Fine art in Western Azerbaijan

Regardless of whether it is recognized or not, the facts prove that the current territory of Armenia is a Turkic land historically belonged to Azerbaijan. Consequently, this is confirmed by the Armenian sources themselves. The ancestors of the Azerbaijani people have left irrefutable evidence of a rich cultural heritage proving their standing as the indigenous inhabitants of these geographies.

The image of the city of Iravan is reflected in the 18th century engraving. A detailed study of that engraving shows that the structure of the city, as well as individual residential buildings and religious buildings, have the same characteristics and forms as the structure of medieval Azerbaijani cities. The notes in the works of medieval travelers (for example, Evliya Chalabi) coincide with that engraving and prove that Iravan has been a city of Azerbaijan since ancient times.

The first archaic architectural monuments we meet in the territory of Western Azerbaijan, which is now called Armenia, are menhirs (French men-stone, hir-uzun). Menhirs can be found in Zangezur, Vedi, Garakilsa regions. Among the local population, they were called “troop stones”. The Turkic tribes calling these monuments “stone hordes” is the result of ancient animistic beliefs and the cult of ancestors. Unquestioning obedience and worship to tribal elders created a cult of ancestors. Menhir stones were viewed as a living creature, a powerful, omnipotent being. Based on the traditional continuation of the ancient understanding, these stones were remembered as a living, armed group of people. In Garakilsa settlement of Zangezur district, there are remains of megalithic buildings dating back to the II millennium BC. They have the same structure and characteristics as the menhirs in other areas of Azerbaijan (Khojali, Ziyaratdag – Dashkasan, Big and Small Garamurad villages – Gedebey). Local people still consider those stones as sacred.

It is interesting that menhirs have a certain affinity with human figures created in Azerbaijan at the end of the Iron Age (the end of the 1st millennium BC, the first centuries BC). The analysis of the stone statues found in the villages of Shamakhi region (Khinisli, Dagkolani) shows that these statues were placed on the grave of a deceased warrior so that his soul would come and find him later. Similarly, menhirs symbolized the spirit of a dead warrior. Apparently, the menhirs found in Western Azerbaijan have the same ideological basis as the ancient Turkic sculptures in other areas. It would be right to investigate the rock paintings for the oldest traces of humans in the territory of Azerbaijan.

In the Armudlu and Gachaqgirilan valleys near Garakilsa of Zangezur district and Soyugbulag village of Loru district, there are rock inscriptions dating back to the 5th-4th and 3rd-2nd millennia BC. The stylistic similarity of those rock paintings with the rock paintings discovered in the mountains of Gobustan, Shuvelan (Absheron), Gamigaya (Nakhchivan MR) and Kalbajar, the plasticity, conventionality, schematicity of the figures, the arrangement of the figures, the images (human, horse, goat, deer, tiger , wolves, etc.), the similaity of dance and hunting scenes convey the life and lifestyle of our ancestors in a unique and interesting language, and clearly proves that the lands of Western Azerbaijan belong to Azerbaijani Turks.

Among the images discovered near the village of Soyugbulag is the drawing of a deer with the image of a dragon with conventional, schematic and rigid outlines. The image of a deer is considered a symbol of abundance and blessing, and a dragon is considered a symbol of evil forces. The image of a deer and a dragon is one of the motifs widely used in Azerbaijani art. Back in 1898, the Russian scientist A. Bobrinsky addressed a letter to the German language teacher E. Resler, who was conducting excavations in Karabakh, and asked to learn the origin of the pattern similar to the letter “S” found on the Karabakh carpets, and wrote: “…I am sure that at present this symbolic decoration represented real existence in the distant past. Therefore, we should look for its ancestor in living nature…”.

