Easy to remember URLs: Artsakh.com and Artsakh.net

CAUCASIAN ALBANIA:
the history of North Azerbaijan from 400 B.C.
and the role of Artsakh (Karabakh)

"In the first century A.D. the region now occupied by Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was part of the province of Artsakh, which belonged to Caucasian Albania. Feudal relations developed in the third through fifth centuries, and Christianity began to spread. In the early eighth century the Arabs conquered Artsakh, as well as all of Albania, and Islam penetrated the area. (Until that time Gregorianism had flourished among the Christian population.) Artsakh was part of the Albanian kindgdom in the ninth and tenth centuries. In the mid-11th century it was invaded by the Seljuk Turks. In the 1230's, Artsakh was conquered by the Mongols, and from that time most of its territory was called Karabakh."

(Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd edition, 1973, "NKAO, Historial Survey")

"A scenic road goes from Qabala to Sheki through the district of Oguz (former Vartashen). Oguz is mainly known for its tobacco plantations although there are a few architectural monuments (towers, fortresses etc.) dating from the 13 - 15th centuries in the villages of Jalut, Mukhas, Filfili and Vardanli. A necropolis dating from the Iron Age (11 - 7th century BC) is near Vardanli.

Most visitors miss these sights as they are heading for Sheki. Close to Sheki is the village of Orta Zeyzit where Christian architectural monuments of Caucasian Albania are found. They date from the 6-7th century."

(Caspian Chronicle, Volume 5, Issue 10 May 21, 1997, SHEKI -- A TOURIST PARADISE IN AZERBAIJAN, By Nadir Moustafaev & Anne Kauzlarich)

 "[Karabakh was a] part of Caucasian Albania called Artsakh."

 (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition. Copyright (c) 1993, Columbia University Press.)

 

"From the 5th century B.C. Dagestan was part of Caucasian Albania."

(United Nations (UNHCR), WriteNet, THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION: DAGESTAN (November 1995))

This page, in development since 1999, thus being the first page on the subject, will attempt to give comparative historic data about the Karabakh (Artsakh) region, Caucasian Albania and Azerbaijan as a whole in antiquity, thus ending the lack of such information on the Web.

 

The Karabakh region of Azerbaijan has been in the center of groundless claims by the Republic of Armenia and its nationalist government. Armenians have used every argument to lay claims and "prove" that Karabakh -- or as they ironically refer to as Artsakh -- really belongs to them. From legal to economic, cultural to those raising pity, none approach the historic claims in terms of the degree of falsifications, propaganda and violence. Despite years of denial of Azerbaijani legitimacy over Karabakh and trying to prove otherwise to the world, even some Armenian propaganda sources, such as the "Armenian genocide website," admit, albeit with usual reservations and gross misinterpretations, in the "Karabagh as a Distinct Entity: Historical and Pre-Soviet Status" article that:

"Nagorno Karabagh is historic Armenian territory which, in different eras, has formed part of Armenia, Aghvank (Caucasian Albania), and Persia."

QUOTING THE SOURCES

The famous Russian historian, V.L.Velichko, wrote: "Especially interesting is also the question of Caucasian Albania, or, in Armenian, Aghvank. This country, which incorporated contemporary Elizavetpol' Guberniia, as well as part of Tiflis [Guberniia] and Daghestan, was populated by nations of non-Armenian ancestry.... Until the beginning of XIX century a separate Aghvan or Gandzasar Catolicosat existed, which competed with the Echmiadzin [Armenian Catholicosat].... Currently, the Christians who were before of Aghvan Catholicosat, are considered Armenians, and after mixing with them [assimilating], adopted their character." (p. 66). Velichko later continues: "An exception were the inhabitants of Karabakh (Albania or Aghvania), incorrectly (in relation to history) called Armenians, who professed the Armenian-Gregorian faith, but were descendants of [Caucasian] Mountaneer and Turkic tribes, and who had gone through the process of Armenianization only three to four centuries earlier." (p.154) 

V.L. Velichko, "Caucasus: Russian affairs and interethnic questions." St.Petersburg, 1904, pp. 66, 154. IN RUSSIAN: Vasilii L'vovich Velichko "Kavkaz. Russkoe delo i mezhduplemennie voprosi."

Armenian scholar, B. Ishkhanian, wrote in 1916: "The Armenians residing in Nagorno-Karabakh are partly aborigines and descendants of the ancient Albanians ..., and partly refugees from Turkey and Iran, for whom Azerbaijani lands offered a refuge from persecution and oppression."

Quoted from: Aliyev, I. "Nagorno-Karabakh: History, Facts, Events." Baki, 1989, pp. 73-74. (In Russian). 

Another Russian author, N.I.Shavrov, pointed out in 1911 that "out of 1.3m Armenians in Transcaucasia 1 million [were] not indigenous, but [were] settled there by us."

