Minor place names of Artsakh: Shushi (Part Two)

  • by Western Armenia, February 28, 2023 in Patrimony

If you ask an Armenian what is the secret of the longevity of his people, his answer will definitely be "culture". The Armenian people, deprived of a state for centuries, solved the nation's security, protection and development problems through education, culture and spiritual values. As a result, the cities that developed in different corners of the Armenian Plateau in various periods of history gradually turned into centers of culture and spiritual life. One such center is Shushi, the jewel of Artsakh.

Situated on an impregnable cliff, the city has been an important stronghold of Armenian princes since ancient times. The oldest tombstones preserved in Shushi prove that as early as the 8th-9th centuries, the settlement was a thriving center of Armenian culture and Christian values. From that time on, Shushi became the center of attention of foreign conquerors as a fortress with a commanding position in the valley of the Kur-Araks rivers. The 13th century Armenian historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi recounts that Artsakh ruler Hassan Jalalian negotiated with the Mongol Khan of Mangu to return the city to its rightful owners, the Armenians.

Shushi, already an established center of spiritual culture, first appeared at the  beginning of the 1420s. The city's Surb Astvadzadzin Church became an important center of development of Armenian writing at that time. The well-known medieval writer Ter Manuel worked in Shushi during those years. His Gospel is one of the best monuments of Armenian literature. In his memoirs, the cleric states that he wrote it in 1428 in the village of Shushi in the province of Amaras during the bishopric of Der Hovhannes. The next Bible that came to us, created under the auspices of the Church of the Virgin Mary in Shushi, was written in 1575.

In the first half of the 18th century, General Avan rebuilt the fortress and fortifications of Shushi, making the city one of the important military strongholds of the Armenian princes of Artsakh. Thanks to this preparatory work, in 1726 General Avan was able to stop the advance of the 40,000-strong Ottoman army near Shushi. In an 8-day battle, the Turkish army suffered a heavy defeat and left Artsakh.

The strengthening of Shushi also contributes to the unprecedented rise of cultural and spiritual life in the city. From the second half of the 18th century, and especially in the early 19th century, Shushi became one of the largest cultural centers of the Armenian people. In 1822, Armenian Catholicos Eprem and Nerses Ashtaraketsi visited the city and celebrated mass in the city's Saint Astvadzadzin Church. In the same period, printing presses, schools, theaters and new churches were built in Shushi. Between 1827 and 1920, hundreds of books were printed in the city. More than 20 newspapers and magazines were published in Shushi.

Gibraltar of the Caucasus, little Armenian Paris … such names of the fortress city are called by  European visitors to Shushi, in the 19th century German Baron von Jagsthausen, the Russian painter Vereschagin and other Important figures of Armenian culture such as the historian Leo, the sculptor Hakob Gyurcyan, the novelist Muratsan were born in Shushi. Perch Proshyan, Ghazaros Aghayan, Vrtanes Papazyan, Hrachya Acharyan and other prominent figures of Armenian culture taught in the city's schools in various fields of activity.

In 1848, students from Shushi turned the city warehouse into a theater and staged various plays. Soon the famous theater actor Gevorg Chamdjian arrived in the city and in 1865 he staged the tragedies "Shamvel", "Vardan Mamikonian" and "Mihrdat" for the people of Shushi.

And in 1891, a rich man from Shushi, Mkrtich Khandamirian, built a 350-seat three-story theater building, where many works of Armenian, Russian and European writers were staged.

In the 19th century, Jamharyan Hospital, Surb Mariam girls' school, Shushi Realakan School were operating in the city. During the same period, 5 more churches were built in the city. Surb Amenapyrkich Ghazanchetsots Church, built from 1868 to 1887, became the jewel of the settlement. He built the Church of the Most Savior. The church is located in the center of the city and resembles the Etchmiadzin Cathedral.

At the beginning of the 20th century, during the Armenian-Tatar conflicts of 1905-1906 and 1918-1920, the cultural rise of Shushi was temporarily halted. In those years, the Armenian quarter of the city was set on fire and many cultural centers were destroyed. This was followed by the Soviet Azerbaijani government of the city.  Seizing the opportunity, the Soviet Azerbaijani leadership is trying to destroy the traces of Armenian culture in Shushi. Among other centers, the Surp Asdvadzadzin Church, the leading center of medieval Armenian writing, is being destroyed.