Shamkir District was formed in 1930 and covers 1,660 square kilometres. It is 400 km from Baku. The north-eastern part of Shamkir District (the left bank of the River Kur) consists of the Jeyran-Chol plain and the central part of the Ganja-Qazakh plain. The south of the district includes the north-eastern foothills of the Lesser Caucasus. Shamkir District is part of the Ganja-Qazakh economic zone. The district can be divided into four in terms of relief: sloping plains, foothills, hills and high mountains. The climate varies, depending on the zone. The average annual temperature is 14 C. The population is approximately 185,000.
The name Shamkir is recorded in medieval documents as Shamkir (Turkic sources), Shamkur (Arabic and Persian sources), Shankori (Georgian sources) and Shyunkyur (Russian sources). Various ideas and theories have been put forward about the name Shamkir; it has been interpreted as ‘bowing to the sun’, ‘Kur fortress’, ‘Kur beacon’, ‘Dinner’ and so on. A.A. Bakikhanov thought that the name was connected to the personal name Shamkir Ibn Ziyad (10th century). The name Shamkir has been interpreted as the name of a tribe and the word for the animal sable (samur in Azerbaijani). Attempts have been made to explain the name Shamkir by breaking it down into its components sham and kur – ‘cold river’, ‘upper Kur’, ‘Kur point’, ‘River of the Saams’ (Shams) and so on. Experts admit that they have yet to find an exact, scientific explanation of the place name Shamkir.
The town of Shamkir and its outlying villages played an important role in the history of Shamkir District. The medieval town of Shamkir was on the left bank of the River Shamkir and seems to have been built in the early Middle Ages. The capture of Shamkir was strategically important for the Arab Caliphate when it conquered northern Azerbaijan. Arab commander Salman ibn Rabiah al-Bahili took Shamkir in the middle of the 7th century. Academician Ziya Bunyadov wrote: ‘Salman’s troops captured Shamkhor, which was considered an “ancient town”, then headed east towards the confluence of the Araz and Kur rivers on the far side of Bardinj.’ The Arab-Khazar wars were the most important events of this era. After the successful invasion of 737, Arab commander Marwan ibn Muhammad settled some of the Khazars here who had been taken prisoner. An attack by the Sanaris against the Arabs interrupted the development of the town. They sacked the town in 752. The Arabs considered the town very important and clearly paid considerable attention to restoring the town. Buga al-Kabir, a Turk, liberated the town in 854. Ninth century Arab historian al-Belazuri wrote: ‘…Buga … restored it (the town) and settled some of the Khazars there; they asked him for protection because they wanted to adopt Islam. He also settled merchants from Barda in Shamkir and renamed the town Mutawakilliyye’ (in honour of the Abbasid caliph who ruled from 847 to 861). Arab historians say that the town later reverted to its earlier name. This can be seen, on the one hand, as the local population’s loyalty to their past and, on the other, as the end of the rule of the Arab Caliphate in Azerbaijan and the creation of new independent states. Throughout the existence of the Arab Caliphate, Shamkir played an important political and socio-economic role. Shamkir was active in Azerbaijan’s international trade. The Arran mint is thought to have been based here. The creation of independent states in Azerbaijan in the 9th-11th centuries gave an impetus to the development of the town of Shamkir.
The town of Shamkir was part of the Salarid state (941-981) and later of the Shaddadid state (975-1075). During this time Shamkir became a political centre. Shaddadid ruler Abulasvar ibn Fazl Shavur (1049-1067) began to govern from Shamkir itself. M. Sharifli wrote: ‘After restoring order in Shamkir, Shavur leaves for Ganja. He subdues the city, unites all the Arran lands and fortresses and begins to govern.’ In 1065, during Shavur’s rule, the Alans formed an alliance with Georgian King Bagrat IV and entered Arran territory. M. Sharifli says: ‘They killed more than 200 volunteers near Shamkir, pillaged villages and wiped out the population on their way to Ganja … so Alp Arslan (Great Seljuk Sultan, 1063-1072), an ally of Shavur, attacked the Trans-Caucasian states twice in 1067.’
