Occupied in the 2020 Azeri-Turkish aggression.

The status of Shushi monuments and landmarks can only be described as of the time before it was occupied in the latest Azeri aggression in 2020. Shushi’s main cathedral, the Holy Saviour Ghazanchetsots Church was deliberately hit by precision missiles during the war and another well-known church, Kanach Zham was blown up after the town was taken. After a few months of occupation, the Shushi History Museum was erased, so were several residential buildings. What distortions to other historic edifices have or may follow is not known.

Shushi, at 1238-1533 metres above sea level, is one of the most famous Armenian city-strongholds and has played a very important role in Armenian history, art and literature. 

Shushi fortress: entrance to the town

Artefacts dating back to the 14th-13th centuries BC were found in the area and point to the fact of its being a fortified settlement. Because of its geographical position and difficulty in access, it originally served as a stronghold for the Armenian population of the Varanda region (gavar) of the Artsakh province of Greater Armenia. It was later walled to become one of the famous fortresses of the Varanda melikutyun.  Late medieval sources refer to it as the Karaglukh (top of the rock), Kar (rock, stone), Karaglukh berd (top of the rock fortress), Karaglukh sghnakh (top of the rock stronghold), the Shosh berd (fortress of Shosh) or Shosh sghnakh (stronghold of Shosh) as the population of the nearby village of Shosh would find refuge there in times of trouble. The Armenian military commander Avan rebuilt and reinforced the fortress in 1720; and in 1725 a 40,000-strong Turkish army had to retreat and flee after an eight-day long battle at Shushi. 

 The main entrance.
A view of surrounding hills from the fortress wall .

As a result of inner strife between Armenian meliks, and with the Melik of Varanda’s help, Panah Ali, leader of a nomadic Turkic tribe was able to take hold of the fortress. In 1752 he declared Karabakh (Shushi) a khanate, himself a khan and inhabited Shushi with Turkic nomadic tribes. After making Shushi his seat he deported Armenians from other villages to Shushi in order to build it and further reinforce the fortress. 

At the end of the 18th century, Persian troops attacked Shushi and were able to take it a after a second try but were soon forced to leave. It had to “host” Persian troops later nevertheless, which were then replaced by Russian troops after the whole of Karabakh changed hands following the 1813 Treaty of Gyulistan. In 1826, 60,000 Persian troops, planning to take Tiflis (now Tbilisi) and regain the South Caucasus, surrounded Shushi. Even after a 48-day siege they were unable to overcome the 1700 Russian soldiers and 1500 Armenian volunteers. 

The role of Shushi again became crucial in the Artsakh Liberation War in 1991-94. After ousting the remaining Armenian population, Azerbaijanis used the geographical position of the town and turned it into a firing pad for daily shelling of Stepanakert, the capital city of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. When the Self-Defence Forces of Karabakh liberated Shushi, military experts simply did not believe it: taking of Shushi simply was not deemed possible. 

A portion of fortress walls from inside.

The military commander Avan, who reinforced the fortress walls of Shushi in the 18th century built a smaller fortified palace or castle for himself. The ruins of that castle and also of another one built later reportedly by Avan’s family, still stand in Shushi.

Avan military commander’s castle in Shushi.

The fortified homes of Karabakh rulers and nobles depict not only their importance but also show interesting features of Armenian palatial and castle architecture. 

In December 2022, near Shushi Azeris blocked the only road linking Artsakh to the world after the 2020 war. The months-lasting blockade is aimed at ousting the Armenians out of their lands and occupying what still remained as free Artsakh.

A winter scene from the Shushi fortress.