Shusha (Azerbaijani: Şuşa, About this sound(listen); Armenian: Շուշի, romanizedShushi) is a city in Nagorno-Karabakh and the centre of Azerbaijan's Shusha District. Situated at an altitude of 1,400–1,800 metres (4,600–5,900 ft) in the Karabakh mountains, the city was a mountain recreation resort in the Soviet era.


Azerbaijani: Şuşa
Armenian: Շուշի, romanizedShushi
Landmarks of Shusha, from top left: Ghazanchetsots Cathedral • Yukhari Govhar Agha Mosque Shusha fortress • National Gallery History Museum • Central park Shusha skyline • House of Khurshidbanu Natavan
Landmarks of Shusha, from top left:
Ghazanchetsots Cathedral • Yukhari Govhar Agha Mosque
Shusha fortress • National Gallery
History Museum • Central park
Shusha skyline • House of Khurshidbanu Natavan
Shusha is located in Azerbaijan
Coordinates: 39°45.5′N 46°44.9′E / 39.7583°N 46.7483°E / 39.7583; 46.7483Coordinates: 39°45.5′N 46°44.9′E / 39.7583°N 46.7483°E / 39.7583; 46.7483
Country Azerbaijan
 • MayorBayram Safarov
 • Special representativeAydin Karimov[1]
 • Total5.5 km2 (2.1 sq mi)
Highest elevation
1,800 m (5,900 ft)
Lowest elevation
1,400 m (4,600 ft)
 • Total4,064
Demonym(s)Şuşalı ("Shushaly"; officially, for Azerbaijanis)
Շուշեցի ("Shushets'i"; for Armenians)
Time zoneUTC+4 (AZT)
ISO 3166 codeAZ-SUS
Vehicle registration58 AZ

According to some sources, the town of Shusha was founded in 1752 by Panah Ali Khan.[3][4][5] From the mid-18th century to 1822, Shusha was the capital of the Karabakh Khanate. The town became one of the cultural centers of the South Caucasus after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus region from Qajar Iran in the first half of the 19th century.[6] Over time, it became a city and a home to many Azerbaijani intellectuals, poets, writers and especially, musicians (e.g., ashiks, mugham singers, kobuz players).[7][8] Shusha is often considered the cradle of Azerbaijan's music and poetry and one of the leading centres of the Azerbaijani culture.[9][10]

Other sources suggest that Shushi, as it is known to Armenians, served as a town and an ancient fortress in the Armenian Principality of Varanda during the Middle Ages and through the 18th century.[11][12][13] It was one of the two main Armenian cities of the Transcaucasus and the center of a self-governing Armenian principality, the Melikdoms of Karabakh, from medieval times through the 1750s.[14] It also had religious and strategic importance to the Armenians, housing the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, the church of Kanach Zham, two other churches, a monastic convent, and serving (along with the Lachin corridor to the west) as a land link to Armenia.[15]

Throughout modern history, the city mainly fostered a mixed Armenian–Azerbaijani population. The first available demographic information about the city in 1823 suggest that the city had an Azerbaijani-majority.[16] However, the number of Armenian inhabitants of the city steadily grew over time until the destruction of Armenian half of the city in 1920 by Azerbaijani forces, which resulted in the death or expulsion of the Armenian part of the population—up to 20,000 people.[17]

After the capture of Shusha in 1992 by Armenian forces during First Nagorno-Karabakh War, the city's Azerbaijani population was expelled. According to journalist Thomas de Waal's reckoning during a visit in 2000, it was 80% ruined.[18] Between May 1992 and November 2020, Shusha was under the de facto control of the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh and administered as the centre of its Shushi Province. On 8 November 2020, Azerbaijani forces retook the city during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War following a three-day long battle.[19][20]


Several historians believe Shusha derives from the New Persian Shīsha ("glass, vessel, bottle, flask").[21][22] According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Place-Names, when Iranian ruler Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar approached the town with his army, he reportedly told to Ibrahim Khalil Khan:[21]

God is pouring stones on thy head. Sit ye not then in thy fortress of glass.