Indeed, it was not in vain that we gave a large space to the dragon motif in our art. This motive has occupied an important place in the life, folklore and mythology of the Turkic-speaking peoples in the distant past and even now. Even today, there are place names related to snake and dragon totems. “Ilan Dag” in Nakhchivan, “Dragon Rock” in Gazakh, “Dragon Rock” in many places around Goycha Lake, “Dragon’s Home” in Challi village of Karvanserai (now Ijevan) district, “Dragon Rock” in Zod village of Basarkecher district, etc. the so-called places are an example of this. Dragon image has a wide place in Azerbaijani folk tales such as “Malikmammad”, “Tapdiq”, “Black horse” etc. In these tales, the dragon mainly represents evil forces. Azerbaijani scientist and folklorist M.A. Seyidov shows that the word “dragon” common among Turkic-speaking peoples is a Persian word. Turks used the word “buka” to refer the creature. According to researchers, in the early Middle Ages, “Buka” was both the name of the tribal ongon and the name given to the religious and secular leaders of the tribe. There are 16, 20, 24 dragon drawings in the pile carpets of Karabakh, including “Varni” carpets. Carpets woven in the baklava composition scheme, which is made up of stylized dragon drawings, popularly called “Khatai” are stored in Topkapı, Kali museums in Istanbul, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and Museum of Decorative Arts in Budapest. The reason for the spread of the dragon image in the Caucasus, Iran and Anatolia is related to the migration of Turkic tribes from Central Asia to the west.

Prominent Turkish scholars A. Esin, O. Aslanapa, N. Diyarbekirli and French art critic Amerang Saghizyan confirm this opinion. Armenian sources themselves sometimes indirectly confirm this view. Some Armenian researchers claim that these carpets belong to Armenians based on the ornaments and images on the carpets: “Armenian carpets called vishapagrog (dragon carpet), which have no analogues in the art of carpet making, are diverse. The main center of the carpet is occupied by the image of “vishap” (dragon), which represents good and evil forces in Armenian folklore.” Armenian art critic Nonna Stepanyan talks about Armenian carpet making in her book “Armenian art” (1989). Describing the Azerbaijani carpet belonging to the Karabakh group, she notes that this carpet belongs to the year 1700 and tries to present it as an Armenian “Goar” carpet, but we do not need to specifically prove that this carpet is a “Chelebi” carpet belonging to the Karabakh carpet school. Because the Armenian author herself gave the name of the carpet as “Gohar” in English. Actually, this name is taken from the name of the woman who wove the carpet. As we mentioned, the carpet with the image of a dragon belongs to the Karabakh school of carpet. In the Azerbaijani language, this word is written “Govhar”, and in conversation it is used as “Göhar”.

A number of Armenian sources also talk about carpets with octagonal images on them, so it is difficult to understand what the octagonal star means in Armenians. The octagonal star shape is placed inside the central dome of the Üchkilsa Albanian-Turkish Christian temple, which the Armenians call Etchmiadzin. The ornamental patterns and decorations here remind the compositions of Azerbaijani carpets and the colors of miniatures. We find geometric patterns with the symbol of the holy trinity on the pottery vessels of II-I millennia BC discovered during archaeological excavations in the city of Iravan.

When talking about the art of Western Azerbaijan, it is necessary to specially mention the stone ram figures found in these areas. Because they are both large in number and found in almost every village, they bear resemblance to the diversity of stylistic features and have similarities with the ram and horse figures found in Karabakh, Nakhchivan, Ganja, Gazakh, Kalbajar, Lachin, Lerik, Gadabay and regions of Georgia inhabited by Azerbaijanis, which unequivocally leaves no room for doubt that these areas are ancient Turkic lands. The ram has become a symbol of abundance and victory of our great-grandfathers since ancient times. Ram figures are found in many places. From carpets to fairy tales, double ram’s horns hanging on the entrance doors of houses, to national cuisine, images of rams can be found almost everywhere in the life of the Azerbaijani people. In many regions and villages of Azerbaijan, the custom of attaching ram’s horns to fence posts, pillars of balconies, as a symbol of blessing and strength is still preserved.

