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Abbasabad Fortress: Capturing the historical essence of Azerbaijan

By Peter Tase

The Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan is home of a Classical and Middle Age city, it is the birthplace of Abid, an influential medieval sculptor and one of the founders of Nakhchivan’s Medieval Tradition of Art and Sculpture. Nakhchivan, as an historically influential Autonomous Republic in the territory of Azerbaijan, in the last decades has made a vast contribution and taken noteworthy steps towards higher education, religious architecture, preservation of archeological sites, restoration of fortresses and preservation of natural monuments which deeply exemplify the rich culture and portray the Republic of Azerbaijan and its unique history of nation building.

In the XVI century, in Bilav Village of Ordubad region, Abid carved a ram sculpture dedicated to Safarali who died in 1690.  In this particular ram monument was founded the signature of Abid, and a number of other stone ram monuments were prepared in the early XVI century. All these archeological and art masterpieces are preserved today as grave stone memory monuments in the village cemetery and in the city museum nearby the city hall, where I had the rare privilege to visit in October 2014.  The works of Abid in Nakhchivan, the western most region of Azerbaijan and a cradle of human civilization, have established new standards in the European School of Sculpture that proved to be ahead of his time and have taken the art of sculpture into new heights.   Nakhchivan has produced more ancient and current history than any other region of Azerbaijan, it has given many scientists to the world, visionary government leaders such as Heydar Aliyev and Vasif Talibov, well respected architects and economists who have greatly contributed for the urban and economic growth of the Caspian Region and beyond.

Despite of all the past tragic historic events, Nakhchivan continues to flourish economically and surprise the world stage with its compelling castles, religious architecture that has influenced many other urban centers in the nearby cross roads of Eurasia.

Nakhchivan, since its early days has crafted a rich tradition in literature.  The literary characters and motives have earned it a significant place in the literature of the Azerbaijani people. In the chapters of the epos “Kitabi Dada Gorgud” many plots are characters mainly created in Nakhchivan, there are mentioned the historic places and created common subjects within the Nakhchivan area.  The experts of the works written by Gorgud demonstrate that the events taking place in the chapters “Bassat’s Killing of Tapagoz” and “Bakil’s son Imran” are mainly connected with Nakhchivan.  Moreover, the plots, geographical names and heroes of Nakhchivan are met in the eposes of “Koroglu”, “Asli and Karam”, “Gachag Nabi”.  The Folklore of Nakhchivan contains every genre produced by the oral literature of Azerbaijani nation, such as the songs of hakhishta, gulumey, yallibashi.  The art of ashug – one of the most important branches of the people’s literature – (mainly in Sharur and Shahbuz districts) were also developed.  Additionally, in ancient times a number of distinguished poets and writers, including Gatran Tabrizi, lived and wrote books in Nakhchivan.

Nakhchivan is home of Astabad, a city of Middle Ages on the banks of the Araz River, located at a distance of 12 kilometers to the south east of Nakhchivan city, these ruins are at Babek settlement. At the beginning of the XIV Century we come across with the name of Astabad in the written official documents and manuscripts of that period in Russia and other neighboring provinces.  In the XVIII-XIX centuries, this name was gradually set aside and sometimes this location was named after the temple of Gizilburun, which is located not far from this historical place.  In the grounds of Gizilburun in 1895 was founded a little male monument prepared of clay.  During archeological excavations in the old cemetery (1926) were discovered painted plates, weapons, stones with a human image that were from the Bronze Age. In the Middle Ages Astabad was one of the centers of Hurufism. According to the local scholars the founder and leader of that movement was Fazlullah Naimi (1339-1394), the thinker of Azerbaijan who lived in Astabad and bore the pen name Astabadi. The city was destroyed during the inter-feudal wars. As the Araz Water reservoir was constructed (1967-1971) its ruin were left under water.