During the rule of Seljuk lord Melikshah (1072-1092) the Shaddadid state ceased to exist and Shamkir and other territories became part of the Seljuk state. In the 9th-11th centuries the town of Shamkir played a special role in Azerbaijan’s urban life. All the sources on the era mention Shamkir. Collating this information, M. Sharifli reports that Shamkir is mentioned in the anonymous work on geography Hududelalem (Limits of the World), written in the 980s. According to Ibn Khovgal, Shamkir was one of several small, attractive, regional towns. The town of Shamkir became more important during the Seljuk era. Shamkir developed and grew in the best traditions of medieval Azerbaijani towns. A. Avalov wrote that Shamkir, which had economic links with Barda (Arran’s main city, considered the ‘mother of Arran’ – author) was also influenced by Shamkir’s architectural trends. Architecture typical of the Arran school had developed in Shamkir. This was not limited to the construction of individual buildings but could be seen in the overall urban development.
The Shamkir Minaret or Shamkir Citadel has a special place in Shamkir’s town-planning. An epitaph was found on the monument in 1970. Researcher M. Nematova managed to read it (the epitaph was written in Arabic in Kufic script). The epitaph translates as: ‘In the name of God. This watch tower was built through the power of almighty God and with his approval, with his complete patronage, by the blessed sheikh Afshin (or Akshin), with his property, as a defensive building. In 493.’ M. Nematova concluded that the tower was built not in the 12th-13th centuries but in the 493rd year of the Hijri lunar calendar (1099-1100 according to the solar calendar). The monument has military and architectural significance and also sheds light on a variety of political and economic problems. This monument could only have been built in a town with a degree of political and economic potential.
The Azerbaijani Atabay state (1136-1225) left its mark on life in Shamkir and in the country as a whole. During this period the Georgians set their sights more firmly on Azerbaijani land. A Georgian-Shirvan union was created against the Atabays. The allies took the side of Amir Amiran in his struggle against his brother, Atabay Abu Bakr (1191-1210). Abu Bakr was defeated in 1194 in a battle near Shamkir. Referring to the cities of Ganja, Nakhchivan, Beylaqan, Baku and Tabriz during the Atabay era, Ziya Bunyadov wrote: ‘References to other towns of Azerbaijan and Arran during the Eldegiz era are as a rule very short. But each of these towns had its own characteristics and professions and unique crafts. For example, silk and pomegranates were exported from Barda, cloth, linen and copper goods from Salmas, silk from Shabran, and earthenware and knives from Shamkhor.’
When the Atabay state came to an end, Shamkir and other Azerbaijani lands came under the rule of the Khwarazm shah, Jalaladdin (1225-1231). V. Piriyev wrote: ‘On 25 July 1225 Jalaladdin broke the resistance of the defenders of Tabriz and conquered the city with the help of the feudal lords… The Atabays’ governor in Ganja, Jamaladdin al-Gumi, surrendered the city to commander Jalaladdin Ur-Khan: Ur-Khan also took several cities in Arran (Beylaqan, Barda, Shamkir, Shutur).’ But Jalaladdin did not rule for long. After the Ganja uprising of 1231, he was defeated by the Mongols when they invaded Azerbaijan.
The Mongol occupation ushered in a new era in the history of Azerbaijan. After capturing Maragi and Tabriz, they attacked Ganja. Ganja put up stiff resistance, but nevertheless the city was defeated in 1235. Shamkir as well as Ganja put up stiff resistance to the Mongols. ‘When the Mongols attacked the town, the people of Shamkir called upon their ruler Bahram to fight the enemy. But Bahram would not agree to this. The Mongols surrounded Shamkir. They filled trenches around the town with wood and straw and tried to climb the town walls. When the townspeople discovered this, they set the straw on fire during the night. Mongol commander Molar was in a hurry to take the city and ordered that the trenches be filled with sand. The Mongols managed to put out the fire and then entered the town. Shamkir was burnt down as a result and its people were put to the sword. The Mongols took Baku, Tovuz and other Azerbaijani towns. When the Mongols took Derbent in 1239, they had totally conquered Azerbaijan.’ Since the Mongols concentrated on ‘pasturing politics’, i.e. the development of animal husbandry as far as the economy went, they were indifferent towards urban life. That’s why Shamkir and several other Azerbaijani towns were not rebuilt during the Mongol rule. From this time onwards the whole district, as well as the old town, began to be known as Shamkir. The name Shamkir acquired a geographic meaning and only later was this historic name used to refer to the new town too.