We encounter the ram motif almost in every genre of the oral folk culture. It is not by chance that the main character of the Epic of Koroghlu, an example of the common culture of the Turkic peoples, is addressed as Koch (ram) Koroghlu. Among the images that represent ram as a totem, the ram figures carved from stone are of great interest to us. Dubois de Montpare, a French traveler who visited Azerbaijan in 1834, noted that he saw many stone animal figures in Karabakh and that the local population had special respect for them. We find about stone ram figures in the writings of the Russian scientist V. M. Sisoyev, who visited Azerbaijan in 1926-27. “… here I saw the figure of a ram with curly horns, and it is said among childless women that whoever crawls between the legs of this ram and crosses to the other side will surely have a child.”

The stone ram monuments that we came across evoke an idea about the individual creativity of the craftsman who made them, composition, painting, stone working and carving skills. Descriptions of stone ram figures found in Zangezur, Goycha districts and other villages of Western Azerbaijan were studied by Azerbaijani scientists (Academician Rasim Efendi, Doctor of History Mashadi Nemetova, etc.) during the Soviet era. In Urud village of Zangezur district, Zod village of Goycha district, Besh dash, Dash akhur, and Boyuk Gonur many chest tombs and ram statues were discovered. The decorations of the mentioned stone ram figures are made up of floral and geometric ornament motifs, inscriptions, and in some cases, plot compositions. The decorative decorations of the figures are made in a compact and laconic style.

The decorations of the stone ram figure dated 1578 in Urud village attract special attention. The decorations of the ram figure consist of stylized floral patterns on the ram’s back, and an engraved plot composition on the right side. The hunting scene is depicted in the composition extending horizontally from tail to the ram’s neck. The most interesting part of the composition is the carvings on the chest. A man with a tall hat on his head raises both hands in front of the altar and prays. Similar plots depicting religious rituals related to shamanism can be found in other areas of Azerbaijan.

There were five ram stone figures in the place called “Besh dash” (Five stones) in Zod village of Goycha district. On those figures, there were carved geometric patterns. The figures were carved from local stone and attracted attention with their plasticity, realism and monumentality of general appearance. This made it possible for the stone ram figures to be treated as if they were alive and holy beings among the local population. The hill on top of these stones was probably a mass grave or kurgan. There were many stone rams and a figure of a shepherd with a stick in his hand in the place called “Boyuk Gonur” by the people of the village. According to a legend, the shepherd’s flock and himself were suffering from thirst. He prays to find water, and intends to bring a sacrifice to God. His prayer is accepted and a spring flows from the place where he hits his stick. A shepherd who saves himself and his flock from thirst does not bring the promised sacrifice. Angry at this, God turns the shepherd himself and his flock into eternal stones.

The oldest stone ram figures were found in Central Asia (Khakasia and Kazakhstan). The oldest of them is reported to belong to the II millennium BC. Besides, analysis of marble figures of rams found in the north-west of present-day Iran (Goytepe, etc.), in the eastern provinces of Turkey (Diyarbakir, etc.), in the tomb of the 8th-century Turkish khan Kul Tigin, excavated by Russian scientist V. Radlov, English scientist H. Heykel, French scientist De Layko once again proves that they are very similar in style to the stone ram figures found in Western Azerbaijan.

Along with the stone ram figures in Western Azerbaijan, the inscriptions and descriptions on the chest tombs are noteworthy. On one of the stone ram figures found in the territory of Urud village, it is written “Iftikhar, the son of Ammir. 986 year (AD 1578/79),  Allah, Muhammad, Ali, avaldi-awghvan”.

The most interesting examples of Western Azerbaijani art are reflected in the field of wall painting. Classical poetry and paintings, writings of travelers, artists and scientists who visited our country in different periods, as well as wall decorations and other facts found in XIV-XVII century miniatures prove that this art has an ancient history in Azerbaijan, along with ornamental patterns and plot composition that was developed under the influence of miniature art.

