How was the capital of the Karabakh Khanate, Shusha – Panahabad, founded?

There are different foundation years of the Shusha fortress in the books of Karabakhnames. The dates stated by the authors of the books regarding the foundation of the fortress do not match historical events of that period.[1] For instance, in this regard, Mirza Adigozel bey writes that Panah Ali Khan had built a big fortress that contained main houses and transferred the center of the Khanate there in 1756/57. He showed that Muhammad Hasan Khan Qajar attacked Karabakh a year after that.[2] However, it should be noted that, according to historical sources, the attack by Muhammad Hasan Khan Qajar on Karabakh did not occur in 1757 but late 1751.[3] Precise information about the foundation date of the Shusha fortress is given in the book “The History of Shusha City,” written by Hasan Ikhfa Alizade. According to the author, the fortress was built in 1750-1751,[4] a date that many other historians also accept.[5] Coming to the date (1756/57) given in the information mentioned above in Karabakhnames regarding the foundation of the Shusha fortress, it is possible to argue that these dates were related to the settlement of the population from the surrounding regions in the Fortress. Some historians, therefore, believe the Shusha fortress was founded in 1750-1756.

The new fortress contained several mosques, bathhouses, bazaars, and houses and was called ‘Panahabad’ in honor of Panah Ali Khan, the founder of the Karabakh Khanate.[6] However, it was renamed Shusha during the reign of Ibrahimkhalil Khan, the son of Panah Ali Khan. According to the historical sources, the place where Panah Ali Khan founded the Shusha fortress previously was grasslands and pasturages of the ancient human settlement that was situated 6 km from the Fortress and called Shishekend (Shishe village) by the local population.[7] Therefore, even after the foundation of the Panahabad fortress, this place was called the territory of Shishe (Sh[ü]she) village. During Ibrahimkhalil Khan’s reign, the fortress was described as the territory of Shüshe. Later, Tsarist Russia brought the name into line with the Russian dialect, and it was pronounced Shusha.[8] It is also possible to see the transformation of the word Shüshe into Shusha in archival documents of the Ottoman Empire. The name was initially recorded as Shüshe in Ottoman documents[9] and then as Shusha.[10]

The walls of the Shusha fortress built for defense purposes are about 8 km long, 5 meters high, and over 2 meters thick. It was built with dense stones and lime to protect the fortress from gunnery. The fortress initially had four gates, but one of them was later closed. The gate that was used for horse-drawn carriages was the main entrance to the fortress. The other two gates were used as secret entry and exit points during wars and challenging times. These gates faced north and west and were called Ganja-Chilabord and Revan, respectively.[11]

Shusha fortress has a significant place in Karabakh architecture. The Fortress was located 1400 meters higher than the sea level, and there was approximately 300 meters height difference between the upper and lower mahallas (quarter/district) of it. According to the investigation of Hasan Ikhfa Alizade on the architecture of the Shusha fortress, most of the historical and archaeological monuments of the Karabakh Khanate were etched and collapsed in time. Although each quarter of the Shusha Fortress had its mosque during the Karabakh Khanate and Tsarist Russia, only a mosque, courthouse, and big caravanserai of the Fortress preserved its existence until modern times.[12] Meanwhile, Baharli, in his work ‘Ahvalat-e Karabakh’ (A Story of Karabakh), states that 18 bathhouses and 8 caravansaries functioned in Shusha until the end of the Karabakh Khanate.[13]

Stones and bricks were mainly used for building the Shusha fortress. Stones were mainly used for the walls of the fortress and the mosques, bathhouses, and bazaars. However, bricks were mostly used for building houses and apartments. The fortress was built according to Azerbaijan’s ancient and historical architecture. During the construction of the Shusha fortress, Panah Ali Khan thus invited special architects and master craftsmen from Tabriz, Ardabil, and other cities in Azerbaijan.[14] Therefore it is possible to see how the Azerbaijani architectural style, which has a significant place in Turkic-Islamic culture, predominates in the architectural monuments of the Shusha fortress.