Panahabad ("City of Panah"), Shusha's previous name, was a tribute to Panah Ali Khan, the first ruler of the Karabakh Khanate.[21]

According to Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary the town's name comes from the nearby village Shushikent (called Shosh in Armenian), which literally means "Shusha village"[23] in the Azerbaijani language.[24] Conversely, the Armenian historian Leo considered it more likely that the village Shosh received its name from the fortress, which he considered the older settlement.[25]

According to Armenian sources, Shusha may be derived from the dialectal Armenian word shosh/shush (Armenian: շոշ/շուշ), meaning tree sprout or figuratively, a high place, first applied either to the adjacent village Shosh or to Shusha itself.[26] One folk etymology connects it to another definition of shosh in the Karabakh dialect derived from Russian шоссе, meaning street or highway, although this is unlikely because the names Shusha and Shosh are older than Russian influence on the Armenian language.[27] In the first written reference to the settlement in a 15th century Armenian manuscript, the name is rendered as Shushu.[28] Besides the common Armenian name Shushi, the town has historically been referred to in Armenian by various names, including Shoshi/Shushva Berd, Shoshi Sghnakh, Shoshvaghala, which all mean "Shosh/Shushi Fortress"; the settlement was also known simply as Kala/Ghala, meaning fortress. Other historical names include Shikakar Berd ("Red Rock Fortress"), Karaglkhi Sghnakh ("Fortress on a Rock"), or simply Kar ("Rock", compare with adjacent village Karintak, "Under the Rock").[29]



Yukhari Govhar Agha Mosque, completed in 1885.
Saint John the Baptist Church (Kanach Zham), built in 1818, seen in a photo taken in 2018.

Shusha as a settlement is first mentioned as "Shushu village" in a 15th-century illuminated Armenian Gospel kept on display at Yerevan's Matenadaran (archival number 8211), which is the earliest known artifact from the town. The Gospel was illuminated in Shusha by the scribe and artist Ter-Manuel in 1428.[30][31][32][33][28][34]

According to several sources, a settlement called Shusha served as an ancient fortress in the Armenian principality of Varanda, and had traditionally belonged to the Melik-Shahnazarian princely dynasty.[11][35][36][12] The town and fortress of Shusha was described as a strategic stronghold in one of the Eastern Armenian military districts, called sghnakhs, playing a key role in the Armenian commander Avan Yuzbashi's campaign against Ottoman forces during their incursion into of the South Caucasus in the 1720s and 1730s.[37]

Kehva Chelebi, an early Armenian national activist who maintained correspondence between the meliks of Karabakh and the Russian authorities, in a 1725 report describes Shusha as a town and a fort:

The nearest Armenian stronghold … was Shushi. Shushi is four days' distance from Shemakhi. Armed Armenians under the command of Avan Yuzbashi guard it. After meeting with the Armenian leaders, including the Patriarch, they returned to Derbent via Shemakhi. Rocky mountains surround the town of Shushi. The number of the armed Armenians has not been determined. There are rumors that the Armenians have defeated the Turks in a number of skirmishes in Karabagh[11]

In his 1769 letter to Russian diplomat Count P. Panin, the Georgian king Erekle II wrote that "there was an ancient fortress which was conquered, through deceit, by one man from the Muslim Jevanshir tribe."[35] The same information about the 'ancient' fortress is confirmed by the Russian Field Marshal Alexander Suvorov in his letter to Prince Grigory Potemkin.[38][39] Suvorov writes that the Armenian prince Melik Shahnazar of Varanda surrendered his fortress Shushikala to "certain Panah", whom he calls "chief of an unimportant part of nomadic Muslims living near the Karabakh borders."[38] When discussing Karabakh and Shusha in the 18th century, the Russian diplomat and historian S. M. Bronevskiy wrote in his Historical Notes that Shusha fortress was a possession of the Melik-Shahnazarian clan, having been given to Panah Ali Khan in return for aid against the other Armenian meliks of Karabakh.[40] Russian historian P. G. Butkov (1775–1857) writes that "Shushi village" was given to Panah Ali Khan by the Melik-Shahnazarian prince after they entered into an alliance, and that Panah Ali Khan fortified the village.[41][42] Joseph Wolff, during his mission in the Middle East, visited "Shushee, in the province of Carabagh, in Armenia Major".[43]

The Palace of Khurshidbanu Natavan, the daughter of the last ruler of Karabakh Khanate, late 19th-early 20th centuries
The Armenian quarters of Shusha – with the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral in the background – in the early 20th century, before their destruction by Azerbaijani military units in 1920

Azerbaijani and some Armenian 19th-century sources, including Mirza Jamal Javanshir Qarabaghi, Mirza Adigozal bey, Abbasgulu Bakikhanov, Mirza Yusuf Nersesov and Raffi, attest to the foundation of the town Shusha in 1750–1752 (according to other sources, 1756–1757) by Panah-Ali khan Javanshir (r. 1748–1763), the founder and the first ruler of the Karabakh Khanate (1748–1822), which comprised both Lowland and Highland Karabakh.[44][45] The mid-18th century foundation is supported by Encyclopaedia of Islam,[3] Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary[4] and Great Soviet Encyclopedia.[5]