The wall paintings in the palace of Huseyngulu Khan, the khan of Iravan, which were purposefully destroyed by the Armenians, are of great importance for us. The architectural structure and decorative design of the palace, especially the hall with mirrors, fascinated everyone with its originality and richness. In 1827, the Russian poet A. Griboyedov visited this palace and watched the performance of his work “Trouble from the Mind”. A. Griboyedov, Baron August von Haxthausen, artist V. Moshkov and G. Gagarin gave extremely interesting information about the wall paintings of the palace in their writings and pictures, and highly appreciated the multi-figure battle (battle) scenes and portraits there. These factual materials complement each other and provide certain information about the condition of the palace, the form and content of the images, the artistic style and features until its restoration by the famous Azerbaijani artist Mirza Kadym Iravani in the 1850s.

On the walls of the palace, especially in the hall with mirrors and summer pavilion, various ornament motifs, flower bouquets, decorative compositions consisting of animal and bird images, as well as domestic scenes and heroic episodes taken from A. Firdovsi’s “Shahname” are depicted. One of such episodes was Rustam’s duel with Isfandiyar, and later scenes such as his fight with a giant, while other compositions depicted love and various household themes elaborated in a lyrical style. In the summer hall of the palace, there were multi-figure compositions depicting various episodes taken from Nadir Shah Afshar’s visit to India. There are also portraits of Fatali Shah, Abbas Mirza, Huseyngulu Khan and others. An unknown author describing the interior of the palace mentions the images of the Sardar palace and shows that they were made under the influence of Eastern miniature art, but reflect the artistic influence of European art due to the use of light and shadow effects.

When talking about Western Azerbaijani art, it is impossible not to mention the name of Mirza Kadym Irevani (1825-1875), an outstanding Azerbaijani artist who lived in the 19th century. Mirza was an ancient portrait and ornament master and played a major role in the development of monumental painting in Azerbaijan. He received his first artistic training from his father, Muhammad Hosseini, who was a master of wood carving. Having completed his primary education at the Usuli-jadid school, Mirza went to Old Tbilisi and graduated from the progymnasium there. In the 1840s, he returned to the city of Iravan and worked as a postal telegrapher until the last days of his life.

The artist’s work can be divided into three periods: early (the period up to the 1850s), improvement (1850s) and maturation (1860-70s). In the first period of his creativity, he was mainly active in the field of decorative arts, drawing and stencils for wall paintings and artistic embroideries. A vivid, realistic description of flowers, rose, lily, etc. and various birds is given. These works of Mirza Kadym differ from classical miniatures due to the artistic form. This also shows that in our national fine art, realistic methods of European fine art are applied. Mirza painted several portraits with tempera and oil paints on paper, glass and mirror, along with ancient decorative style ornamental-decorative compositions. These works, including the portrait works called “Horseman”, “Dancer” and “Dervish” are conventionally decorative in terms of color and schematic in terms of image resolution.

As a talented artist who had already gained fame as an artist, Mirza Kadym was invited to restore the wall paintings of the famous palace of Huseyngulu Khan, the khan of Iravan. Here, the artist recreated the old decorative panels and plot compositions that decorated the palace rooms, including the mirrored hall, and created several original works and portraits of historical figures. Due to their monumentality, performance style and performance technique, these works, painted in oil painting technique on large canvas pieces measuring 100 x 200 cm, meant the emergence of completely new quality works in our national fine art. Unlike the artist’s works in early period, these panels depict the portraits of concrete historical figures – Fatali Shah, his son Abbas Mirza, Huseyngulu Khan and his brother, far from abstract.

The last maturation period of Mirza Kadym Irevani’s creativity can be characterized as the period of creation of the most valuable works known at the moment. “Seated Woman”, “Vujuulla Mirza”, “Shah Talat” (Art Museum of Georgia), “Molla”, “Oriental Woman”, “Unknown Woman”, “Seated Woman” (this work is considered the most powerful work of the artist in “Qajar style”), “Prince with his wife”, “King and his minister”, and other works were created in this period. Light-shadow contrast, slight color transition and the use of perspective laws prove that Mirza Kadym Irevani has mastered some features of modern realistic painting.

The creativity of Mirza Kadym, based on the classic Azerbaijani miniature, rich traditions of folk art and the realistic form of easel painting, constitutes a new stage in the development of our national fine art. With this, the transition from conventional decorative style to qualitatively new realistic art begins in Azerbaijani fine art.

