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Shusha buried alive (Winter evening in Shusha, Part Two)

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BY EYNULLA FATULLAYEV, SHUSHA

Part I, Armenian passengers under Azerbaijani and Turkish flags (Winter evening in Shusha series)

…I am walking along Shusha as if I am descending into the underworld. Nothing has changed here since 2005. Perhaps the Armenians managed to complete the construction of several one-story houses next to the cathedral. But even these buildings violate the unique architectural integrity and harmony of the city. And it's scary to think: at the beginning of the last century Shusha had over 80 thousand residents. But over the past 25 years, the Armenians have turned this city into ruins too. 'Why, then, such a capable and talented people, which the Armenians consider themselves to be, failed or did not want to revive at least one city in Karabakh?' I continue the dialogue with myself. The Armenians left behind only ruins. There are ruins everywhere, ruined centuries-old houses of the exiled Azerbaijanis.

This is how the Armenians left Shusha

And our shot memory

Once upon a time, the centre of Shusha was decorated with bronze busts of luminaries of Azerbaijani culture. After all, they all come from our cultural capital. In the culmination period of the first Karabakh war, the then Minister of Culture Polad Bulbuloglu miraculously managed through proxy companies in Tbilisi to redeem and take out from Shusha the executed monuments of the greatest composer Uzeyir bey Hajibeyli, the daughter of the last Karabakh khan, poet Khurshud-banu Natavan and unsurpassed opera singer Bulbul. To this day, these monuments, as eloquent witnesses of our shot memory, stand in the courtyard of the Baku Arts Museum. Bursting into the city, Armenian militants led by defence minister Vazgen Sargsyan burned Shusha for the second time in the past century, destroying unique palaces, cultural relics, blessed gardens, historical theatres, centuries-old houses, priceless museums on their way. And on the site of the monument to the outstanding poetess, granddaughter of two Azerbaijani khans, enlightener of the golden age of Azerbaijani culture Natavan, the Armenians erected a monument to their canonised 'hero,' the invader of the city, former sports teacher, plebeian tribune Vazgen Sargsyan, posthumously proclaimed 'sparapet' (Armenian military title of 22 centuries ago).

'Sparapet' defeated by the judgement of history

According to the testimony of Armenian human rights defenders, Sargsyan personally tortured and even raped Azerbaijani prisoners of war during the first war, which was reflected in high-profile journalistic investigations in the Armenian press. The remains of the broken executioner's monument lie in the square against the backdrop of the Natavan house, ravaged and burned by Armenian militants.

I quickly walk to the ruins of the house, similar to the ruins of an ancient temple.

'Don't go there. There may still be mines. It's dangerous!' shouts one of the Azerbaijani soldiers.

But I have already almost approached this old house. 'Better if I were gone, and you, oh, two-faced world.' Sad lines from a poem by Natavan, a hostage of the tsarist military leaders, who was forcibly married to a Crimean officer. Once upon a time, the Shusha literary circle 'Majlisi-uns' gathered in this house. What is left of our shot memory? The ashes of our history, scattered in the mountains of Karabakh.

I leaf through the Karabakh diaries in my memory. In 2005, one of the activists of the Dashnaktsutyun party in Stepanakert (Khankendi), in a conversation with me, admitted that the Natavan house had been set on fire. He managed to save only one shebeke, a rare window with multi-coloured glass, made without nails and glue in the 19th century by Azerbaijani craftsmen. The dashnak kept this shebeke-window as a rarity in his office...

This was how one of the finest palaces of the late nineteenth century was destroyed. House of Natavan, the granddaughter of two Azerbaijani khans

During the period of the occupation administration, the Armenians for some reason did not rename only two streets. The one named after the founder of the first Republic, Mammad Emin Rasulzadeh, who had nothing to do with Shusha. And Natavan Street. The palace was burned and destroyed, and it took too much historical courage to erase the name of the poetess from history.

Crimes in the name of Christ

I walk with quiet, uncertain steps along the abandoned streets of the erased old city. I stop at the broken house of Uzeyir bey. What house?! There is one stele left! I go into the courtyard of the house where Bulbul was born. I am met by the torn bust of the great singer. A ruined house drowned in a 25-year-old slush, from which only old bare river stones remain.

Ruined Bulbul house-museum. Armenians fought only with history

'Why did the Armenians need Shusha? Just in order to erase the culture of another people?' I continue to torment myself with unanswered questions. There is no Shusha, the city resembles one large soldier's barracks erected on the ruins. In all the alleys and streets, people in military uniforms flicker. Some kind of fussy war fever.

But suddenly, on one street of the old merchant district, I unexpectedly meet one of the city's elders. The permanent head of the Shusha department of the Ministry of Culture, the old party worker Zahid Abbasov is beside himself with happiness. He found his home intact.

