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Azerbaijan’s lost history: Iravan fortress

24 November 2021 13:30 (UTC+04:00)
Azerbaijan’s lost history: Iravan fortress

By Vugar Khalilov

Numerous fortresses, city walls and military fortifications existed in Azerbaijan’s historical lands, which are now known as the territory of the Armenian Republic.

The most magnificent of these mentioned fortresses was the Iravan Fortress, which was gradually destroyed by Armenians following the Russian invasion of the Iravan Khanate.

Historical background

According to Evliya Chalabi and other historians, the Iravan fortress was built in 1504 by the order of Safavid ruler Shah Ismail I, by his vizier Ravangulu khan on the bank of the Zangi River, on the site of present-day Iravan (Yerevan) city. The fortress was named Ravan in honor of Ravangulu khan. It was later called as Iravan due to the local dialect.

During their visit to the region, French travelers Jean Tavernier (1655) and Jean Chardin (1673) described the Iravan fortress and the city’s plan, noting that the inhabitants of the fortress exceptionally consisted of Muslims. They wrote that the fortress hosted 800 houses and there was a gate to the north of the fortress, built on a hill near the banks of the Zangi River, with five towers and strong defensive walls.

Throughout two (16th-18th) centuries, the city 14 times changed hands between Safavid and Ottoman empires as a result of multiple wars.

Russian occupation

Russia’s plan to invade the fortress emerged in the early 18th century when Emperor Peter I launched his first Caucasus campaign. Armenian nationalist Israel Ori, who was aware of this plan, wrote a letter to the Russian tsar, assuring him that over 300 Armenians living in the city were ready to open the gates for the Russian troops.

On October 1, 1827, following 23 years of intermittent wars, the impregnable Iravan fortress was occupied by the Russian troops, despite Huseyngulu khan’s efforts to defend it.

Armenian betrayal and treachery again played an important role in the capture of the Iravan fortress. Aware of the region’s landscape, the Armenians guided the Russian military, pointed out the weakly defended areas of the fortress, and carried out espionage activities.

Immediately after the capture of the fortress, historical and cultural buildings were subjected to vandalism. The Sardar mosque in the fortress was turned into an arsenal of Russian troops and a hospital was established in the khan's harem. After the fall of the Iravan Khanate, the Khan's palace housed the administrative building of the newly-created "Armenian Province".

Armenian vandalism

In the early 19th century, various state institutions and organizations were based in over 120 buildings in the Iravan fortress. On March 12, 1864, after its abolishment as a military fortress, the city walls and towers were demolished by the surrounding residents and from the 1880s onwards, the buildings inside the fortress disappeared one after another.

In 1865, Armenian merchant Nerses Tahirian bought a part of the fortress and built a winery (now a cognac factory) there. In the 1930s, the castle walls were completely destroyed by Armenians.

The process of demolition of the Iravan fortress and its historical and architectural monuments accelerated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries after the suppression of the Armenian uprisings in Turkey and the settlement of a large number of Armenian refugees in the South Caucasus. After the establishment of the Soviet authority in Armenia, the city's master plan was approved in 1924.

According to most researchers, the main purpose of the master plan, prepared under the leadership of architect Alexander Tamanian, was to wipe out the historical and architectural monuments belonging to Azerbaijanis.

In 1936, a new master plan of Yerevan was prepared and as a result of its implementation, modern high-rise buildings were built inside the fortress. Pictures from the Second World War show that some of the walls of the Iravan fortress still existed. However, later the city walls were completely demolished and now there are no traces of it.

As a result of the destruction of historical and architectural monuments belonging to Azerbaijanis, not a single historical monument over 200 years old has remained in the city of Yerevan.


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