Ganja was one of the oldest settlements known to humanity. Founded on an ancient settlement in the 5th century BCE, Ganja is described by Arabic, Persian, Georgian, medieval European and Russian authors. The material cultural remains found during archaeological excavations in ancient Ganja provide ample proof. Historical evidence guarantees that that this area, settled by our ancestors since primitive times, is 3500-4000 years old. Located at a crossroads of the Muslim and Christian worlds, Ganja is also at a junction of trade routes from West to East, and North to South. Boasting favourable natural geographical conditions: fertile soil, mild climate and abundant rivers, as well as its generous and patriotic people, Ganja has lived a glorious history and rich culture for thousands of years.
Relocated locally at least four times since its inception, Ganja has always been a focus of attention for foreigners for its favourable strategic location. The city has repeatedly suffered from severe earthquakes, as well as from marauding Mongols, Khwarezmians, Georgians, Arabs, Russians and other invaders. It has literally been a battleground for world powers. Despite all this, it survived the blows and losses inflicted upon it and found the strength not only to recover, but also to develop into a magnificent city. Ganja stands on strong, unshakeable and invincible roots. The numerous attacks, occupations and natural disasters suffered by Ganja have always proved to be temporary, with the city gradually regaining its splendour.
Archaeological excavations conducted there, historical sources and the stories of chroniclers and travellers give us extensive information. Whether the chronicles concerning its historical culture are fair or unfair, true or hypocritical, biased or impartial, all those sources highlight the city’s splendour and its people’s zeal and bravery.
Troops of the Arab Caliphate occupied Ganja in the mid-7th century. By the 9th century, it was a renowned economic centre in Central Asia, playing an important role in international trade. It was made the capital of the Shaddadid state that was founded in 970. Once the Seljuks replaced the Shaddadids in 1088, they made Ganja the residence of their emirs.
In the 12th century, it was the rulers’ residence of Arran province in the Atabey state (1136-1225), thus helping the city to evolve and become a major political, economic and cultural centre. Undergoing a true renaissance, Ganja gained fame as a centre of science, literature and art in the Near East. That was a time when science, culture, trade and crafts reached a peak of development. Chroniclers reported that the earthquake of 1139 killed some 300,000 people, providing evidence of the size, power and greatness of Ganja then. The fertile lands, the natural geographic relief and the strength of its strategic military position, inspired an influx of people from other regions.
Archaeological excavations have revealed the remains of triple castle walls around the ancient city, pointing once more to its rapid development.
Khwarezm and Mongol troops occupied Ganja in the early 13th century. But from the second half of the 13th century, the city was included in the Ilkhanid state, then the Qaraqoyunlu state in the first half of the 15th century and in the Aghqoyunlu state in the second half of that century. Ganja became the centre of the Qarabagh [or Karabakh] Beylerbeylik (principality) in the 16th century. And from the second half of the 16th century to the 18th century, the city was alternately annexed to either the Ottoman or the Safavid Empires, depending on the outcome of wars between these two states.
In the mid-18th century, the city was the centre of the Ganja Khanate. In January 1804, Russian troops led by Pavel Tsitsianov occupied that centre and abolished the khanate, annexing it to Russia. Tsitsianov then renamed Ganja as Yelizavetpol, in honour of the wife of Tsar Alexander I. The Gulustan Treaty, signed in 1813, demanded the annexation of all Ganja to Russia. From 1869 it was the centre of the Yelizavetpol Governorate.
Travellers and chroniclers spoke volumes about Ganja’s splendour and convenience for life there. Ibn Hawqal, Jamal al-Din Abd al-Razzaq Isfahani (10th century), Mkhitar Gosh, Ibn Al-Athir (12th-13th century), Yaqut al-Hamawi (12th-13th century), Zakariyya al-Qazwini (13th century), Hamdallah Mustawfi Qazwini (14th century), Mirkhvand Muhammad (15th century), Najmaddin Al-Husseini (16th century), the Turkish scientist Ahmed Dede Munejjimbashi (17th century), as well as the historians Moisey Kalankatuklu, Sebeos, Emil Rossler, Y. A. Pakhomov, Ivan Chopin, Esayi Hasan Jalalean, Ivan Shebligin, Nikolai Marr, Giyasaddin Geybullayev, Ziya Bunyadov and many others who proudly chronicled Ganja in their works.
