Shusha perfectly contrasts withother cities in the Caucasus.Its houses are regular, beautiful, tallandilluminated with numerous fine windows.The streetsare paved with broad slabs, and theroofs are made ​​of boards – the European manner.

VasilyVereschagin, “Travels to Transcaucasia in 1864-1865”



In what shape the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh was greeting the beginning of XX century? The facts, statistics and vivid memories of eyewitnesses are below.


According to the census,the population in 1897 was 25,881 persons, of whom – 14,345 Armenians (55.3%), Tartars – 10,809 people (41.7%), the Russians and others – 734 (3%).


In the late 1880s,the number of houses in both parts of the city reached 5,779. The townwas actively expanding, mainly due to its west, the Armenian part. At the beginning of the XX century the western part of town–as it can be seen in the remained photographs – was quite a European city, with the style very reminiscent of numerous cities and townsscattered in the Swiss Alps.


By this time in the Armenian sector, occupying about 65% of the entire town, eighteen districts had been formed. Topkhana square became the center of the town’s social life. In the center there was a beautiful booth, selling water, and next to it there were public scales. The rows of market stalls were built around the perimeter. The same rows on either side were built on the main road, leading from the square to the Aguletsots quarter. The clubs were located in the vicinity of Topkhana.


“The central quarter was crossed by three big paved streets. On the Theater street there was an Armenian theater; the Kazanchetsots church was located in the upper part of Aguletsots street, and Aguletsots church was in the lower part. The post office and the bank were located on the Posti[1] (Post) street.  In addition, there were more than 400 residential houses, hundreds of shops, artisan workshops, as well as plenty of production and public facilities. Development of the upper part of the town followed the certain urban planning principle with the straight line streets and underlined social centers. This part of the walled town is characterized by the regular planning and square grid of streets. Residential, communal, educational and administrative buildings were placed along these lines”[2]


By Marietta Shahinian’s figurative expression, the Armenian part of Shushi “served as a European adjunct to the Asian town, that gave him an economic base, and much more overgrown it.”[3]


Not accidentally, many contemporaries were calling Shushi of early XX century a “small Caucasian Paris”.


In the same period, in the East Muslim part eighteen quarters were formed, even though its development area virtually did not extend. In the area between Elisavetpol gates and former Khan residence a boulevard of 234 meters long and about 47 meters wide was set up as early as in 1859[4].


In 1876, a Shushi – Gerusi (Goris) 89.5 km long road was completed. Due to this road directly connecting East Transcaucasia to Nakhichevan and Erivan (Yerevan), the strategic importance of the town yet more increased.


However, by the end of the century the Baku’s influence increased: the promising oil wells were located right there and therefore this city started overshadowing the glory of Shushi. Wealthy entrepreneurs started leaving the town to move to Baku. Shushi, isolated from the main railroads, quickly lost its bygone significance in Transcaucasia.


But despite the diminishing significance, Shushi continued to remain one of the largest trade-economic and cultural centers of Transcaucasia, as unlike many other cities, the crafts and trade continued to be the only sources of income for its residents. In the Eastern, or Russian Armenia, Shushi was the only city completely cut off from agricultural activities (as opposed to, for example, Erivan and Nakhichevan, where residents were actively engaged in horticulture and viticulture, making these cities appear as very large villages).


As one of the county-level towns of Elisavetpol province founded in 1867, Shushi already at that time became the center of trade and supply of entire Artsakh and Zangezur. According to the Financial Department of the Province, the trade turnover reached 3 million rubles at the exchange rate at that time.


“Shushi traders, enjoying creditworthiness from manufacturing warehouses in Moscow, Baku and other place, expanded a large wholesale and retail trade in their town, establishing networks with small private traders not only in Shushi and Jevanshir, but also Zangezur and Elisavetpol districts. The main agents for buy up of local raw materials and forwarding it to the Russian factories were concentrated in Shushi.”[5]


By beginning of XX century, the population of Shushi reached 33,187.[6]


There were 800 trade facilities, around 570 workshops, small production points, factories and shops in Shushi. Among them a carpet factory of 120 jobs, established in 1906-1907 as the public initiative of local benefactresses could be singled out. Creation of the factory pursued a humanitarian goal of providing jobs and livelihoods for women who lost their husbands during the Armenian massacres and the follow-up fighting in 1905. Each year, the factory was producing 600-700high-quality carpets, most of which were exported.


According to the “Caucasian Calendar for 1915” (Tiflis, 1914), in 1914Shushi had 42,100 residents, 22,000 of them wereArmenians (more than52%).