N.I.Shavrov, Novaia ugroza russkomu delu v Zakavkazie, St.-Petersburg, 1911, p.60.

In 1828 prominent Russian poet, diplomat, philosopher, then Russian ambassador to Persia, A.Griboedov had masterminded the resettlement of Armenians from Persia to Karabagh, Nakhichevan and Irevan, along with Georgia, and described this operation in his books. Griboedov expressed concern over the possible conflict that might have broken out "between indigenous Muslims (Azeris) and the Armenian immigrants if the latter decided to stay forever in the lands where they were once let in". 

A.S.Griboedov, Zapiski o pereselenii armian iz Persii v nashi oblasti. 1828, [Notes on the Re-settlement of Armenians from Persia in Our Provinces] in Sochineniia v 2 tomakh, vol.2, Moscow, 1971, p.314)

Another respected and well-known Armenian scholar, Dr. George Bournoutian writes:

"prior to the Russian conquest the Armenians accounted for some 20 percent of the total population of Eastern Armenia, and the Muslims 80 percent; following Russian annexation, 57,000 Armenian immigrants arrived from Persia and the Ottoman Empire and 35,000 Muslims emigrated from Eastern Armenia. By 1832, therefore, the Armenians formed...half of the population".

"The Ethnic Composition and the Socioconomic Condition of Eastern Armenia in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century," in Suny, _Transcaucasia_, 79; see also Bournoutian, _Eastern Armenia in the Last Decades of Persian Rule, 1807-1928: A Political and Socio-Economic Study of the Khanate of Erivan on the Eve of the Russian Conquest_ (Malibu. Calif.:Undena Publications, 1982), p. 76.
One of the most authoritative Armenian scholars, Ronald Grigor Suny described in his book "Looking Toward Ararat" (London, 1986, p.82) the borders of Arshakuni (Arsacid) Armenian kingdom (52 A.D.-428 A.D.), which was a Roman and Persian vassal, as reaching their most Northern point to the west of Gokchai (Sevan) lake whilst occupying only two thirds of present day Zangezur to the east.

Another Armenian author M. Belakian writes that mountaneous Karabakh was part of the Albania rather than Arshakuni Armenian kingdom until at least IV century A.D. (he also writes about Armenians constituting minority in Erevan until 19th century, and the inflow of Armenians during that time in the Caucasus).
According to the ancient Albanian historian, Moisey Kalankatuyski (Musa Kalankatly, Movses Dasxuranci), southern border of Caucasian Albania was along the Araz/Araxes river, not Kura (I, 4), and did not change until the [Arab invasion of] VII-VIII century (II, 21).

Also, the "Father of Armenian history," as Movses Khorenatsi (Movses of Khorene) is known, confirms Caucasian Albania's border along Araxes in his chronicle about the I century A.D. (II, 8).

Also it is interesting to note that according to maps included in the "History of the Armenian people" (Vol I, Erevan, 1951-52) by the well-known Armenian historian, S.T. Eremyan, both banks of Kura were included as part of Caucasian Albania in II century B.C. It depicted the regions of the right bank of Kura, such as Sakashena, Otena (Utik), Caspiana (Paytakaran) and Orhistena (Artsakh) as Albanian. 

The Caucasian Albanians (also spelled as Alban, Aghvan, Aghban, and Alpan) were a nation, which, according to the ancient geographer Strabo, consisted of 26 tribes, ethnic groups, such as Albans themselves, as well as Gargars, Udis, etc. Some of them were of Turkic descent, while majority were indigenous authohontous Caucasian tribes, speaking in Caucasian languages.

The area was also inhabited by Sak's (also spelled as Sakas, Sacae, or Shakas), from which the name "Artsakh" means "Land of manly Sak's." They lived in the region already in IV century B.C. The other major people were Massagets (Massagetai, Mazkits). In many scholarly sources both ancient people were referred to as Ishguz's. The Massagetai, who lived all around Caspian Sea, had previously formed their kingdom in South Azerbaijan (Iranian Azerbaijan), around lake Urmiyeh, and ancient Greek historian Herodotus makes a reference to their ruler, Queen Tomris, who personally led her troops against Cyrus II the Great of Persia and killed him in 529 BC. It should be noted that Tomris is a Turkic name, in fact, the name of the she-wolf who according to the myth saved ancient Turks from annihilation.

In addition, Herodotus in his "History" when describing the right side of Araxes river (Media/Iran) mentiones Abars (who eventually became Avars) and Bashigirhihi (today's Bashkirs). This proves that there were Turkic people in South Azerbaijan as well, albeit probably Iranian-speaking.