In the last 100 years after the establishment of the Armenian state with the help of Russia in Western Azerbaijan lands, which is home to our rich cultural heritage, thousands of cultural examples have been destroyed, signs of our national culture were erased from the face of the earth in a purposeful and planned manner and Azerbaijani Turks living in this area have been expelled from their homeland from time to time. Historical documents from the beginning of the 16th century (for example, the letter of Ravangulu Khan, the beylarbey of Chukhursad, to Shah Ismayil, 1519) show that the number of Armenians who were moved to the shores of Lake Van, and from there to the territory of present-day Armenia, was only 15 thousand people. In 1829-1832, the Russian official I. Chopin, who conducted the census of the population in the region, shows the number of the Armenian population there at around 25 thousand. After the Treaty of Turkmenchay in 1828, the number of Armenians resettled in Azerbaijan increased to 1 million 300 thousand people.

N. Shavrov in his work “A new threat to the Russian cause in the South Caucasus” (1911) shows that Armenians are not local, but resettled population. In 1978, a monument dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the resettlement of Armenians to Karabakh was erected in Mehmana village of Aghdara region. “MARAĞA 150” was written on that monument in Armenian. This undoubtedly proved that the Armenians were moved to the Caucasus from the territory of present-day Iran. Even today, some Armenian ideologues who spoke about the idea of “Great Armenia from sea to sea” took photos in front of that monument. However, in 1991, the Armenians decided to demolish this monument in order to erase this historical fact, which no longer coincides with their false land claims.

In 1832, I. Chopin recorded 12 mosques and 9 baths in Iravan alone. The names and locations of those mosques are not only reflected in historical documents, but Azerbaijanis who lived in Iravan until the 1960s still remembered them. An 1827 painting by the artist Rubon depicting the occupation of the fortress of Iravan, a Muslim Turkish city by the Russian army, reflects the image of the city. It is impossible to notice the many domes and minarets of Muslim mosques in that painting. All this proves with undeniable facts that the Armenians, who were once settled in the lands of Azerbaijan in accordance with the imperialist interests of other states, carried out a real policy of aggression against our national culture.

Armenian sources themselves confirm that the art “works” they created under the name of Armenian culture during the time they lived in this area are those created under the influence of Turkish culture. For example, the famous Armenian artist Martiros Saryan wrote: “… I lived in Constantinople for almost two months, and during this time I was able to work very well. The streets here, the rhythm of life, the bright society and especially the strong family support were of great interest to me.” Or “I had a goal to understand the East, to find its characteristic features, so that I could make my works even more refined. I wanted to convey Eastern realism to the audience, to present this world in an even more believable form.” Out of thousands of such confessions, only this one is enough to confirm our claim. In the end, returning to the previous opinion, I would like to note that as the bearer of the cultural past, our nation keeps its thousands years old history in Western Azerbaijan alive, and no fact of occupation can erase its traces from the geographies where it once lived.

Historical sources and researches of scientists show that there were many cultural examples belonging to Azerbaijani Turks in the territories called Armenia today. However, almost all of them were purposefully destroyed by Armenians. It is not difficult to understand why. Firstly, because Armenian historians and politicians try to falsify history in order to deny that they settled in the historical Turkish lands as a result of the policies that serve the interests of the imperialist states, and to prove that they are the ancient inhabitants of this place. On the other hand, Armenians always prefer false, reactionary methods based on the philosophy of ethnic nationalism in matters of education. They have stood in a nationalistic position not only against the Turks, but also against other nations. However, the facts reveal the inner face of Armenian politics and expose their fraud.

The notes of many travelers who traveled to our country, including the famous Turkish traveler and diplomat Evliya Çelebi, who visited Azerbaijan in the 18th century, provide information about mosques, caravanserais, castles and other architectural monuments in our ancient cities and villages. Based on his records, it can be said that in the territory of Western Azerbaijan, there were religious chapels, architectural monuments, mosques and holy shrines belonging to Azerbaijani Turks in every settlement.