By 1917, Shushi had 43,869 residents, out of which 23,369 were Armenians (53%) and 19,121 Tatars (44%)[7]


Today it is hard to believe, that in the beginning of XX century, on the eve of the World War One, Shushi was the third largest town in Transcaucasia after Tbilisi and Baku, leaving behind Erivan (Yerevan), Alexandropol (Gyumri), Elisavetpol (Gandzak-Gyanja), Kars, Batum, Kutais, Shemakha, Nukha and other towns of Caucasian provinces.


…In 1891 N.Khandamiryants built in Shushi a theater next to the Kazanchetsots church. This magnificent building was almost completely wrecked and ruined by local Tartars and destroyed by fire in summer of 1905, during the Armenian massacres provoked by Tsarist authorities and spilled over into the bloody armed clashes between Armenians and Caucasian Tatars.


In 1892, with the means of Zhamhariants family the first 46-bed hospital was built. Before that, since 1876 there was only a 20-bed hospital under the jail’s authority. The first pharmacy in the town was opened in 1857.


During the same period, Mariinskaya female gymnasium and other major buildings.Most of the buildings were designed by noted Shushi-born architects Simon Ter-Hakobian, Margar Karagyoziants, Armenak Gondaksazian and others.


One of the large, if not the one largest ones buildings,was a 3-floor Real school, consisted of several connected buildings. As mentioned before, it was opened as early as in 1881, but some time later the old building’s capacitywas not enough. For this reason, in 1901-1908 new premises were built.


Speaking about Shushi educational institutions, it is worth to remind that as early as in 1827 a school for Armenian children of Shushi was founded by missioners of the Basel Evangelical Society.


By 1836 there was already a school of Armenian Maiden Monastery and an Armenian school[8]


In 1838 the Armenian diocesan school was opened of Shushi, which afterwardskept contacts with many educational institutions in Russia and abroad. So, at the celebration in 1913, the 75th anniversary of Shushi diocesan school, the management of the University of Tartu sent a telegram expressing the wish to achieve “greater success to this disseminator of spiritual light in favor of the Armenian people and the glory of prosperity to our dear Russia.”


In 1864, women’s college by The Most Holy Mother Mariam was established. The city school was opened in 1875, the Real School, which became a major education center in Shushi, opened in 1881, and Miriam Ghukasyan High School for noble ladies openedin 1894.


As one can see, the educational potential of Armenian Shushi was quite strong at that time. It is worth mentioning that many graduates of the Real school were easily admitted to the prestigious universities in Russia and Europe. It is necessary to note here that the costs for studying and living in many universities in European countries were then much lower than, say,  in St. Petersburg and Moscow universities. And, of course, in those days there were no specific problems with the departure fromRussia.


For example, we may say that only data known to the author of this article witness that in the late XIX century, several people from the Melik-Shakhnazarov family graduated from European universities. Thus, the author’s great-grandfather, Samson Hovsepovich studied in Lausanne, and his cousin Konstantin Gerasimov (Karapetovich) – in Montpellier, France.


The author’s grandfather, Zare Samsonovich Melik-Shakhnazarov, born and raised in Shushi, told about the town of his childhood and early adolescence in detail.Often he spoke about the town with anguish, because the town, where he grew up, vanishedin few days of March 1920. Here is an excerpt from his memories of Shushi, not included into the “Notes of Karabakh soldier”[9], a small memoir book of my grandfather, which tells about the events in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1918-1920.


“In Shushi there were a winter club, a summer club with its famous flower garden, Handamiryan Theater, the winter cinemas “Bioskop” and “American”, a summer cinema, the branch of “American.”


Behind the turnstile, there was a Grand Boulevard with big decorative trees. Alongside the alleys, there were wide benches, painted in green every spring. The “Skating ring”, as rinks were commonly named in Russia. In winter people were ice-skating on skates and ice-boats, and in summer – roller skating. The entrance was free.


Up to one third of the Grand Boulevard was occupied bythe summer building of the Public Assembly (The Summer Club) and its flower garden, hosting numerous varieties of flowers brought from all over the world.


Next to the garden entrance, three big letters Sh.P.A (Shushi Public Assembly) were weaven from live flowers, mainly roses. Each letter was approximately 1.5 meters high and 60 sm. wide.


The right upper part of the garden hosted sports grounds for adults, teenagers and the kids –with various sporting equipment, giant stride, as well as kids grounds with teeter-totters, sand, toys etc.


Periodically, contests were held for adults and youths to Sokol gymnastics and other sports. Ninety percent Members of Sokol gymnastics were the visiting youths, as this sport has just started to be propagated in Shushi, but the boxing and fighting events were regularly held in the town since 1911.


In the holidays, various contests and games were arranged for the preschool and school age children. But, right at 7PM the special bell announced: “Children – go home!”