Various Turkic tribes have been inhabiting the area in and around the Caucasus. In fact as early as III century B.C. large influx of Salars, who were of Turkic Oghuz stock, occured. In fact, it is those Salars who called the land as Arran, which was later adopted by Muslim (Arab) historians, who described the area as 'ar-Ran.'

Meanwhile, the well-known German-born (d. 1930) Soviet scientist, historian and scholar, V.V.Bartol'd also mentions the tribe of Chols, who too were of Oghuz stock, and lived in Caucasian Albania in B.C. era.

In addition there were Khazars, Barsiles, Huns, Saragurs, Sabirs, Kuturgurs, Kok-Turks, Kipchaks (todays Kumyk, Nogay, Karachay, and Balkar) -- those are all pre-Xth century A.D. Turkic tribes, stretching to I-II centuries A.D.

Today, many direct descendants of the Albanians -- Gels, Legs, Kryzes, Hinalugs, Alpans and Udins -- live in Azerbaijan. But only the latter have kept their original religion and language. These are in addition to the Albanian tribes of Chols, Gargars and others, who have since merged into modern-day Azerbaijanis.

A little information from the Kitab-e Dede Qorgud epic, orally recited since at least the ninth-eleventh centuries. It mentions Alpan and Uruz, who were early Albanian kings (in B.C.) It also mentiones Gazan-khan, who is also mentioned in VII-century "History of Albania" by Moisey Kalankatuiski (Musa Kalankatly).

Turkish scholars on Caucasian Albania argue that "Albania" means "Country of Alpes" (where Alpes are one of the names for Albans or mountains), but also says that "in history Albans have once more came out as the most ancient Turkic people....bowing to the Sun."

 

Former Albanian Church, now a museum, in Sheki

 

The North Azerbaijan was known as Caucasian Albania, with its statehood and independence since at least 400 B.C. Caucasian Albania became important in history because it included the Caspian gates at the city of Chol, near present-day Derbent, which served as a bridge between Europe and Asia. Archaelogical excavations in Azerbaijan (at Mingechaur, Chukhurkabal, Sofula, Gabala, Toprakhkal, Khynyslakh, and other places) and writings of ancient authors (such as Arrian, Pliny, Strabo, Appianus, and Plutarch) and of Armenian chroniclers (such as Faustus, Egishe, Khorenatsi, and Chorene) indicate that by the end of the first millennium B.C. the population of Caucasian Albania practiced plow farming, distant-pasture animal husbandry, and various crafts. These occupations formed the material base for an early slaveholding system and a state headed by an emperor and a high priest. At the beginning of the common Era vestiges of primitive communal property (temple property was one of its forms) were still evident in Caucasian Albania.

Ancient Albanian Church. Village of Kish, July 2000. This is a fairly recent picture (July 2000) of the Kish Church, in Sheki region of Azerbaijan, the oldest church in all of Caucasus, possibly dating back to the I-II century A.D. It was the seating of Caucasian Albania's Gis (Kish) episcopate, founded by St. Yelyses, which proves that Albanians were the first Christians in the Caucasus. It is also important to note that even the most ardent Armenian nationalists stop short of including Sheki region as part of Armenia in their various maps.

 

Rock inscriptions in Caucasian Albania show that primitive magic gave rise to drawings, paintings, folk dances and theater, music, and oral folk art. The moon was considered the highest deity in Caucasian Albania. The chief city at the beginning of the Common Era was Gabala (Kabala). Its ruins are still preserved near the present-day city of Gabala in Azerbaijan.

 

In the first century B.C. the people of Caucasian Albania fought heroically, with the peoples of Armenia and Georgia, against the invasions of the ancient Romans into Transcaucasia (campaigns of Lucullus in 69-67 B.C. and of Pompey in 66-65). The unstoppable Romans were unable to conquer Caucasian Albania, despite winning a major battle as well as conquering other neighboring states.

 

Ancient Albanian Church, now being restored by a team of Azerbaijani and
foreign experts. Village of Kish, July 2000.

In the third to the fifth centuries A.D. feudal relations arose here and facilitates the establishment of Christianity as a state religion in the early fourth century. The Christian church in Caucasian Albania was headed by an autocephalous Albanian catholicos. Despite the fact that it fell under partial nominal domination of the Sassanids (Sasanians) of Iran/Parthia in late mid III century AD, it continued semi-independence (i.e., had its own coins, army, and other attributes of a sovereign state). In the fifth century Caucasian Albania took an active part in the revolt against the Sassanids (450-51). In the sixth century the Sassanids destroyed the dynasty of the Albanian emperors, but Caucasian Albania continued the fight against oppression of the Sassanid shahs and its independence was restored in the seventh century. The most outstanding ruler of Caucasian Albania in the seventh century was Jevanshir of the Girdyman feudal domain (638-70).