According to Mirza Jamal Javanshir Qarabaghi (1773–1853), the author of the Persian-language text History of Karabakh,[46] one of the most significant chronicles on the history of Karabakh in 18th-19th centuries, the Karabakh nobility assembled to discuss the danger of invasion from Iran and told Panah Ali Khan, "We must build among the impassable mountains such an inviolable and inaccessible fort, so that no strong enemy could take it." Melik Shahnazar of Varanda, who was the first of the Armenian meliks (dukes) to accept the suzerainty of Panah Ali Khan and who would remain his loyal supporter, suggested a location for the new fortress. Thus, Panahabad-Shusha was founded.

According to Mirza Jamal Javanshir, before Panah Ali khan constructed the fortress there were no buildings there and it was used as cropland and pasture by the people of the nearby village of Shoshi.[46][47] Panah khan resettled to Shusha the population of Shahbulag and some nearby villages and built strong fortifications.[47]

Another account is presented by Raffi, an Armenian novelist and historian, in his work The Princedoms of Khamsa, who asserts that the place which Shusha was built on was desolate and uninhabited before Panah-Ali Khan's arrival. He states, "[Panah-Ali Khan and Melik-Shahnazar of Varanda] soon completed the construction (1762) [of the fortress] and moved the Armenian population of the nearby village of Shosh (Շոշ), called also Shoshi, or Shushi into the fortress.″[48]

The town was initially named Panahabad, after its founder.[49][50] During the rule of Ibrahim-Khalil khan (r. 1763–1806), the son of Panah Ali khan, the town received its present name from a nearby village called Shushikent (literally translating to "village of Shushi" from Azerbaijani) or Shosh.[45]

Conflict with the Qajars

19th-century map

Although Panah Ali khan has been in conflict with Nader Shah, the new ruler of Persia, Adil Shah, issued a firman (decree) recognizing Panah Ali as the Khan of Karabakh.[51] Less than a year after Shusha was founded, the Karabakh Khanate was attacked by Mohammad Hassan Khan Qajar, one of the major claimants to the Iranian throne. During the Safavid Empire Karabakh was for almost two centuries ruled by Ziyad-oglu family of the clan of Qajars (of Turkic origin),[52] and therefore, Muhammed Hassan khan considered Karabakh his hereditary estate.[47][50][53][54][verification needed]

Muhammed Hassan khan besieged Shusha (Panahabad at that time) but soon had to retreat, because of the attack on his territory by his major opponent to the Iranian throne, Karim Khan Zand. His retreat was so hasty that he even left his cannons under the walls of Shusha fortress. Panah Ali khan counterattacked the retreating troops of Mohammad Hassan khan and even briefly took Ardabil across the Aras River.

In 1756 (or 1759), Shusha and the Karabakh Khanate underwent a new attack from Fath-Ali Khan Afshar, ruler of Urmia. With his 30,000 strong army, Fatali khan also managed to gain support from the meliks (feudal vassals) of Jraberd and Talish (Gulistan), however, melik Shahnazar of Varanda continued to support Panah Ali khan. Siege of Shusha lasted for six months and Fatali khan eventually had to retreat.

When Karīm Khan Zand took control of much of Iran, he forced Panāh Khan to come to Shiraz (Capital), where he died as a hostage.[55] Panah-Ali Khan's son Ibrahim-Khalil Khan was sent back to Karabakh as governor.[56] Under him Karabakh khanate became one of the strongest state formations and Shusha grew. According to travellers who visited Shusha at the end of 18th-early 19th centuries the town had about 2,000 houses and approximately 10,000 population.

Shusha fortress

In summer 1795, Shusha was subjected to a major attack by Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar, son of Mohammad Hassan khan who attacked Shusha in 1752. Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar's goal was to end with the feudal fragmentation and to restore the old Safavid State in Iran. By early 1795, he had already secured mainland Iran and was directly afterwards poised to bring the entire Caucasus region back within the Iranian domains.[57] For this purpose he also wanted to proclaim himself Shah (king) of Iran. However, according to the Safavid tradition, the shah had to take control over the whole of South Caucasus and Dagestan before his coronation. Therefore, Karabakh Khanate and its fortified capital Shusha, were the first and major obstacle to achieve these ends.

Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar besieged Shusha with the centre part of a 70,000-strong army, after having crossed the Aras River.[58] The right and left wings were sent to resubjugate Shirvan-Dagestan and Erivan respectively. Agha Mohammad Khan himself led the centre part of the main army, besieging Shusha between 8 July and 9 August 1795.[59] Ibrahim Khalil khan mobilized the population for a long-term defense. The number of militia in Shusha reached 15,000.[citation needed] Women fought together with men.[citation needed] The Armenian population of Karabakh also actively participated in this struggle against the Iranians and fought side by side with the Muslim population, jointly organizing ambushes in the mountains and forests.[citation needed]

The siege lasted for 33 days. Not being able to capture Shusha, Agha Mohammad Khan, for now, ceased the siege,[60] and advanced to Tiflis (present-day Tbilisi), which despite desperate resistance was occupied and exposed to unprecedented destruction. The Khan of Karabakh, Ibrahim Khan, eventually surrendered to Mohammad Khan after discussions, including the paying of regular tribute and to surrender hostages, though the Qajar forces were still denied entrance to Shusha.[60] Since the main objective was Georgia, Mohammad Khan was willing to have Karabakh secured by this agreement for now, for he and his army subsequently moved further.[60]

In 1797, Agha Mohammad Shah Qajar, having successfully re-subjugated Georgia and the wider Caucasus, and had by that time already managed to declare himself shah conform the same traditions Nader Shah had done as well in the nearby Mughan plain,[61] (nowadays shared between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iran) decided to carry out a second attack on Karabakh.

Trying to avenge the previous humiliating defeat Qajar devastated the surrounding villages near Shusha. The population could not recover from the previous 1795 attack and also suffered from serious drought which lasted for three years. The artillery of the enemy also caused serious losses amongst the city defenders. Thus, in 1797 Agha Mohammad Shah succeeded in seizing Shusha and Ibrahim Khalil khan had to flee to Dagestan.

However, several days after the seizure of Shusha, Agha Mohammad Khan was killed in mysterious circumstances by his bodyguards in the town.[62] Ibrahim Khalil khan returned to Shusha and ordered that the shah's body be honourably buried until further instructions from the nephew and heir of Agha Mohammad Shah, Baba Khan, who soon assumed the title of Fath-Alī Shah.[63] Ibrahim khan, in order to maintain peaceful relations with Tehran and retain his position as the khan of Karabakh, gave his daughter Agha Begom, known as Aghabaji, as one of the wives of the new shah.[63]

Shusha within the Russian Empire

From the early 19th century, Russian ambitions in the Caucasus to increase its territories at the expense of neighbouring Qajar Iran and Ottoman Turkey began to rise. Following the annexation of Georgia in 1801, some of the khanates accepted Russian protectorate in the immediate years afterwards.[citation needed] In 1804, the Russian general Pavel Tsitsianov directly invaded Qajar Iran initiating the Russo-Persian War of 1804–1813. Amidst the war, in 1805, an agreement was made between the Karabakh Khanate and the Russian Empire on the transfer of the Karabakh Khanate to Russia amidst the war, but was not fully realized, as both parties were still at war and the Russians were unable to consolidate any effective possession over Karabakh.

The Russian Empire consolidated its power in the Karabakh Khanate following the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, when Iran was forced to recognize the belonging of the Karabakh Khanate,[64] along most of the other khanates they possessed in the Caucasus, to Russia, comprising present-day Dagestan and most of the Azerbaijan Republic, while officially ceding Georgia as well, thus irrevocably losing the greater part of its Caucasian territories.[65] Absolute consolidation of Russian power over Karabakh and the recently conquered parts of the Caucasus from Iran were confirmed with the outcome of the Russo-Persian War of 1826–1828 and the ensuing Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828.[66]

During the Russo-Persian War of 1826–1828, the citadel at Shusha held out for several months and never fell. After this Shusha ceased to be a capital of a khanate, which was dissolved in 1822, and instead became an administrative capital of first the Karabakh province (1822–1840), following Persia's ceding to Russia, and then of the Shusha district (uyezd) of the Elisabethpol Governorate (1840–1923). Shusha grew and developed, with successive waves of migrants moving to the city, particularly Armenians, who formed a demographic majority in the surrounding highlands.[67][16][68]

Beginning from the 1830s the town was divided into two parts: Turkic-speaking Muslims lived in the eastern lower quarters, while Armenian Christians settled in the relatively new western upper quarters of the town. The Muslim part of the town was divided into seventeen quarters. Each quarter had its own mosque, Turkish bath, water-spring and also a quarter representative, who would be elected among the elders (aksakals), and who would function as a sort of head of the present-day municipality. The Armenian part of the town consisted of 12 quarters, five churches, town and district school and girls' seminary.