In the 15th century Shamkir and its environs became part of the Qara Qoyunlu (Black Sheep) state (1410-1468), then part of the Ag Qoyunlu (White Sheep) state (1468-1501). After the creation of the Azerbaijani Safavid state (1501), the area around Shamkir was included in the Ganja-Qarabag province. The Shamkir area fell under the hereditary rule of the Zulgeders. The war between the Safavids and the Ottomans in 1578-1590 ended in defeat for the Safavids and the signing of the Istanbul treaty. Under the agreement Shamkir and its environs fell under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. In 1593 the Ottomans compiled the ‘register’ of the Ganja-Qarabag province. Shamkir was included in the Ganja-Arran district. But during the rule of Shah Abbas (1587-1629) all the Azerbaijani lands in the Ottoman Empire were returned. The Ganja-Qarabag province again became part of the Ottoman Empire in the first quarter of the 18th century. In 1727 a detailed ‘inventory’ of the Ganja-Qarabag province was compiled. The Shamkirbasan region was singled out in Ganja-Qarabag. The ‘detailed inventory’ gives important information about the region’s villages. Nadir, who led the Safavid dynasty in the later years, conquered the lands of Ganja and Qarabag. After the ‘elections’ of the shah in 1737, he decided to move against the rulers of Ganja, the Ziyadoglular. With this aim in mind, the provinces of Qazakh, Shamkir and Shamshadil were made subordinate to the Georgian governor.
The era of the khanates began in Azerbaijan after the death of Nadir Shah in 1747. The khanate of Ganja and other khanates of Azerbaijan tried to seize control in the aforementioned provinces. In 1752 Sheki Khan Haji Chalabi defeated Georgian King Irakli and took control of the provinces. The Russian invasion of the South Caucasus began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
In 1801 the sultanates of Borchali, Qazakh and Shamsaddil together with eastern Georgia were annexed to Russia on the basis of the manifesto of Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825). A struggle began for the Ganja khanate. Russia’s commander-in-chief in the Caucasus, P. Tsitsianov, conquered the land around Ganja, including Shamkir (from the start of the Russian occupation the name Shamkhor rather than Shamkir was used most often in official documents. This state of affairs continued until 1991 when the name Shamkir was restored. Given the importance of official documents and sources during this period, the name Shamkhor has provisionally been retained.) From here Tsitsianov continued to write threatening letters to Ganja’s Javad Khan. A written appeal was sent to Javad Khan on 29 November 1803 and on the 30th another was sent to Armenians in Ganja who were ready to betray Azerbaijan. Javad Khan sent logical replies, based on historical facts, to all Tsitsianov’s letters and did not give up the land without a fight. Ganja was taken in January 1804. The Ganja Khanate was dissolved and the city was renamed Yelizavetpol and its land Yelizavetopol Okrug (District). Shamkir became part of Yelizavetpol Okrug. The district consisted of six regions (Qorsk, Shamkhor, Kurakbasan, Ganjabasan, Samukh and Ayrim). An uprising against the Russian occupation soon began in the Azerbaijani lands. Local rule was restored in Ganja during these events, which were recorded in history as the Muslim Uprising of 1826.
War between Russia and Iran broke out again during this time. Iranian troops were soon approaching Shamkhor. The Russians won a decisive battle near Shamkhor in 1826. According to a historic source, in 1831 Shamkhor Okrug consisted of seven villages and 688 houses. Another major event occurred in the life of Shamkhor during the rule of imperial Russia. Germans, who had migrated to the South Caucasus, were settled in Shamkir. A German colony, Annenfeld (the territory of today’s town of Shamkir), was established there. New German villages were created as part of the colony. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the villages close to Shamkhor took their own place in the socio-economic and cultural life of Azerbaijan. Actions took place here against imperial Russia.
In October 1917 after the Bolshevik coup in Russia, the national liberation movement grew in Azerbaijan. A governing body by the name of the Trans-Caucasus Commissariat was set up in the South Caucasus. This body demanded that Russian troops leaving the region should surrender their weapons. It was decided to disarm military echelons near Shamkhor. As a result, a significant quantity of ammunition was taken from the Russian army as it was leaving the Caucasus front. Regrettably, this event was distorted for a long time in the historical literature.