The people of Ganja boast their own unique characteristics, patriotism and zeal. They have repeatedly demonstrated their courage on the battlefields. Jomard Gassab (7th century), Usta (master) Bandar (12th century), Javad Khan Qajar (early 19th century) and many others died heroically fighting off foreign invaders.
Ganja, a historical and cultural centre of the East, has always motivated and raised great writers and artists. Among them are Abul’ala Ganjavi (1096-1159), Mehseti Ganjavi (1089-1181), Givami Mutarrizi, Raziyye Ganjavi and finally Nizami Ganjavi (1141-1209), great thinker, poet and philosopher for all time, who contributed unparalleled works to world culture, and who was called the ‘Sun of Eastern Poetry’ by his contemporaries.
Ganja is a hub of national mentality. It was with good reason that the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, led by Fatali Khan Khoyski, declared its independence in Tbilisi on 28 May 1918, and chose Ganja [then still Yelizavetpol] as its capital. The capital of the Republic was moved from Tbilisi to Ganja from 16 June to 15 September 1918, and they restored Ganja’s name in the same year. As the Democratic Republic collapsed in 1920, troops of the Bolshevik 11th Red Army entered the city. However, the city’s fervent population bravely opposed the Soviet government and perished under the heavy Russian armour. That uprising is known as the Ganja Revolt, but has been studied very little in the history of Azerbaijan.
Ganja was renamed Kirovabad “in honour” of Sergei Kirov in 1935. However, the historical name of Ganja was finally restored in 1989. Since the Republic of Azerbaijan regained its independence in 1991, Ganja has become the country’s second largest centre of science, culture and trade.
Since 1993 the people of Ganja, remaining true to their historical values, have supported the policy initiated by National Leader Heydar Aliyev to strengthen further Azerbaijan’s state independence. This political course is proudly pursued today.
In recent years Ganja has adopted the latest achievements of urban architecture to become a hub of large-scale landscaping and construction, while also preserving the city’s historical image.
Throughout the country’s history, the city of Ganja has been of crucial importance for our statehood. And, following in the footsteps of the National Leader, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, maintains this approach.
All the construction work in Ganja, developing while preserving the city’s history, has been carried out according to the president’s orders and instructions.
‘Ganja’s ancient appearance represents its rich history’, said President Ilham Aliyev. He was there on 18 official visits between 2004 and 2012, each time opening infrastructure. This speaks volumes about his close personal interest in Ganja’s development, as with other regions and cities in Azerbaijan.
Mehriban Aliyeva, First Vice President of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Head of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, has an irreplaceable role in preserving the city’s material and cultural heritage, especially its literature, cultural and historical monuments. As the city of Ganja came under shellfire during the Patriotic War, First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva said: ‘The Armenian aggressors have treacherously attacked Ganja tonight. Their intention is simple, yet terrible – to destroy as many civilians as possible, to create panic and to intimidate the people of Azerbaijan. But the aggressors will never achieve their ugly goals. The people of this glorious city are mentally strong! Ganja is Nizami, Mehseti, Vazeh! But, Ganja is not only the cultural heritage of Azerbaijan, it is the cradle of our ancient statehood. It is the symbol of unshakeable endurance, courage and resilience! Ganja is the homeland of Javad Khan. It is the city that went down fighting for the independence of the first democratic republic in the East. Ganja is the beating heart of Azerbaijan and no one will break its people’s proud spirit!’ These proud words clearly illustrated her love and sympathy for Ganja, its history and the historical figures the city has raised.
The ancient city of Ganja, the land of Nizami, became one of Azerbaijan’s hero cities during the 44-day Patriotic War. The Armenian armed forces showered Ganja, a city many kilometres from the conflict zone, with ‘Tochka-U’, ‘Smerch’ and ‘SCUD’ missiles on 4th, 5th, 8th, 11th and 17th October, killing 26 civilians, including 6 children, and injuring another 143, including 31 children. These acts of terrorism committed by Armenia’s armed forces against the peaceful and unarmed people of Ganja, were unable to break the strong will of the city and its people, who demonstrated their historical power by uniting around the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. During his last official visit to Ganja, President Ilham Aliyev laid the foundation of a Memorial Complex to be established to perpetuate the memory of the innocents who died. The head of state thus demonstrated his care and love for all of Ganja’s people.
Ganja lost 364 martyrs in the First Karabakh War and 107 in the 44-day Patriotic War. May their souls rest in peace.
Author: Alimukhtar Mukhtarov PhD Philology, Senior researcher of the Nizami Ganjavi Centre, ANAS Ganja Branch.