Six kilometers to the South East from Nakhchivan city, is located Abbasabad Fortress, a military type fortress on the banks of Araz river. It was built in 1809-1810 with the cooperation of the French military engineers. This is perhaps the first time that French military engineering expertise has greatly influenced the development of military infrastructure in a country of the Caspian region.  The five angles shaped fortress has also towers. The height of the fortress walls was 4 meters and 30 cm. and thickness was 60 cm. The fortress had a special strategic importance for the defense of the Khanate of Nakhchivan.   Abbasabad Fortress was the object arising from a military defense emergency that arose during the first Russia Iran War (1804-1813) the Iran side that was heavily defeated several times paid a great attention to strengthening its military positions in the territory of the Nakhchivan khanate. For this reason the Iranian command restored the fortress and also made new fortresses build in hope of a better defense.  Abbasabad fortress was one of these military fortifications that were built in the territory of Nakhchivan by the French engineers in accordance with the request of Prince Abbas Mirza and named after the successor to the Iran throne.  Abbasabad fortress was constructed with a European architectural style by Abbas Mirza. Abbasabad Fortress secured the safety of the passage over the Araz River; also secured a control over the way leading to South Azerbaijan and in case of emergency it could block the passage to the other parts of Azerbaijan.  The fortress was considered a station having a great defense importance for the Iran positions against Russian army attacks. Abbasabad was built in the shape of proper five angles two of them leaned towards Araz River while further connecting the fortress.

The key landmark of these fortifications was that they could withdraw in case of emergency to the fortress garrison and provide a safe passage to the right banks of the Araz River.  According to O. Yevetsky “Abbasabad fortress is a five angles range with its towers, built and strengthened by French and English officers. Abbasabad fortress was built in the place of the ancient settlement Astabad that had existed before.” F. Korf who was visiting this fortification in 1834-1835 states: “I saw the Abbasabad fortress built by Abbas Mirza 25 years ago in the region. It was built by the plan of a French Engineer who had served at Abbas Mirza’s courtyard”.  Abbasabad Fortress was widely pictured by N. Nefedov, Russian historian in his road notes which were published in 1839. Nefedov states: “In the opposite side of Nakhchivan the Abbasabad fortress which has been left and destroyed for natural reasons is observed. I considered it my duty to visit the fortress built by the French Engineers.  A very deep trench built by stone and in any emergency filled with water, a wall with two fold holes, towers, pathways covered with stone and the defense capacity of the fortification show that one time friends of Iran really showed in here great skills and mastery. It is worthwhile to emphasize that they have built the fortress on the basis of a great visionary perspective that the garrison could easily and safely pass to the other bank of the Araz River, namely to their home country through the bridge. Abbasabad fortress was built during the first Russia – Iran war by the French and thereafter thanks to the Gulustan Treaty (1813) it was restored by the English officers.  Abbasabad fortress was one of the inhabited locations of the Iranian Army in the Southern Caucasus having a great security importance over the road toward South of Azerbaijan.

During the second Russia-Iran War (1826-1828) there was intensive fighting in Abbasabad fortress. The fortress was defended by 4000 soldiers and five hundred horsemen. The head guard of the fortress was Mahammad Emin Khan, the son in law of Abbas Mirza who commanded the Iran Army. Also Ehsan Khan Kangarli was the guard of the fortress. It is historical sites like the Abbasabad Fortress that make the history of Azerbaijan so compelling and interesting to further study, expand its reach, and further preserve archeological sites.  Azerbaijan has a dynamic history that must be promoted and further complemented with the study of archeological sites and fortresses that are the most important assets of its culture and people.

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Peter Tase

Peter Tase is a contributor, freelance journalist and a research scholar of International Affairs, Paraguayan Studies, Middle East Studies and Latin American Affairs, located in the United States. Educated at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Marquette University Les Aspin Center for Government; Tase is the author of “Simultaneous Dictionary in Five Languages: Guarani, English, Italian, Albanian and Spanish” and “El Dr. FEDERICO FRANCO y Su Mandato Presidencial en la Historia del Paraguay.” He’s a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy News. His personal website is www.petertase.com

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