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Qazah

Qazax has a modest charm of two old churches, a 19th-century mosque, functioning domed hamam and a quietly attractive tree-shaded central area.

In normal times Qazax would make a pleasant base for a day or two's excursions to several outlying historical sites. But for now you may be advised to pass through without stopping due to police hassles and sensitive environment due to proximity of frontlines.

History

A town by the name of Gazaka was capital of the ancient state of Atropatena in the 2nd century BC and later formed the seat of the Sassanian-Persian governor. This city was close to modern Didivan and only moved to the present site of Qazax after being destroyed by Timur in the 14th century.

From 1767 Qazax became an autonomous sultanate. It was nominally subservient first to the Ottoman-Turkish empire and latterly to the Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kaheti. When Kaheti was annexed by Russia in 1801, Qazax fell into the Tsar's gubernia of Georgia. Unlike Ganja, the Qazax Azeri population proved enthusiastic to Russian overlordship and contributed a 'Tatar' cavalry to fight against the Qajar-Persian army in the 1826-8 war.

The town owes much of its century-old architecture to Israfil Aga (born 1862), nephew of a celebrated Crimean war hero. A leading local landlord he invested large sums in town improvements, built the mosque, bath-house and several homes while also gaining limited fame as a writer. Meanwhile Israfil Aga's contemporary and former school friend, Gachakh Karam ('escaping' Karam, so named due to his disappearing act with enemies), had become a leading anti-Russian agitator. He engineered a short-lived uprising but was quickly forced into exile in Tehran where he ended up as bodyguard to the Shah. Israfil Aga stayed put, becoming one of many pro-Tsar figures to die during the anti-Russian upheavals in the wake of the 1917 St Petersburg revolution.

Qazax yezd (ie province) became part of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic during 1918. At the time it retained most of the carpet-making lands that had been associated with the old sultanate and which stretched to the north-eastern shores of Lake Sevan. However, Stalin later re-drew these borders, giving the southern two-thirds of the province to Armenia and creating anomalous islands of Azeri territory completely surrounded by Armenia.

The 'ethnic cleansing' of these islands - Yukhari Askipara and Barkhurdarli -between 1988 and 1990 has rarely, if ever made the Western press, but thousands of refugees still languish in Qazax.

What to see

The attractive History Museum suffers from frequent power cuts making the exhibits hard to make out. In the same block is a museum dedicated to poet Vagif and there are several literary monuments in the town's neat parks. The brick mosque is attractive and well restored with twin minarets. It faces a functioning old domed hamam (shower and bath booth 5000M). The 'wild west' balconied wooden houses across from the town hall were onginally built as accommodation for students of the 1918-59 Pedagogical Institute, founded as the 'Tatar' branch of the then famous Trans-Caucasus Educational seminary (Gori, Georgia). The institute's main building retaining its attractive enclosed courtyard, is now school #4. The two former churches numbered on the town map now train fighters - #1, whitewashed and supposedly 'Albanian' is now a karate-do (karate hall) #2, the former Russian red-brick church, is a wrestling club. The old river bridge gives a very distant view of Goyazan way beyond the neat Heydar Aliyev park.

Other suggestions (if police allow)

West of Dash Salahli (10km) there are around 100 caves in the cliff-sides of chapel-topped Mt Avey-Dag, around a celebrated picnic spot known as Demceli. Traces of Palaeolithic man have been found and locals get excited by a rocky recess from which spring water drips constantly from an overhead source into a drinking font. It's most interesting to visit on summer weekends when this freak of nature may be celebrated with shashlyk, music and dancing.

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