The population of the town primarily dealt with trade, horse-breeding, carpet-weaving and wine and vodka production. Shusha was also the biggest centre of silk production in the Caucasus. Most of the Muslim population of the town and of Karabakh, in general, was engaged in sheep and horse-breeding and therefore, had a semi-nomadic lifestyle, spending wintertime in lowland Karabakh in wintering pastures and spring and summer in summering pastures in Shusha and other mountainous parts.

In the 19th century, Shusha was one of the great cities of the Caucasus, larger and more prosperous than either Baku or Yerevan.[69] Standing in the middle of a net of caravan routes, it had ten caravanserais.[69] It was well known for its silk trade, its paved roads, brightly coloured carpets, big stone houses, and fine-bred horses.[69] In 1824, George Keppel, the Earl of Albemarle, passed through the city.[69] He found two thousand houses in the town, with three-quarters of the inhabitants Azerbaijanis and one-quarter Armenian.[70] He furthermore noted regarding the town;[69]

(...) The language is a dialect of the Turkish; but its inhabitants, with the exception of the Armenians, generally read and write Persian. The trade is carried on principally by the Armenians, between the towns of Sheki, Nakshevan, Khoi and Tabriz."

Early 20th century

A photo taken in 1918 of the Karabakh reconciliation commission, composed of religious leaders and elders of both Armenian and Azerbaijani communities
Armenian half of Shusha destroyed by Azerbaijani armed forces in 1920, with the defiled cathedral of the Holy Savior and Aguletsots church on the background
Ruins of the Armenian part of Shusha after the 1920 pogrom with the church of the Holy Mother of God "Kanach Zham" in the background

The beginning of the 20th century marked the first Armenian-Tartar clashes throughout Azerbaijan. This new phenomenon had two reasons. First, it was the result of increased tensions between the local Muslim population and Armenians, whose numbers increased throughout the 19th century as a result of Russian resettlement policies. Second, by the beginning of the 20th-century peoples of the Caucasus, similar to other non-Russian peoples in the periphery of the Russian Empire began to seek cultural and territorial autonomy. That is why, at the beginning of the 20th century in Russia itself was a period of bourgeois and Bolshevik revolutions, in the peripheries these movements have acquired a character of the national liberation movement.

The initial clashes between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijanis took place in Baku in February 1905. Soon, the conflict spilled over to other parts of the Caucasus, and on August 5, 1905, first conflict between the Armenian and Azerbaijani inhabitants of Shusha took place. As a result of the mutual pogroms and killings, hundreds of people died and more than 200 houses were burned.[71]

After World War I and subsequent collapse of the Russian Empire, Karabakh was claimed by Azerbaijan to be part of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, a decision hotly disputed by neighbouring Armenia and by Karabakh's Armenian population, which claimed Karabakh as part of the First Republic of Armenia. After the defeat of Ottoman Empire in the World War I, Armenian forces under Andranik Ozanian defeated Azerbaijani forces under Khosrov bey Sultanov in Abdallyar, and began heading down the Lachin corridor towards Shusha. Shortly before Andranik could arrive, British troops under General W. M. Thomson encouraged him to retreat, as Armenian military activity may have an adverse effect on the region's status to be decided at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.[72] Trusting Thomson, Andranik left, and the British troops occupied Karabakh. The British command provisionally affirmed Sultanov (appointed by the Azerbaijani government) as the governor-general of Karabakh and Zangezur, pending final decision by the Paris Peace Conference.[73][74]

To make the local Armenians surrender to the Azerbaijani rule Sultanov employed most severe measures against them such as terror, blockade and famine.[75][76][77]

The ethnic conflict began to erupt in the region. Оn 5 June 1919, 600 Armenian inhabitants of the villages surrounding Shusha were killed by Azerbaijani and Kurdish irregulars. Sultanov stated that those irregulars were not under his control.[76] In August 1919, the Karabakh National Council was forced to enter into a provisional treaty agreement with the Azerbaijani government, recognizing the authority of the Azerbaijan government until the issue of the mountainous part of Karabakh would be settled at the Paris Peace Conference. Despite signing the Agreement, the Azerbaijani government continuously violated the terms of the treaty, employing even more severe measures against the Armenian population.[78][79] Governor-General Sultanov accumulated troops in the region and on 19 February 1920 issued an ultimatum to the Armenians to accept unconditional unification with Azerbaijan, then massacred the population of several Armenian villages including Khankendi.[79] A minority of Karabagh National Council representatives gathered in Shusha to accept Sultanov's demands, while the rest met in nearby Shushikend to reject the ultimatum.[79] The strife culminated in an Armenian uprising,[80][81][82] which was suppressed by the Azerbaijani army. In late March 1920, the Armenian half of the police forces was reported by a British journalist to have murdered the Azerbaijani half during the latter's traditional Novruz Bayram holiday celebrations. The Armenian surprise attack was organised and coordinated by the forces of the Armenian Republic.[83][84] Azerbaijani outrage for this surprise attack ultimately led to the massacre of March 1920, in which between 500[85] to 20,000[86] of the Armenian population of Shusha was killed, and many forced to flee.