To the right from the garden exit to the Boulevard there was a large fountain with wallowing bear cubs, always attracting the attention of kids. After the bell ringing, the screaming kids ran to the fountain to take a look at the animals frisking in the pool.


On the exit from the Boulevard turnstile, just ahead and to the left, a large wooden building of the summer cinema, the branch of “American,” was standing.


The Summer Club often held evening balls, masquerades for adults, theatrical performances, including dances – both the Armenian and Western. All this was accompanied by music and folk musicians –duduk and kemancha players, or brass and string orchestras. All of them were guided by Hovhannes Hayrapetovich Ionesyan.


Youth parties were also periodically carried out on weekends in the great hall of the Real school. Youth were dancing and folk and Europeandances, and participated in the evenings, so not only students of the Real school, but also other schools and education institutions were participating. During the parties, attended by 150-200 young man, orchestras of the Real School and Seminary were performing. During the dance commands were given in Armenian, Russian and French; I remember, that Mademoiselle Jeannettewas commanding in French. About 50-60 people were dancing in circle dances.


The Real school had more than Armenian students and only 5-8 Muslim students from rich Tatar families.


“For Khans and Beysreading and writing was considered shameful – it was the poor people’s lot,” –witnessed a German researcher Haxthausen.[10]


In a Muslim or a Tatar part of the town there was only a preparatory school for boys at the mosque;education for girls was not envisaged, although wealthy Tatar familiesused to educate their daughters at home, with the help of coming tutor-mollahs. The vast majority of Muslim girls did not receive any, even primary education. Regardless of their education, they all wore veils. Schools for Tatar girls were opened in Soviet times, it seems, that in 1928, after the proclamation of the slogan “Down with the veil!”


Instead, the rich people of the Muslim part of town were regular guests of summer and winter clubs, located in the upper part of the Armenian Shushi. There, they were obsessively playing cards around the green tables, because according to Islamic laws, gambling was formally banned, and in the lower,Tatar part of the town they could not have such institutions. However, there was neither a theater,nor a cinema.”


On the eve of World War II construction of the narrow-gauge railway line Yevlakh-Shushibegan. Almost all the bridges and engineering structures, buildings, rails, railway stations and stops were built; the trial trains started. However, with the beginning of the war, construction was suspended. In 1916 the rails and sleepers were dismantled and transferred to the Caucasian Army for construction of the Erzurum railway, which was required to supply Russian troops in the occupied areas of Turkish (Western) Armenia.


However, on many maps the Caucasus, including the pre-war Soviet period, the narrow-gauge railway Yevlakh-Shushiwas noted. According to some data, in the second half of the 1920s, the railway has been restored and it went to the small trains, popularly known as “cuckoo.”


The great grandfather of the author took part in designing and laying the narrow-gauge railway Yevlakh-Shushi. According to grandfather, Zare Samsonovich Melik-Shahnazarov, Samson Hovsepovich said that following the opening of Yevlakh-Shushi sector, the project of construction of the narrow-gauge railway from Shushi to Goris should have been started since 1914.


Now that project seems fantastic, as far as the mountainous relief was too complicated with numerous ups and downs, passes, heights differences and a serpentine of the road. But that project in those conditions would have been successfully built, but the World War One that started in the summer of 1914, impeded it.


Unfortunately, sincethe start of the Great War (this is how the World War One was called then), the “small Caucasian Paris” had only a few years to exist as such…

The old Armenian House in Shuha. By: V.Vereshagin


The general view to the Armenian part of Shushi, late XIX century


The SourbAmenaprkich (St.Savoir) Temple or Ghazanchetsots church, late XIX century


One of the central squares of Shushi. The building Town Council In the background.



[1]Post – (in Armenian)

[2]Shahen Mkrtchyan, Architectural Monuments of Mountainous Karabagh (Artsakh, Karabakh), Yerevan, 1988, p.182

[3]M.Shahinyan, NagornoKarabakh, Moscow-Leningrad, 1927, p.36

[4]CSHA of  Georgian SSR, fund 8, inv. 1, unit of storage. 2254. p. 3

[5]Stepan Lisitsian, ibid., p. 74

[6]CSHA of Arm. SSR, fubd 113, inv. 3, N159. p. 2.

[7]“Caucasian Calendar” for 1917, Tiflis, 1916, pp.190-196

[8]  Review of Russian Transcaucasia proprietorships in statistical, ethnographical, topography and financial terms, Part III, Saint-Petersburg, 1836, p.310

[9]Zare Melik-Shakhnazarov, Notes of Karabakh soldier. Moscow, Shwartz Publishing, 1995. See also: http://sumgait.info/caucasus-conflicts/karabakh-soldier-notes/karabakh-soldier-notes.htm

[10]  “Transcaucasiancountry”, St-Petersburg, 1857, Part I, p.185


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