It is known that the current territory of Armenia, especially Iravan, Goycha, Zangezur, Derelayaz, Vedibasar and other districts, is rich in numerous Albanian and Muslim monuments. “There were about 150 (exactly 147) large and small mosques, graves, dozens of caravanserais, castles, baths, stone bridges and bazaars here.” We can give an example of very interesting monuments, tombstones, horse, ram figures and the images on them, which allow them to learn the art of Western Azerbaijan.

Tombstones can be divided into several groups: vertical headstones (stele) carved in different shapes, horizontal chest tombs (sarcophagi), horse and ram sculptures. Tombstones were decorated in different styles, forms and content depending on the status of the buried person in society during his lifetime. It is clear that the tombstones of statesmen were decorated in a more ornate and elegant style (this was the same in other areas of Azerbaijan). These were used not only as decoration, but also to reflect the gender, life and occupation of the deceased. In addition to geometric and plant ornaments carved with great skill and mastery on many tombstones human, animal, bird figures, and even plot compositions, swords, shields, horses, rams, eagles, rosaries, needle-threads, scissors, mirror etc. drawings are found. Scholars are of the opinion that they are evenly distributed on the tombstones of young people, spiritual elders and women, and that these images are related to the social position, profession and life of the buried person: “On the tombstones, there are also many symbolic paintings. Among them: the moon-star representing Islam, the swastika or striped circle representing the sun, etc. patterns can be shown.”

Most of the decorations on the tombstones are floral ornaments. It would be appropriate to recall the book “Art and World Religions” (1985) by the prominent Russian scientist E. G. Yakovlev. As a result of the analysis of the art of Islamic countries, he notes that ornamental decorations are based on symmetry. This idea is also confirmed by academician Rasim Efendi: “Usually, branches are the main line in plant ornaments built on the basis of symmetry, and flowers and leaves located on them are additional elements.” As with the tombstones found in many areas of Azerbaijan, there are widespread inscriptions in the form of epitaphs (grave inscriptions) on tombstones in the western lands as well. Philosophical sayings of the deceased, verses from the poems of famous poets, prayers or thoughts taken from oral folk literature, etc. are inscripted on the tombstones.

From a stylistic point of view, the images on the graves have a genetic similarity with the tombstones in other areas of our country. The elegance, tasteful processing and expressiveness of these ornaments attract attention. Most of the plot compositions cover the topics that indicate the moral qualities, bravery, courage and profession of the deceased. Men’s tombstones feature hunting scenes, while women’s tombstones feature scenes related to the art of carpet weaving. In the territory of Western Azerbaijan, examples of tombstones and ram statues were found in the medieval cemetery in Urud village, Garakilsa district, Zangezur district. During the Soviet era, academician Rasim Efendi traveled almost all over the territory of Western Azerbaijan and recorded hundreds of facts proving that these lands historically belonged to the Turks.

The chest tombs of 1575 in the Urud village cemetery was also described and analyzed by Rasim Efendi for the first time. On the side of the chest, there are pictures with a plot, and above it is written in Arabic, in suls-naskh line: “Allah, Muhammad Khan Ibn Manahid. Hijri, 983.” On the right side, four plots are engraved, separated from each other by ornamental arches. In the middle of the first arch, there is a woman with a long braid, holding children, in the second, a tall man holding an ax in one hand, a lasso in the other, and a young boy next to him, and in the third, a young boy and a girl. In the image between the fourth “T”-shaped arch, a figure of a large bird with outstretched wings is carved sitting on an unknown animal. Academician R. Efendi notes that this bird is a sacred “unu bird” considered a totem in ancient Turkic-speaking peoples. Sources show that the Oghuz Turks considered this bird sacred. Information about this is reflected in Kitabi-Dada Gorgud: In the distant past, due to the great role played by this bird-ongon in the life of Turkish tribes, its figure carved out of wood or made of felt became a decoration of every home. Even during dinner, each person put the first bite in his mouth as a good sign.