According to the description of an Azerbaijani communist Ojahkuli Musaev:

... the ruthless destruction of defenceless women, children, old women, old men, etc has begun. Armenians were exposed to mass slaughter. ... beautiful Armenian girls were raped, then shot. ... By the order of ... Khosrov-bek Sultanov; the pogroms proceeded for more than six days. Houses in the Armenian part have been partially demolished, plundered and reduced all to ashes, everyone led away women to submit to the wishes of executioner musavatists. During these historically artful forms of punishment, Khosrov-bek Sultanov, spoke about holy war (jihad) in his speeches to the Moslems, and called on them to finally finish the Armenians of the city of Shusha, not sparing women, children, etc.[87][verification needed]

Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote about Shusha in the 1920s, "in this town, which formerly of course was healthy and with every amenity, the picture of catastrophe and massacres was terribly visual. ... They say after the massacres all the wells were full of dead bodies. ... We didn't see anyone in the streets on the mountain. Only in downtown—in the market-square, there were a lot of people, but there wasn't any Armenian among them; all were Muslims".[88]

Soviet era

View from the town

In 1920, the Bolshevik 11th Red Army invaded Azerbaijan and then Armenia and put an end to the national de facto governments that existed in those two countries. Thereafter, the conflict for the control of Karabakh entered the diplomatic sphere. To attract Armenian public support,[citation needed] the Bolsheviks promised to resolve the issue of the disputed territories, including Karabakh, in favour of Armenia. However, on July 5, 1921, the Kavbiuro of the Communist Party adopted the following decision regarding the future status of Karabakh: "Proceeding from the necessity of national peace among Muslims and Armenians and of the economic ties between upper (mountainous) and lower Karabakh, of its permanent ties with Azerbaijan, mountainous Karabakh is to remain within AzSSR, receiving wide regional autonomy with the administrative centre in Shusha, which is to be included in the autonomous region." As a result, the Mountainous Karabakh Autonomous Region was established within the Azerbaijan SSR in 1923. Few years later, Stepanakert, named after the Armenian communist leader Stepan Shaumyan, became the new regional capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast and soon became its largest town.

A T-72 tank standing as a memorial commemorating the capture of Shusha by the Armenian forces

The decision favoring Azerbaijan was due to Stalin, who knew that by including the disputed and by then majority Armenian-populated region within the boundaries of Azerbaijan, it would ensure Moscow's position as power broker.[89][90]

The town remained half-ruined until the 1960s when the town began to gradually revive due to its recreational potential. In 1977 the Shusha State Historical and Architectural Reserve was established and the town became one of the major resort-towns in the former USSR.

The Armenian quarter continued to lie in ruins until the beginning of the 1960s. In 1961, Baku's communist leadership finally passed a decision to clear away much of the ruins, even though many old buildings still could have been renovated. Three Armenian and one Russian church were demolished and the Armenian part of the town was built up with plain buildings typical of the Khrushchev era.[citation needed]

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict

1988–1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War

Part of Shusha in ruins in 2010

With the start of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1988 Shusha became the most important Azerbaijani stronghold in Karabakh, from where Azerbaijani forces constantly shelled the capital Stepanakert. On May 9, 1992, the town was captured by Armenian forces and the Azerbaijani population fled.[91] According to Armenian commander Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan, the city was looted and burnt by Armenians citizens from nearby Stepanakert, who had endured months of bombing and shelling from Azerbaijani forces, in order to prevent Azerbaijanis from returning.[92] According to Azerbaijani sources, 193 Azerbaijani civilians were massacred.[93] As of 2002, ten years later after the city's capture by the Armenian forces, some 80% of the town was in ruins.[94] Armenians also dismantled and sold off historic dark bronze busts of three Azerbaijani musicians and poets from Shusha.[95]

After the end of the war, the town was repopulated by Armenians, mostly refugees from Azerbaijan and other parts of Karabakh, as well as members of the Armenian diaspora. The population of the town was barely half of the pre-war number, and the demographic of the town had changed from mostly Azerbaijani to completely Armenian. The Goris-Stepanakert Highway passes through the town and is a transit and tourist destination for many. There were some hotels in the city, and the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral was restored.