'I have to move to Shusha. How much more do I have left? After all, I am one of the few who knows every house, every street, every corner of the city. We are obliged to quickly restore the city,' Z. Abbasov shares his thoughts, who for a quarter of a century dreamed of Shusha and his home. Upon his return to Baku, Z. Abbasov will ask to transfer the department back to Shusha.

For several days now, despite his advanced age and various ailments, Z. Abbasov has been conducting a thorough study of the remaining cultural heritage of the city day and night: 'Out of 248 monuments, I found 210 of our historical relics that can still be restored.' The head of the department scrupulously collects the lost rare exhibits of the history museum, which could not be saved on the eve of the occupation. Although a few days before the fall of Shusha, the then Minister of Culture Polad Bulbuloglu, together with Zahid Abbasov, nevertheless was lucky to take out the exhibits from the museums of Uzeyir bey and Bulbul...

After the liberation of Shusha, Z. Abbasov managed to find and transfer over 1500 exhibits to the temporary administration for storage! And this is about 40 per cent of historical values ​​lost during the occupation.

'We still have a lot to do. But we must hurry. We must return to the city,' Z. Abbasov constantly repeats.

There is no water, electricity or gas supply in Shusha. At the last moment, before leaving, the occupation authorities managed to cut off the last threads of life in the city.

'We managed to restore the water supply with great difficulty. Shusha has a dilapidated, complex and confusing water supply system. The Armenians took all the maps with them. But we solved the main part of the problems, unravelled a complex tangle,' says a representative of Azersu, a resident of the Azerbaijani village of Jojug Marjanli, which has risen from the ashes in the plains of Karabakh. After the liberation of Shusha, leaving his home and work, 57-year-old Ali Namazov is tirelessly trying to improve life in the city.

In the courtyard of the Shusha school, where there are first military barracks located, because of the lack of water, soldiers are getting water for daily needs by heating snow. But once here, nearby, a stone's throw from the school, a unique spring flowed out in the Mamayi quarter.

The spring of Mamayi before the occupation

After the occupation, the Arabic inscription disappeared and the cross appeared

I am trying to find this spring, which was built back in the nineteenth century at the expense of the famous merchant Samed Agha Javanshir. Here it is, this spring! Oh my God, the Armenians erased the Arabic inscription on the structure around the spring and covered it with a newly-made khachkar. How could crimes be committed in the name of Christ? Is it possible to build a monastery on the ruins of the destroyed culture of another people? Is it possible to build your happiness on the suffering of another people, on the remains of a killed culture? There were traditionally 17 neighbourhoods in Shusha. And each one had its own spring, its own mosque, its own bathhouse. All 17 springs have dried up! All 17 mosques were destroyed!

But the church still stands today

I open the unlocked gate of the snow-white Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The open courtyard of the church is being cleared of snow by two Azerbaijani soldiers who watch my every step with a gaze. The church, which suffered during the second war, is in the same condition as the leader of the separatists Arayik Harutyunyan showed it to the world shortly before the liberation of the city. New frescoes on the walls draw attention. It's a remake, for in 2005 these frescoes were not there yet...

In the Armenian church in Shusha

But I have yet to bring several Qurans into the Cathedral Mosque of Govhar Agha. When I was crossing the last checkpoint of the Azerbaijani Army at Boyuk Taglar village, one of the soldiers turned to me with a request: 'Can you take these Qurans to the Shusha mosque ?' I smiled, looking up into the purest blue. A sign of heaven? What a great honour to bring first Qurans to the Shusha mosque!

The majestic banners of Azerbaijan and Turkey flutter in the wind at the entrance to the Upper Cathedral Mosque. The construction of this unique monument of Karabakh architecture began under Ibrahim Khan, but was completed by his daughter Govhar Agha. The architect and builder of the Shusha mosque, like the absolute majority of all mosques in Karabakh, was the famous representative of the Ardabil architectural school, Usta Karabaghi. I have already written in the second Karabakh diary about the mosque erected by Karabaghi in the city of Fuzuli destroyed by the Armenians. The Armenians showed no mercy to the remains of the great architect, destroying his tombstone near the fortress walls.

But judging by the inscription on the walls of the Shusha creation of Karabaghi, Allah has prepared for the beloved daughter of Khan Govhar Agha a place in paradise. The cold stone temple, covered with carpets with Karabakh motives, gathers pious soldiers. Looking back at the old walls of the mosque restored by Iranian craftsmen during the occupation, I quietly approach the minbar at the qibla. I silently leave the books of Allah at the qibla.

Performing namaz in the Upper Govhar Agha Mosque of

In 2005, I was so eager to climb one of the minarets, from where a brilliant panorama of the gloomy Shusha ruins opens. But on one of the minarets, damaged during the first war, stones fell out. I did not dare to rise. It was our only unbroken fragile historical crystal preserved in Karabakh.

In the lower quarter of the city, there is a smaller Lower Govhar Agha Mosque. Here the windows are still broken, street battles in the second war did not pass by this work of the immortal Karabaghi.