The stone rectangular sarcophagus is surrounded by a decorative relief frame on the front and is divided into three parts vertically. In the lower corner, there is an octagonal corner. On the other side of the sarcophagus, there is a three-plot composition between the stylized decorative images of the moon and the sun. Here, there are almond-shaped grooves on the edges symbolizing wheat (as a symbol of blessing). The tombstone contrasts clearly with the traditions and eclecticism of medieval memorial tombstones. At the same time, both Muslim (front part) and paganism (side parts) are involved. “As is well known, Muslim traditions rejected the pagan motifs on memorial stones, preferring Arabic epigraphy and ornamentation. By nature, the presentation of descriptive plots here clearly shows that the traditions derived from the pagan and shamanistic views of the Turkic peoples have been preserved.”

The images on the chest stone dated 1578/79 AD in the Urud village cemetery attract attention with their dynamism, monumentality, plasticity and expressiveness of the images. Here we come across the image of the “tree of life”, which is a symbol of the holy trinity, which we encounter at every step in Azerbaijani culture. On the side of the sarcophagus, there is a figure of a tiger and a horse facing each other, and two stones are depicted between them. It is supposed to be a spring. On the right side, there is an image of a young man with an axe. The images are framed by stars that repeat one after the other on three sides (top and sides). The words “Amram’s son Mehdigar” are written on the front.

Telman Ibrahimov, analyzing the tombstones in the Urud village cemetery of Zangezur region, writes: “The spiritual world and artistic traditions of the Turkish Azerbaijani population of this region are reflected in chest stones. Indeed, here we encounter many original images and motifs related to the beliefs of the ancient Turkic tribes. Tombstones depict not only the connection of Azerbaijani handicrafts with the tribes living in Siberia and Altai in the distant past, but also topics corresponding to the philosophy of the Islamic religion. Among them, one can find the religious ceremony of shamans, the description of the ongon-bird totem, which appeared in connection with zoomorphic concepts in the ancient Turkic-speaking peoples.

The photos of 12 chest tombs in the Urud cemetery are given in Aziz Alakbarli’s book titled “Monuments of Western Azerbaijan” (Baku-2007), elegantly published in Azerbaijani, Russian, English and French languages. The inscriptions and images on those chest tombs are based on an equally interesting plot. On one of the chest tombs, a plot framed by a Seljuk chain draws our attention. The images are arranged one after the other from left to right, and on the front side, “The owner of this tomb is the late Ogul Ibn Murad. 963 (AD 155/56)” inscriotion is written. On the side, there is a young man on horseback, then another tall man holding a bow, then goats, and an ongun on the back of a ram. All these images were executed in a conventional, schematic plan, in a dynamic manner. The credibility and plot of the images seem to tell the story of the deceased’s life path and profession by means of storytelling. At the last moment, the ongun-bird depicted on the back of a ram, which is a symbol of abundance and blessing, and the birds flying around it indicate the place of the deceased in the afterlife.

The images on the “Aysoltan” chest stone dated 1584 in the Urud cemetery are noteworthy. Here the composition is divided into two horizontal halves. The right half shows a carpet loom and a woman standing next to it. She is depicted with her right hand passing a rope between the rugs. In the left half, a woman is depicted in a sitting position combing wool with a wool comb. Scissors and kirkid related to carpet weaving are depicted around it. In the upper left corner of the composition, there is an image of semeni, which is a sign of the Nowruz holiday, which marks the arrival of spring. So that is the grave of a carpet maker. Objects, women’s clothing, wheat, the sign of sunlight, all these are motifs belonging to Azerbaijani Turks. Although it is given in a somewhat conventional, schematic form, the attempt to convey space and perspective is evident. The motifs in the description are not only related to Azerbaijan, but also prove once again that the carpets presented under the name of Armenian carpets are actually nothing but different examples of the Azerbaijani school of carpet making.

If we compare the patterns on the tombstones in the Urud cemetery, the dynamism of the figures, the credibility, the nature of the plot, the depicted motifs, the patterns known as the Seljuk chain in art studies with the carved tombstone dating back to 1576 found in Mingachevir, as well as with the 16th-17th century ones found in Aghdam region, we find similar characteristic features, once again proving that those areas belonged to our ancestors.