After the war, a T-72 tank commanded by the Karabakhi Armenian Gagik Avsharian was placed as a memorial. The tank had been hit during the town's capture, killing the driver and gun operator, but Avsharian jumped free from the hatch. The tank was restored and its number, 442, repainted in white on the side.[96]

2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War

Celebrations in Baku, Azerbaijan on 8 November.

During the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, Armenia accused the Azerbaijani army of shelling civilian areas and the city's Ghazanchetsots Cathedral. Three journalists were wounded while they were inside the cathedral to film the destruction of a previous shelling on the same day.[97] Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence has denied the shelling of the cathedral by stating that "destruction of the church in Shusha has nothing to do with the activities of the Army of Azerbaijan"[98] The House of Culture was also badly damaged in the fighting.[99]

On November 8, 2020, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced that the Azerbaijani army took control of the city of Shusha.[100] The next day, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Defence released a video from the city, confirming full Azerbaijani control.[19] On the same day, Artsakh authorities confirmed that they had lost control of Shusha.[101] A ceasefire signed two days later reaffirmed Azerbaijan's gains, resulting in the city staying under its control. The Armenian government and the Armenian Apostolic Church subsequently claimed that Azerbaijani soldiers had vandalised Armenian churches and cultural landmarks, including Ghazanchetsots Cathedral[102][103] and Kanach Zham,[104] while the Azerbaijani officials stated that the Mamayi Mosque and a nearby fountain was vandalised by the Armenians forces.[105]


Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov (top left) with his family in Shusha, 1915

Shusha contains both Armenian and Azerbaijani cultural monuments, while the surrounding territories also include many ancient Armenian villages.[106]

Shusha is often considered the cradle of Azerbaijan's music and poetry and one of the leading centres of the Azerbaijani culture,[9][107] having been declared the cultural capital of Azerbaijan in January 2021.[108] The city is particularly renowned for its traditional Azerbaijani genre of vocal and instrumental arts called mugham.[109] For the Azerbaijanis, Shusha is the "conservatoire of the Caucasus". Khurshidbanu Natavan, Azerbaijan's most famous woman poet, Uzeyir Hajibeyov and one of Azerbaijan's first twentieth-century novelists, Yusif Vezir Chemenzeminli, were born here.[9]

Shusha is also a historical Armenian religious and cultural center.[110][111] The Armenian population of the town historically had four main churches, each named after the place of origin of the Armenian inhabitants: Ghazanchetsots (after Qazançı; officially named Holy Savior Cathedral), Aguletsos Holy Mother of God Church (after Agulis), Meghretsots Holy Mother of God Church (after Meghri), and Gharabakhtsots (after the region of Karabakh; the church is better known as Kanach Zham).[112] Shusha was also home to a monastery complex called Kusanats Vank ("Virgins' Monastery") or Anapat Kusanats ("Virgins' Hermitage")․[112] In 1989, Ghazanchetsots Cathedral was made the seat of the newly reestablished Diocese of Artsakh of the Armenian Apostolic Church.[113]

Shusha is also well known for sileh rugs, floor coverings from the South Caucasus. Those from the Caucasus may have been woven in the vicinity of Shusha. A similar Eastern Anatolian type usually shows a different range of colours.[114]

In November 2020, the organizers of the Turkvision Song Contest stated that they were exploring the possibility of holding the contest's 2021 version in Shusha,[115] and in January 2021, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture started preparatory activities on the Khari Bulbul Festival and Days of the Poetry of Vagif.[116]


During the Soviet period, Shusha was home to museums such as the Shusha Museum of History, the house museum of Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov, the house museum of the Azerbaijani singer Bulbul, and the Shusha Carpet Museum.[117] The Azerbaijan State Museum of History of Karabakh was founded in Shusha in 1991 shortly before the outbreak of the First Nagorno-Karabakh War.

