The book The Legacy of Shusha. The History and Path of Development of Azerbaijan’s Cultural Capital has been published in the German language in Munich. The author of the book is literary scholar and historian Michael Reinhard Hess, a researcher at the University of Giessen in Germany specializing in Turkic studies.
The following is an interview with the German scholar.
This is your second book on the history of the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan in the last two years. The first book deals with the general history of Karabakh, and this one is about Shusha. Where does your interest in Karabakh, its culture, literature and historical development come from?
My second doctoral thesis (a professor habilitation) at the Free University of Berlin is a study of the works of the great Azerbaijani poet Imadeddin Nasimi. The reason I am interested in Azerbaijani literature is that I am a Turkologist by profession. The history of Azerbaijan, its modern political history and path of development are also part of my academic research. For example, back in 2016, after the April battles, my book about the history and political development of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict Tanks in Paradise. The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan was published in German. And in August 2020, my book Karabakh from the 13th Ccentury to 1920. The Beginning of the History of Azerbaijan was released in English in Berlin. In February of this year the 3rd revised edition of this book was published, updated with the outcome of the 44-day Patriotic War.
Your book The Legacy of Shusha. The History and Path of Development of Azerbaijan’s Cultural Capital was released a few weeks ago. What can you say about how this book came to be?
We began our research on the history of culture and literature of Shusha, and the work of writers from Shusha and Karabakh in general, as early as in 2015. It has always made me wonder that so many poets, writers, musicologists, composers and other creative people grew up in and around Shusha, this geographically not very large, charming region. After the liberation of Shusha from the occupation in November 2020, we began working hard on the book The Legacy of Shusha. We finished writing during my visit to Shusha on November 7, 2021, and when I returned to Berlin, I began preparing it for printing. I will tell you an interesting fact: at the very last stage of preparing the book for printing I received the news that President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev had declared 2022 the “Year of Shusha” in Azerbaijan in early January. I immediately stopped printing and mentioned this important fact in the introduction to the book, and added that the book was a contribution to the 270th anniversary of Shusha. After that, the printing process resumed and was completed in March of this year.
How would you briefly describe the content and significance of the book?
The book explores the important general historical and cultural-historical stages through which Shusha, Karabakh and Azerbaijan as a whole have gone through. A detailed analysis of the rich cultural and literary heritage of Shusha and an insight into achievements of its Azerbaijani cultural history, many of which are unknown in the West, are presented through scientific facts and sources.
The “cultural capital of Azerbaijan”, also called its “pearl” and the “cradle of culture”, Shusha has produced many famous Azerbaijani poets, writers, musicians and other people of arts and culture. 95 poets and writers, 38 khanendes, 22 musicians and 19 calligraphers lived and worked in Shusha and Karabakh at the end of the 19th century. The book presents scientific evidence that the heritage of Shusha comes from the national and spiritual values of the Azerbaijani people based on works of some of these creators: Molla Panah Vagif, Aghabeyim agha Aghabaji, Ashig Peri, Khurshidbanu Natavan, historians Mirza Adigozalbey, Mirza Jamal Javanshir Karabaghi, as well as other intellectuals, such as Mir Movsum Navvab, Fatma Khanum Kamina, Uzeyir Hajibekov, Zulfugar Hajibekov, Jeyhun Bey Hajibekov and Abdurrahim Bey Hagverdiyev. The most important conclusion is that Shusha and Karabakh, which belong to Azerbaijan in terms of international law and politics, belong to the Azerbaijani people by virtue of their literary, cultural and ethnographic heritage, because of the centuries-old contribution of Azerbaijani writers, musicians and other numerous intellectuals. This is why we titled one of the subsections of the book “Musical Shusha—Azerbaijani Vienna”. Because of its invaluable role in the history of Azerbaijani culture, Shusha has also been compared to Weimar, the birthplace of the great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and other German authors.
During the 28 years and 6 months of Shusha’s occupation, many unbelievable and absurd attempts were made to erase and distort this heritage and tear it away from the Azerbaijani people. The Legacy of Shusha presents scientific evidence against the occupiers’ ridiculous attempts to erase, distort and disprove this heritage and thus fabricate a picture of the history of Shusha and Karabakh that is virtually detached from the Azerbaijani contribution.
What you wrote about the etymology of the word “Shusha” and the history of the Shusha fortress is very interesting. Could you tell us a little more about that?
The construction of the Shusha fortress is linked to the founder of the Karabakh Khanate Panahali Khan (1748-1763). Panahali Khan built first the Bayat fortress and then the Shahbulag fortress for the capital of the Karabakh Khanate. Khan of Karabakh and Shusha Ibrahimkhalil (1763-1806) gave the city, which had been previously known as Panahabad, the name of Shusha. There are different versions as to the reason why Ibrahimkhalil Khan did this.
There is a possibility that the name “Shusha” was given to toponyms twice in the history of Karabakh. Presumably, there was also a small village called Shusha in Karabakh in the 13th-14th centuries. This place can probably be identified as the present-day Shushakend district, located about 5 km from the Shusha fortress. Since the word “Shushakend” in the Azerbaijani language means a small town or village, this version suggests that Shusha and Shushakend were originally connected. It is also substantiated in the book that the word “Shusha” has no known etymology in the Armenian language. The Christian melikdoms of Karabakh have nothing to do with Armenians either.
You chose “Dear Shusha, you are free”, a quote from President Ilham Aliyev’s address to the nation on November 8, 2020, as the prologue to the book… What is your view of Shusha’s place in Azerbaijan’s political history and the attitude of Azerbaijan’s political leaders towards Shusha?
No one can doubt that President Ilham Aliyev has always had a special regard for the city of Shusha and played a key role in its liberation during the 44-day Patriotic War. Because of his personal attachment to Shusha and Karabakh in general, and in his position as President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, he is undoubtedly one of the most important personalities in the history of Shusha in the recent period. We chose the words “Dear Shusha, you are free…” out of these considerations, but also because it is perhaps the most succinct description of the current state of Shusha. Shusha’s unique cultural and historical role repeatedly made the city the focus of political conflicts. It is because of this singular historical status that Shusha and its surroundings were subjected to severe systematic destruction by Armenia while under occupation from May 1992 to November 2020. Many facts about this have been included in the book. Shusha’s liberation from occupation in the 44-day Patriotic War and its restoration is therefore of great symbolic and political importance to Azerbaijan.
As for President Ilham Aliyev’s personal connection to Shusha, the “Resolution on declaring the historical part of Shusha a historical and architectural reserve” was adopted on Heydar Aliyev’s initiative in the 1970s, and the book offers facts indicating that Heydar Aliyev played a special role in the development of Shusha during the Soviet era. Vagif Mausoleum, built in 1982, when Heydar Aliyev was 59 years old, was reopened in August 2021, when Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was 59, and this parallel is described in the book as a “repetition of history of great symbolic importance”. The book explains in a manner accessible to Western readers that Shusha, a legacy of the Karabakh Khanate, has been the focus of continuous political concern of Azerbaijani leaders, from the Karabakh khans up to the period of independence.
You used more than 600 sources to write a 600-page book. This is a serious research project that requires a lot of hard work. Did anyone support you in this endeavor?
Yes, sources in German, English, French, Russian, Persian, Azerbaijani, and Turkish were used in writing this rather lengthy book, and the scientific ideas are substantiated with 1,500 citations. Some important photos and maps were also included in the book. In the preparation and publication of the book I enjoyed strong support from two people from Baku, my long-time friends and research partners, who wish not to be named.
Translated from Report.az