Monuments found in other districts and villages of Western Azerbaijan and the images on them are also interesting. For example, in Yukhari Giretagh village of Gafan district of Zangezur mahal, a long arrow is engraved on the back of a stone monument known as Beldaşı among the local Turkish population. One of the stones depicts a horseman with a spear in his hand and a bow on his shoulder. The rider thrust the spear in his hand into the mouth of the dragon struggling under the horse’s feet. On the other side of the stone, a hunting scene is depicted, with the hunter aiming at the mountain goat with the gun in his hand. Above it are images of a water jug and a shield. A little below it, the image of the second shield is carved. All this once again proves that the lands of Western Azerbaijan belong to Azerbaijani Turks. As in the village of Urud, the first arrival of Armenians in the village of Giretagh was in 1988 after the deportation of Azerbaijani Turks.

Among the motifs found in the territory of Western Azerbaijan, the image of the dragon occupies a particularly extensive place. There is an Albanian-Turkish Christian temple and tombstones in the cemetery of Haraduz village of the Kavar district of Goycha mahal. “Haradouz Temple was built in the 9th century, then a large cemetery was created on the northern side of the temple. The 13th-century cross stones and early 16th-century Muslim graves in this cemetery confirms that the transition of the local Arman- turkish population from Christianity to Islam occurred in the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century.” Two dragons facing each other are depicted on the side of one of the chest stones in the Naraduz cemetery, and on the other side, in Arabic, “This tomb belongs to the deceased martyr who rose to the mercy of God.704” are written. Historical sources prove that Armenians were generally moved here in the 1830s.

Inscribed stone slabs (stele) occupy one of the most important places in the art of Western Azerbaijan. Such steles are widespread in Loru, Kirkhbulag and Zangezur districts, at the foot of Alagoz mountain. Among many researchers, there are those who consider those stones to be tombstones, and those who are skeptical about it… However, the purpose of these stones remains an object of controversy. These standing stones, mostly tall, rectangular in shape, stand on a stone base. The plot compositions on them reflect the motives arising from the paganism and shamanism of the local Turkish population who have adopted Islam. In Allahverdi, Barana, Garakilsa, Eller, Basarkechar and other regions there are “erected stones” of this kind. In Talinda, there are several layers of images on a stone pillar. On the lower tier is a semi-stylized figure of a man holding a frame with raised hands. Inside the frame, there are two khonchas that resemble the sun symbol and an eight-pointed star. A human figure is also depicted on the upper tier. However, only a small part of this image has been preserved.

There was a Muslim-Turkish temple approximately 600-700 meters from the village of Elayaz in the direction of Hasankendi in the Keshiskend district of Darelayaz mahal. The Armenians later carved a cross on the 2.5-meter-high, 1.4-meter-wide stone slab and tried to present it as an Armenian monument. On the slab, there is an inscription with the words in Arabic-Naskh lines, “This grave belongs to Ahi Tawakkul, the deceased and great martyr, who needs the mercy of Almighty God – may God forgive his sins. In the month of Muharram 950.”

When talking about the art of Western Azerbaijan, it is necessary to specially mention the stone ram figures found in these areas. Because they are both large in number and found in almost every village, they bear resemblance to the diversity of stylistic features and have similarities with the ram and horse figures found in Karabakh, Nakhchivan, Ganja, Gazakh, Kalbajar, Lachin, Lerik, Gadabay and regions of Georgia inhabited by Azerbaijanis, which unequivocally leaves no room for doubt that these areas are ancient Turkic lands.

On the basis of the analysis of the actual photographic materials taken at that time, we once again see that the art of Western Azerbaijan reflects the historical development path of our ancestors, their everyday life, their artistic-aesthetic attitude to the events happening around based on their own means of expression and description methods. The more Armenians try to falsify history, the more they end up exposing themselves and putting themselves in a ridiculous situation. Because, a lie gets a foothold, but does not walk.

Galib Gasimov
Art critic