While the city was under Armenian control, a number of museums were operated there: the State Museum of Fine Arts, G. A. Gabrielyants State Geological Museum, the Shushi History Museum, the Shushi Carpet Museum and the Shushi Art Gallery.[118]

The Shushi History Museum is located in a 19th-century mansion, in the centre of the historical quarter, and had a collection of artefacts related to Shusha from ancient to modern times.[118] The collection of the museum contains many ethnographic materials, including the goods of local masters. The museum contains household articles, photographs, and reproductions illustrating life of 19th-century inhabitants of Shusha. There are also sections dedicated to the 1920 Shusha Massacre and the capture of Shusha by Armenian forces in 1992. The G. A. Gabrielyants State Geological Museum was opened in Shusha in 2014, named after and created by Armenian geologist Grigori Gabrielyants. It contains 480 samples of ore and fossil from 47 countries of the world.[118]

Except for the rugs kept at the Shushi Carpet Museum, which were removed, the collections of the museums in Shusha were left behind and remained in the city after the capture of Shusha by Azerbaijani forces in 2020.[118]


Historical population and ethnic composition of Shusha
Year Armenians Azerbaijanis Others Total
March 1920: Massacre and expulsion of Armenian population by Azerbaijan
September 1988: Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Expulsion of Armenian population[127]
May 1992: Capture by Armenian forces. Expulsion of Azerbaijani population
November 2020: Capture by Azerbaijani forces. Expulsion of Armenian population

According to the first Russian-held census of 1823 conducted by Russian officials Yermolov and Mogilevsky, in Shusha were 1,111 (72.5%) Muslim families and 421 (27.5%) Armenian families.[16][page needed] Seven years later, according to 1830 data, the number of Muslim families in Shusha decreased to 963 (55.8%) and the number of Armenian families increased to 762 (44.2%).[67][131]

George Keppel, the Earl of Albemarle, who wrote on his way back to England from India arrived in Karabakh from Persia in 1824, wrote that “Sheesha contains two thousand houses: three parts of the inhabitants are Tartars, and the remainder Armenians”.[132]

Shusha in 2015

A survey prepared by the Russian imperial authorities in 1823 shows that all Armenians of Karabakh compactly resided in its highland portion, i.e. on the territory of the five traditional Armenian principalities, and constituted an absolute demographic majority on those lands. The survey's more than 260 pages recorded that the five districts had 57 Armenian villages and seven Tatar villages.[68][133]

The 19th century also brought some alterations to the ethnic demographics of the region. Following the invasions from Iran (Persia), Russo-Persian wars and subjection of Karabakh khanate to Russia, many Muslim families emigrated to Iran while many Armenians moved to Shusha.[67]

In 1851, the population of Shusha was 15,194 people,[119] in 1886 – 30,000,[134] and in 1910 – 39,413.[135]

By the end of the 1880s, the percentage of the Muslim population living in the Shusha district (part of the earlier Karabakh province) decreased even further and constituted only 41.5%, while the percentage of the Armenian population living in the same district increased to 58.2% in 1886.

By the second half of the 19th century, Shusha had become the largest town in the Karabakh region. However, after the pogrom against the Armenian population in 1920 and the burning of the town, out-migration, and its decreasing economic importance in relation to other regional cities like Yerevan and Baku, Shusha was reduced to a small provincial town of some 10,000 people. Its population afterward progressively dropped year by year, reaching 5,104 by 1926.[136] Armenians did not begin to return until after World War II. It was not until the 1960s that the Armenian quarter began to be rebuilt.

According to the last population census in 1989, the town of Shusha had a population of 17,000 and Shusha district had a population of 23,000. 91.7% of the population of Shusha district and 98% of Shusha town were Azerbaijani.[137]

Following the capture of Shusha by the Armenian forces in 1992, the Azerbaijani population of the town, consisting of 15,000 people,[138] was killed and expulsed.[93] Before the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, the population consisted of over 4,000 Armenians,[2] mainly refugees from Baku,[139][140] and other parts of Karabakh and Azerbaijan.[141][142] As a result of the first war, no Azerbaijanis live in Shusha today, although Azerbaijani authorities plan to repopulate it with Azerbaijani displaced persons who fled Shusha during the first war.[137][143][144] Shusha's Armenian population fled shortly before the city was recaptured by Azerbaijani forces during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War.[145]

Economy and tourism

Shusha as seen from the road approaching the town

While the town was under Armenian control, there were efforts to revive the city's economy by the Shushi Revival Fund,[146] the ArmeniaFund, and by the government of Artsakh. Investment in tourism led to the opening of the Shoushi Hotel, the Avan Shushi Plaza Hotel and the Shushi Grand Hotel. A tourist information office was also opened,[147] the first in the Republic of Artsakh. The two remaining Armenian churches (Ghazanchetsots and Kanach Zham) were renovated, and schools, museums and the Naregatsi Arts Institute have opened.

Twin towns – sister cities

Notable natives

See also


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