CHAPTER 11 THE RELIGIOUS AUTONOMY IN KARABAKH (1828-1905)

Many scholars consider that the “seeds of the conflict were sown” after the establishment of Yelizavetpol province. The upsurge of Armenian culture in Karabakh was checked as a result of the evolution of Tsarist policy. From 1868 the administrative structure of Transcaucasia was artifically changed. Eastern Armenia was cut in three. The province of Yerevan was preponderantly Armenian, including Nakhichevan, but cut off from Zangezur and Karabakh, which both formed the two districts of the Yelizavetpol province, where the Tatars constituted a majority.

From different parts of Karabakh the population moved to Shushi, where the Armenian manufacturers opened new factories and workshops with more than a thousand workers. In 1895 nearly all the silk thread and silk material produced in Shushi was sent to Moscow and France.

The Shushi businessmen intended to open factories in other parts of Karabag-Hadrut, Kolatak etc. Soon Hadrut (on the Iranian border) became the second industrial centre of Karabakh.

Culture and literature were constantly developing in Karabakh. In 1837 Byron’s works and the Albanian Catholicos Yessayi Hassan-Jalalian’s “History of Albania” were published in the printing house of religious direction. The Metropolitan Bishop Baghdassar, who descended from the Jalalian family, adapted the work of the great historiographer. The novelist and traveller Raffi wrote that he had seen the large original manuscript, which unfortunately was not preserved.

In the mid nineteenth century the German traveller Baron von Gaksthauzen,10 the Russian printer Vereshchagin11 and the publicist Segal12 visited Shushi. The appointment of one of the most educated intellectuals Doctor Hamidi as the director of Diocesan School was a great event in the cultural life of Karabakh. He was educated in Tiflis Nersissian School, Moscow Lazarian Academy, Moscow and Petersburg Universities as a lawyer. He had lived in several European centres, attended Paris and Rome Universities. He brought to Karabakh a new national self-awareness.

The prominent Armenian scholars, writers, teachers, historians, linguists of the time such as Perch Proshian, Ghazaros Aghayan, Makar Barkhutareants, Manuk Abeghian, Yervand Lalayan, Nikol Aghbalian and others contributed for the purpose of Armenian cultural revival. They revived the study of national history and literature on the basis that the early clerics and scholars had created, recovering national historiographics and compiling the first modern dictionaries and grammars, secularazing education, calling for use of vernacular language and appreciating of the people and nation.

The historian of Baku school Firdun Shushinski wrote, “Shushi competed with Tiflis in trade and culture. The first theatrical performance was staged here in 1848. The local Armenian intelligensia organized and staged several plays. At that time no dramatic work in Azerbaijani language (the Tatar language – B) was created.”13 The literary language, besides Armenian, was the Persian, and Islam was taught in Arabic, both of which the Muslim nomadic settlers of Shushi were unable to understand. The first performances were organized and staged in the Shushi theatre by the Shushi students, who had returned to their native town during the summer holidays. The old building of the warehouse was turned into a theatre. In 1865 the famous artist Gevorg Chmshkian was a guest-performer in the town. They presented the historical dramas “Samvel” and “Vardan Mamikonian”, which aroused national patriotic emotions among the audience.

The new building of the theatre with 350 seats was founded by the prosperous citizen Mkrtich Khandamirian. Many prominent Armenian artists of the time visited Shushi. New plays were performed and presented, including those of Shakespeare. The famous theatrical dealer Hovhannes Abelian staged “King Lear” in Turkish. Several printing-presses and libraries were functioning in the city in early twentieth centuries. More than twenty periodicals and magazines were published at that time. The library had 670 readers in 1896. The periodical “Mshak” had the largest circulation. 19 from each thousand citizens subscribed to newspapers.14 Twenty performances were given annually. The ethnologist Yervand Lalayan in his work “Ethnographical Review”, according to the data at his disposal, gave record of the criminal offences of the city in 1890-1895. The figures had been taken from “The Caucasian Calendar”. Twenty-four Tatars and only seven Armenians were convicted of murder. From thousand Armenian only four were charged and imprisoned, from the Tatars; thirty-three. One of each thirty Tatars was kept in prison.15

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