And the Shusha market next to the mosque is somewhat reminiscent of the Baku Passage. After all, Shusha in the nineteenth century was the second large-scale and significant city from the political and economic point of view in the entire Caucasus after Tbilisi. The city in the sky was called 'little Paris.' The factor of the political significance of Shusha led to the campaign of the Persian Shah Muhammad Qajar, castrated from childhood, who laid siege to the fortress of the Karabakh khans. Persia failed to break the resistance of Georgia, for the Georgian King Heraclius accepted the Russian vassalage, thus saving himself and his country from defeat in the war with the formidable southern neighbour. But the Qajars dreamed of the Caucasus, choosing Shusha as the new political capital of their empire. The ways of the Lord are inscrutable: how would the fate of Shusha and the entire Caucasus have developed if the servants had not had time to poison the Iranian padishah?

Wildlife thorns saved Vagif's grave

Shadow of conspiracy over Shusha

Reflections on the geopolitical battle for the Caucasus and Shusha take us back to the dramatic story of one of the outstanding Azerbaijani politicians of that era, the vizier and poet Molla Panah Vagif, immortalised in the timeless tragedy by Samad Vurgun and canonised during the first rule of Heydar Aliyev. Vagif is a sacred personality in the public consciousness. 'Not every reader is Molla Panah,' this parable is passed down from generation to generation.

I am standing at the destroyed mausoleum of the unforgettable Vagif. Under giant concrete vaults, thorny wild twigs block the path through dense thickets to a thin tombstone. Palace intrigues, the seizure of the city by a foreign shah, political confrontation with inertia throughout his life led the poet-educator along the fine edge of the abyss among the Shusha mountains. From here, from the grave of the poet, the open spaces of the Jidir Plain open up: a place for races of Karabakh horses. The power of the snow-white peaks is mesmerising. And the beauty of stone blocks with sharp protrusions is sometimes hidden behind a foggy haze. You can't tell: is this earth or clouds.

From this rock Khuraman threw herself into the abyss

'Khuraman threw herself from that mountain,' says another Shusha resident who returned to the city. According to the legend, after the execution of Vagif and his son Aliaga, the poet's wife, named by the poet Khuraman, threw herself off a cliff into the gorge...

But the beauty of the family estate of the father of the first minister of defence of Azerbaijan, another legend of the Russian imperial artillery, Samedagha Mehmandarov, brings us back to reality. Even the hand of the Armenians did not rise to the magnificent Mehmandarov mansion with protruding wooden balconies, damaged by the fragments of the Smerch rocket that crashed nearby. Members of the Shusha State Commission for Inventory carry out invaluable Shusha carpets from the house, which must certainly form part of the recreated treasury of the city's culture...

On the right is the abandoned house of Rashid Behbudov, revered and beloved in the USSR. On the left is the majestic architectural house of the merchant Haji. Only the façade remains of the house...

The ghost of Mehmandarov's house

There were so many wars for Shusha, so many campaigns, sieges, battles outside the walls of an impregnable fortress, dilapidated in these wars. This mysterious city in the sky has lured, inspired and mesmerised so many rulers throughout history. A city without peace and worldly bustle. There were conspiracies against the omnipotent eastern padishahs, wars were waged between Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Persians, Russians, Georgians, bloody massacres were organised, and whole generations left their hearths and fled... So many tears were shed on these old cobbled streets, so much suffering was depicted through poetry and art. The walls of Shusha are soiled with political mud. And at the same time, there is some kind of unique glass air in this wonderful Panahabad. Maybe that's why the Turks renamed it Shusha: from the Turkic word 'şüşə' (glass)?!

Since ancient times, where is a fortress, there is a prison. I am standing at the open doors of the monstrous and oldest covered Shusha prison, exuding a gloomy, oppressive two-century aura. The prison resembles a cruel eastern zindan (dungeon). Here they kept, tortured many Azerbaijani prisoners of war, and of course, imprisoned for many years Dilgam Askerov and Shahbaz Guliyev. The sad walls of the prison expressing pain are the narrators of human suffering.

Terrible Shusha prison opened its doors

The destruction in Shusha and the destruction of the Azerbaijani cultural heritage have caused a painful and nasty feeling of hopelessness. But my head is confused. A feeling of some kind of a lump in the throat. With the last bit of strength I reached the first Azerbaijani shop in the city 'Azcake,' feeling the warm, rich and inviting aroma of fresh baked goods. Bread is the head of everything. Tearing off the untouched fragrant crust, I greedily swallow slices of hot bread. Someone lightly touched my shoulder: 'The city commandant is waiting for you.'

'Where is his residence?' I ask an unfamiliar soldier.

'In the upland part, in an Armenian mansion.'

Part III, Alone among Armenians: But there are peacekeepers nearby (Winter evening in Shusha series)

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