At the end of the 18th century, the city of Shusha consisted of 17 mahallas (quarter/district) that were divided into upper and lower mahallas. The city’s lower mahallas were Gurdlar, Seyidli, Julfalar, Toylug (Guyulug), Chukhur, Dordler Gurdu, Haji Yusifi, Dord Chinar və Chol Gala, and the upper mahallas were Mir-Khanlıg, Saatli, Kocherli, Mamayı, Khoja Marjanli, Damirchi, Hamam Gabaghı və Taza mahalla.[15] According to historical sources, at the end of the 18th century, 2,000 families (around 10,000 people) were living in these mahallas. After the Karabakh Khanate was incorporated into Tsarist Russia in 1805, a third mahalla, called Gazanchali, was built in the mountainous part of the city of Shusha. This mahalla subsequently expanded and consisted of 12 streets throughout the nineteenth century.[16] According to Baharli, a chronographer of Karabakh, the main Muslim population of Shusha lived in the upper and lower mahallas.[17] Gazanchali mahalla was mainly populated by the non-Muslim population of Shusha, namely Armenians and Russians who settled in Karabakh after the Tsarist Empire occupied it. In the late 19th century, the population of Shusha declined by approximately two to three thousand people due to the local population migrating to Iran and other parts of Azerbaijan as a result of the war (1797) between the Karabakh Khanate and Agha Muhammad Shah Qajar, the Shah of Iran, as well as the occupation of the Khanate by the Tsarist Empire. These derelict territories of Karabakh were populated by non-Muslim as a result of the migration policy of the Tsarist Empire.[18] Consequently, the non-Muslim population of Karabakh increased during the 19th century, while the percentage of the Azerbaijani population decreased.

[1] Xəzani, Mir Mehdi, “Kitabi-tarixi-Qarabağ,” in Nazim Axundov (ed.), Qarabağnamələr, Vol. 2 (Bakı: Yazıçı, 1991), pp. 116-117. See also: Qarabaği, “Tarixi-Safi,” p. 18. See also: Qarabaği, “Qarabağ tarixi,” p. 145.

[2] Adıgözəl bəy, Mirzə, “Qarabağnamə,” in Akif Fərzəliyev (ed.), Qarabağnamələr (Bakı: Yazıçı, 1989), pp. 40-41.

[3] Bakıxanov, Abbasqulu Ağa, Gülüstani İrəm (Bakı, 1951), pp. 160-161.

[4] Əlizadə, Həsən İxfa, “Şuşa şəhərinin tarixi,” in Nazim Axundov, (ed.), Qarabağnamələr (Bakı: Yazıçı, 1991), p. 316.

[5] Axundov, Nazim, Qarabağ salnamələri (Bakı: Yazıçı, 1989), p. 36.

[6] Qaradaği, “Qarabağ vilayətinin qədim və cədid keyfiyyəti və övzaları,” p. 357.

[7] Xəzani, “Kitabi-tarixi-Qarabağ,” p. 117.

[8] Əlizadə, “Şuşa şəhərinin tarixi,” p. 315. See also: “Şuşa,” Azərbaycan Sovet Ensiklopediyası, Vol. 10, (Bakı, 1987), p. 578.

[9] Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, Hattı Hümayun (BOA. HH.) Nr. 6666; 1760-A; 8488; 110; BOA, Cevdeti Hariciye, Nr. 9076.

[10] BOA, HH. Nr. 203-A.

[11] Qarabaği, Mirzə Yusif, “Tarixi-Safi,” in Nazim Axundov (ed.), Qarabağnamələr (Bakı: Yazıçı, 1991), p. 18.

[12] Əlizadə, “Şuşa şəhərinin tarixi,” pp. 316-346.

[13] Baharlı, “Əhvalati-Qarabağ,” in Nazim Axundov (ed.), Qarabağnamələr (Bakı: Yazıçı, 1991), pp. 227-278.

[14] Əlizadə, “Şuşa şəhərinin tarixi,” p. 342.

[15] Baharlı, “Əhvalati-Qarabağ,” p. 228. See also: Qarabaği, “Tarixi-Safi,” p. 19.

[16] Mahmudov, Yaqub, and Camal Mustafayev, Şuşa-Pənahabad (Bakı: Təhsil, 2012), pp. 39-59.

[17] Baharlı, “Əhvalati-Qarabağ,” p. 278.

[18] Mahmudov and Mustafayev, Şuşa-Pənahabad, p. 62.