Caucasian Albania finally restored full independence in VII century under Jevanshir (Juansher), after he defeated the Iranian Sassanids. Iran has sent another army, this time the battle went on in the mountains. Sassanids were again defeated. By then, in mid-seventh century Arabs invaded, capturing Sassanid capital, Ctesiphon in 637 AD. In 640's Arabs invaded Caucasus, and Jevanshir actually came to ally himself with former enemies, Sassanids. However because weakened by their war with Azerbaijanis and Byzantium, Sasanian Iran quickly lost. Jevanshir returned back to Albania, preparing for war. Arabs invaded Albania, but it took them half-a-century to conquer Azerbaijanis (Albanians). They did so only by the beginning of eighth century, in 705 AD. Jevanshir was assassinated by treators. Nevertheless, his descendants, Albanian princes, who had the exclusive right to call themselves Arran-shah's, have been briefly restoring their kingdom's imperial authority several times in ninth and tenth centuries, shaking and eventually breaking Arab caliphate domination. Starting in the eighth century a large part of the population of Caucasian Albania was forcibly converted into Islam under the Arab caliphate.

(Based on articles by Academician Z.I. Iampol'skii and Great Soviet Encyclopedia account)

 

Ancient literature

 

Not much evidence of the written Azerbaijani literature of the ancient period has survived, but it is known that a highly developed culture existed in Caucasian Albania as early as the fifth century. Religious and literary works, both original and translated, were written down at that time. In the beginning of the fifth century, Albania developed its own 52-letter alphabet. Under the rule of Jevanshir, the "History of the Aghvan" was composed by Moisey Kalankatly, is a major source on the history of Caucasian Albania.

 

 

Architecture and Art

 

The art of the last centuries B.C. and the earliest centuries A.D., primarily that of the northern regions of Azerbaijan (Caucasian Albania), is represented by metal artifacts, small statuary, and black-glazed ceramic and glass vessels decorated with designs. Surviving structures include those at the city of Gabala, the fortress of Chirakh-Gala (sixth century), and some religious structures, including a temple of the basilica type at the village of Kum (fifth century) and a circular temple at the village of Lekit. The Lekit temple (fifth or sixth century) is made of cobblestone, limestone, and burnt brick and, with similar monuments in Georgia and present-day Armenia, is typical of the Transcaucasian styles of that period. The ruins of the temple complex at Mingechaur (seventh century, adobe) are also of interest.
Remains of an Albanian church in Lekit. Remains of the gates of the capital, Gabala.
Among the Albanian religious structures, the fifth-century Amarass Monastery and 13th century church at the Gandzasar Monastery, are preserved, along with several examples of an ancient type of dwelling and stone epitaphs with crude, stylized animal figures.

 

(A number of architectural monuments have been preserved from the 17th and 18th centuries, such as the Baiat, Shakhbulag, and Shusha fortresses [Ibrahim-Khan Castle] in Karabakh.)

 

The pride of the Azerbaijani nation -- Musa Galakendli, well-known in the historical science as Moisey Galakatuiski and Movses Dasxuranci -- has written "The History of Albania," where he described life, manner of life and culture of the ancient Albans. It occurred so that these annals fell into the hands of the Armenian scribers. Having made a clean copy of this historical masterpieace in their own way and destroyed the original, at present they are proud of the newly-appeared writer Movses Kalankatuatsi, and his work entitled as "The History of Aluank country." Unfortunately, exposing articles concerning this unprecedented compilation of the Armenian historians by a famous scholar Voroshil Levonovich Gukasyan have been left on the book-shelves of the Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan SSR. Hopefully, it was now published.


 


You can read an Azerbaijan International article on ancient Gabala here.

Dissertation on Caucasian Albania in Moscow Patriarchate, Sergiev Possad, 2004 (in Russian)

Interview (in Russian)

Kish - first church in the Caucasus (in Russian)

Christianity in Caucasian Albania (in Russian)

Article about the Kish Church, first Church in the Caucasus (Azerbaijan International, issue 8.4).

Giving the history back to its people by academician Farida Mamedova, Ekho newspaper, May 2002, in Russian (old link)

Caucasian Albania (entry from Great Soviet Encyclopedia) (in russian, 3rd edition) (restricted to subscribers)

Caucasian Albania and the "Greater Armenia"

Ancient Population of Karabakh (Artsakh)

Spreading of Christianity in Albania

Loss of independence and commencement of the deethnization process of the Albanians

End of the Arab rule. Revival of the Albanian statehood in Karabakh

You can learn more at this new awesome site, CaucasianHistory.org.

 

 


Artsakh.com/Artsakh.net: CAUCASIAN ALBANIA:
the history of North Azerbaijan from 400 B.C. and the role of Artsakh (Karabakh) website.