The restoration of Azerbaijan’s state independence – the creation of the Azerbaijan Republic on 28 May 1918 – was a great event in the life of the whole country, including Shamkhor. The poetry of Ahmad Javad (1892-1937), who was born in Shamkhor, became a symbol of the independence era. Realizing the importance of Shamkhor, the government of Azerbaijan decided to create a special Shamkhor Uyezd (district). A sitting of parliament discussed the issue on 22 April 1920 and passed a special law, consisting of five articles. The first article said that the district was created in the western part of the district of Ganja and in the area adjoining Novobayazet (Yenibayazid) District. The district’s authorities were to be based at Zayam settlement. Article Two envisaged making 34 village communities part of the newly created Shamkir Uyezd; the villages included Qarajamirli, Georgiyevsk, Alabashli, Seyfali, Annino, Dallar, Kechili, Morul, Qushchu and Zaylik. Subsequent clauses covered the establishment of the uyezd’s system of government and financial issues. Shamkhor Uyezd was dissolved in 1930 as part of the process of creating new districts and Shamkhor District (rayon) was formed. Annenfeld was renamed Shamkhor in 1938.
In the 1920s and 30s, Shamkhor Uyezd was of significance in the socio-political, economic and cultural life of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Shamkhor was a centre of anti-Soviet activity. On 17-18 March 1930, an event that became known as the Bitdili Uprising took place in the village of Bitdili (now the village of Yeniabad) in Shamkhor District. The repressions of the 1930s also affected Shamkhor. During the Second World War people from Shamkir displayed great heroism in the courageous fight against fascism. The first Hero of the Soviet Union, Israfil Mammadov (1919-1946) was a Shamkir native. Soviet government policy was to deport the Germans from their settlements in Shamkir. In September-October 1941 the Germans were exiled from here.
Even though the Azerbaijani people and Baku oil made a significant contribution to the victory over fascism, deportation of Azerbaijanis from western Azerbaijan, now called Armenia, began in the post-war years. In 1948-1953 more than 100,000 Azerbaijanis were practically exiled from their native land. At this difficult time, all the Azerbaijanis of the Azerbaijani SSR, including the people of Shamkir, welcomed their brothers and sisters with open arms.
Even though Shamkir had great socio-economic potential, this potential was not used as well as it should have been in the post-war years. Major change occurred in this sector during Heydar Aliyev’s leadership of Azerbaijan (1969-1982). All parts of Shamkir’s economy were invigorated. Construction of the Shamkhor and Yenikand hydro-electric power stations was part of Heydar Aliyev’s Azerbaijani strategy. The first unit of the Shamkhor Hydro-Electric Power Station came on stream in 1982 and the second in 1983. Construction of Yenikand Hydro-Electric Power Station began in 1984. The construction led to the creation of the settlement of Kur with a population of 7,000. Housing, engineering and cable factories and public amenities were built in the settlement.
While Heydar Aliyev had a top state post – he was first deputy chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers from 1982 – he always considered the development of Azerbaijan, including Shamkhor District, to be of great importance. Heydar Aliyev’s removal from Soviet state leadership brought new dangers for Azerbaijan. In the late 1980s the Armenians stepped up their separatist activity in their attempts to separate Karabakh from Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government was not ready to rebuff this danger, but the people had their say. A struggle began for Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. A total of 269 people from the district died as martyrs in this struggle and 145 suffered permanent injury. Tariyel Abdiyev became a martyr on 20 Janury 1990. Two people from Shamkir – Iskandar Aznavurov (15 January 1995) and Zaur Sariyev (4 April 1995) – were honoured with the title National Hero of Azerbaijan. Western Azerbaijanis were forced to move to Shamkir District by the policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide conducted by Armenia from the 1980s in contravention of international law and norms, including during the deportation of 1948-1952. They were settled in the district and were well looked after. When Armenian armed forces occupied Azerbaijani territory, the forced migrants and refugees were also cared for. At present 12,240 refugees and 1,910 forced migrants live in the district.
The declaration of Azerbaijan’s state independence, the collapse of the USSR and the subsequent period (1991-1993) were hard for Azerbaijan. The name Shamkir was restored in 1991, but radical change did not occur until Heydar Aliyev returned to lead the republic (1993-2003), at the insistence of the people. The district enjoyed a period of dynamic socio-economic development. Completion of the construction of the Yenikand hydro-electric power station was a major event in the life of the district. During Heydar Aliyev’s second period at the helm of the republic, land reform was successfully carried out in the district and the rest of the country and positive results were achieved in all sectors of the economy. The privatization programme was carried out successfully. Significant progress was made in the construction of industrial and social facilities. The election of Ilham Aliyev as president of the Azerbaijan Republic created the right conditions to continue Heydar Aliyev’s policies successfully. Shamkir is continuing its dynamic development with renewed vigour.

Doctor of History Karim Shukurov

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