Frequently, people mistype or mispronounce the name “Shushi”, “converting it into “Sushi”. The two words may represent two different cultures, distinct and geographically far away from each other (Armenian and Japanese), but they are similar in one aspect at least: they each are unique, a crown jewel, a sine-qua-non for their cultures.
One can’t imagine Japan without sushi, neither Armenia without Shushi.
Shushi is a city in the unrecognized, de-facto independent Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh), with one of the richest historical and cultural heritages in the Armenian Highland.
Basic Information about Shushi
Shushi is situated at the very extremity of the latter, right at the opening of the Asian plain and is currently the administrative center of the surrounding district of Shushi.
Its population was 4446 persons in 2015, with one third being employed in state institutions starting from the municipality, until schools and cultural centers and
Its altitude varies around 1400m. The climate is temperate and relatively warm, with significant rainfall and fog during the year (in Armenian, մշուշ/ fog is similar to Շուշի/Shushi).
How to get to Shushi
There are 2 ways of getting to Shushi, depending on which direction do you access the country from. One way is from Goris/Armenia, through the breathtaking serpentines of the road taking you through the region of Kashatagh, the other is from the capital` Stepanakert, situated in the valley that opens up to the Asian plain.
Minivans driving from Yerevan, Goris or Sisian to Stepanakert pass just outside Shushi, but they do not enter it. You can just step down at the crossroad near the gas-station at the entrance of the city and either wait for the Stepanakert-Shushi bus (a big blue bus) or just hitchhike.
The above-said ways refer to relatively clean asphalt roads. But you can also access the city through clearly delimited hiking tracks from the Karin-Tak village situated right «under-the-rock» (translation of the village’s name from Armenian), giving a mesmerizing view on the Kirs mountain range, crowned by the Big Kirs, one of the highest peaks of Karabakh, at an altitude of 2,725 m.
History of Shushi
The earliest mentioning of human settlement in what is today Shushi date from the Middle Ages, the earliest known document from the town being from the 15th century.
Followingly, Shushi became a fortified stronghold in Varanda, one of the 5 Armenian «melikutyuns» (principalities), traditionally governed by the Melik-Shahnazaryan aristocratic dynasty. Shushi was of strategic importance to Avan Yuzbashi’s (Armenian military commander) campaign against Turkish forces in the 1720-1730s.
The town of Shushi as such was founded by Panakh Ali Khan, the leader of the Jevanshir Muslim tribe, in 1750-1752. He got hold of the fortress through deceiving prince Melik Shahnazar of Varanda into surrendering his fortress Shushikala to him, thus founding the Karabakh Khanate.
The town first bore the name of Panahabad, then got its actual name from a nearby Armenian village named «Shushkend» («village of Shushi») or «Shosh».
The early 19th century finds Russian ambitions in the Caucasus taking a new impetus. The desires to expand their territory at the expense of the surrounding Ottoman Empire and Iran were materialized in the two Russo-Persian wars in 1804-1813 and in 1826-1828, which ended with the Treaties of Gulistan and Turkmenchay, consolidating Russian control over most of the khanates in the area.
In the 19th century, Shushi was one of the great cities of the Caucasus, larger and more prosperous than either Baku or Yerevan. It was well known for its silk trade, its paved roads, brightly colored carpets, big stone houses, and fine-bred horses, as well as its rich cultural life – there were several theatres, choirs, newspapers, etc.
Starting from the 1830s, the town was divided into 2 parts – the Christian Armenians lived in the relatively new, upper quarters, while the Turkish-speaking Muslim population settled in the lower quarters.
The first ethnic clashes between Muslims and Christian Armenians emerged in 1905, in Baku, then extended to other parts of the region. In Shushi, over 200 houses were burnt and several hundred people died.
Ethnic conflict simmered on and started to boil in the aftermath of the 1st World War, resulting in the pogrom of Shushi from 1920, during which the Armenian quarter of the city was reduced to ashes and ruins and a big part of the Armenian population was either killed or forced to flee – several thousand people.
The city remained in ruins until the 1960s, starting from when it was gradually developed due to its recreational potential. At the end of the 1970s, it had become one of the main resort towns of the Soviet Union.
Liberation of Shushi
As the war for the national liberation of Artsakh broke out, due to its strategic position, Shushi became one of the most important Azeri strongholds in Artsakh – besides locking the only land connection with Armenia, Azeris constantly shelled Stepanakert from Shushi.
Azeris used the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral as a deposit for ammunition and they used to keep water tanks in the St. John (Kanach Jam) church for the population in the surrounding buildings.
Armenians liberated Shushi in what became known as the «Wedding in the mountains» operation, achieving a brilliant victory. The liberation took place from two directions, a group of 300 Armenians literally climbing up the cliff of Shushi in the night between 8th and 9th of May 1992 from the village of Karin-Tak. The Azeri population fled immediately.
Life after the war
After the end of the war, the city has witnessed gradual development thanks to the participation of several humanitarian, Armenian and non-Armenian organizations, such as the Shushi Revival Fund, the All Armenian Fund, as well as the local government.
Efforts to revive the city’s post-war economy are starting to bear fruit – several hotels were opened as a result of investment in tourism (Avan Plaza Hotel, Shushi Hotel, Shushi Grand hotel), a branch of the Karabakh Carpet factory opened, there are several bakeries, etc.
The cultural and educational life has also witnessed flourishment, with the renovation of schools, the opening of museums (the History Museum, the Geology Museum), Naregatsi Art Institute, Teenage Creativity Center, the activity of the theatre, etc.
Interesting things to see in Shushi
Shushi is the perfect destination for those who want to enjoy nature in all its splendor, as well as get acquainted with what used to be a gemstone not only for Armenians but also for the surrounding region as well. In Shushi, every stone, every corner, every street literally breathes history.
- One of the must-visit places is the fortress of Shushi, which is situated not far from the Vazgen Sargsyan square in the lower quarter. The part preserved until our times is only a part of the whole fortress which used to surround the town, known as the Jraberd gate.
From here you can better understand it’s strategic position and importance for the region, as it gives a breathtaking view on Stepanakert.
- Visiting Shushi cannot be complete without visiting the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral (popularly known as the “White Church”). It is a symbol not only for Shushi, but also for entire Artsakh. It was built between 1868-1887 and Its name comes from Ghazanchi (present-day Qazançı), a village in Nakhichevan, migrants from which financed the church’s construction.
- The Hunot canyon’s upper part, more widely known as “Jdrduz” is a must-see for nature lovers.
- The word Jdrduz has quite an interesting etymology. Some linguists say that the word derives from Old Persian “chydyrdyuz”, which means bald or smooth surface.
On the other hand, some people note that it was a racecourse in the past with the same name Jdrdyuz. The canyon’s upper part can be described as a smooth territory beneath the forested area of the highland.
It’s the lowest point of the city of Shushi: 1300 meters above the sea level, but it is a unique place for the altitude lovers, because it opens an incredible view to the canyon of Hunot in the bottom of which flows the Karkar River.
- The “Zontik” (Umbrella) Waterfall is also not to be missed while visiting Shushi. It’s an unique waterfall situated in the canyon and on the trail line of the Janapar trail, one of the best known and frequented hiking routes in the area. It’s also a very pleasant weekend recreation spot for locals.
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