva valley, to the left of the road leading toward the Agoglan temple. The paleography, verses in Azeri, and everyday scenes done in relief belong to the school of artistic stone carving and calligraphy still functioning in the piedmont of Azerbaijan.

A chest-shaped gravestone dated to 1024 Year of Hegira (1615) can be found at the site of an old necropolis (the Akhmedallar village, Fizuli District); the Kargabazar village can boast of the Gias as-Dina Mosque (locally known as the Shah Abbas Mosque) set above the Shah Abbas caravan-serai on a high rock.

A three-line long Arabic inscription informs all who approach the spring in the village of Kargabazar that the pipe system was built by Gianjali, son of Amir of Kargabazar, in 1305.

The inscription on one of the two mosques in Shusha says that they were built by architect Ker-balai Safi khan of Karabag. His name can be seen on the mosque in Bard, the Fizuli district center, Agdam, several neighborhood mosques in Shusha, and civilian buildings elsewhere in Karabakh. The inscriptions on the Tartar Mosque in Odessa and the Karabaglar Mosque in Ashghabad (all of them dated to the latter half of the 19th century) also mention his name.

The settlement pattern of the early Turkic tribes, which played an important role in the ethno-genesis of the Azeris, is confirmed by the epigraphic and specific designs on the monuments of Karabakh described above and on the Urud gravestones of Zangezur. They all belong to the same school of artistic stone carving and calligraphy. The gravestones with all sorts of everyday scenes on them and inscriptions in Arabic scripts testify to the fact that the everyday life and culture of the population of Siunik (now in Armenia) was identical to the life and culture of other regions of Azerbaijan, which means that this territory belonged to Azerbaijan. Some of the inscriptions clarify the origins of Azeri toponyms. The 14th-19th century inscriptions mention sheikhs, scholars, pirs, heads of all sorts of sects, etc., whose names are connected with the local place names. There is the village of Shykhlar in Zangezur; Shykhbabaly, Pirjamal and Pirabulkasum in the Shusha District; Pirakhmedly in the Fizuli District; and Shykhova in the Gubadly District. These places preserved the medieval titles and lakabs


of theologians and heads of religious sects (pir, sheikh or shykh) as part of their names. In the Middle Ages, ideological followers (sheikhs) of prominent theologians were buried next to them, thus giving the nearby village its name.15 This explains how the toponyms appeared on the historical territory of Azerbaijan.

C o n c l u s i o n

The Azeri cultural monuments and relics are of worldwide importance; they played a great role in shaping human civilization.

They also serve as a remainder that the Azeris, who have been living on the territory of the Azerbaijan Republic from time immemorial, are an autochthonous Caucasian people with a rich history and amazingly diverse cultural heritage.

15 See: M.S. Neymat, V.A. Kulieva, Ob’ekt armianskogo terrora—pamiatniki material’noy kul’tury azerbaid-zhanskogo naroda, Baku, 2007, pp. 31-38.


D.Sc. (Hist.), professor at Baku State University

(Baku, Azerbaijan).



The author has chosen a geohistorical approach for looking at the main events which were part of the Great Game in the Caucasus and the Caspian on the eve of and during World War II. He describes such key elements as the secret maneuvering in the Caucasus between the wars; the British-French military-strategic

plans in the Caucasus during the Phony War of 1939-1940; Germany’s attempts to make a “geostrategic breakthrough” in the Caucasus in 1941-1943, as well as the “cold” continuation of geostrategic rivalry between the Soviet Union and the West in the Caucasus and the Caspian immediately after World War II.

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