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Լեռնային Ղարաբաղ



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Brief Introduction


Principality of Khachen (Խաչենի իշխանություն) was a medieval Armenian principality on the territory of historical Artsakh (present-day Nagorno-Karabakh). The marches of Artsakh and Utik were attached to the Kingdom of Armenia in Antiquity but in the early medieval period were often under Georgian and Albanian control under Sassanid or Arab suzerainty. From the 12th century the Armenian Khachen principality dominated the region. The Byzantine emperor Constantine VII (905-959) addressed his letters to the prince of Khachen with the inscription "To Prince of Khachen, Armenia." The Armenian princely family of Hasan Jalalyan began ruling much of Khachen and Artsakh in 1214. In 1216, the Jalalyans founded the Gandzasar monastery which became the seat of a local Catholicos forced to Khachen from Partav (Barda) by the steady Islamization of the city. After the decline of the principality the Khamsa melikates maintained Armenian autonomy in the region throughout the 16th-18th century Persian-Ottoman Wars. They were:

  • Gulistan - under the leadership of the Melik Beglarian family
  • Jraberd - under the leadership of the Melik Israelian family
  • Khachen - under the leadership of the Hasan-Jalalian family
  • Varanda - under the leadership of the Melik Shahnazarian family
  • Dizak - under the leadership of the Melik Avanian family.

In 1603 the Persians established a protectorate over them and sponsored the establishment of a local khanate in 1747.


The Karabakh Beylerbeylik was founded by Persia on the territories of the Khamsa in the 16th century. The first beylerbey (governor-general) of Karabakh was Shahverdi-Sultan from the Ziyad-oglu clan of the Turkic Qajar tribe, who was appointed by Shah Tahmasp I (1524-’76) in the 1540's. The power of the Karabakh beylerbey covered a vast territory – from the Georgian border near “Sinig Korpu” Bridge to Khudafarin Bridges on the Araz river. The descendants of Shahverdi-Sultan were beylerbeys of Karabakh until 1736 when Nadir Shah (1736-’47) took Karabakh from Ziyad-oglu.


The Karabakh Khanate was established in 1747 under Persian suzerainty in Karabakh and adjacent areas. It existed until 1806, when the Russian Empire gained control over it. The Russian annexation of Karabakh was not formalized until the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, when, as a result of Russo-Persian War (1804-1813), Fat′h Ali Shah Qajar of Persia officially ceded Karabakh to Tsar Alexander I of Russia. The khanate was abolished in 1822 and military rule was established in the region.


1747-1761 Panah Ali Khan

1761-1806 Ibrahim Khalil Khan

1806-1822 Mehdi Qulu Khan Muzaffar


In 1843 the region became Shusha community within the Transcaucasian Oblast and Jelisawetpol Governorate created 1868.


Present Nagorno-Karabakh (Լեռնային Ղարաբաղ, translit. Lernayin Gharabagh) meaning "mountainous black garden" or "upper black garden",is predominantly ethnic Armenian, and is under Armenian military control. The local Armenian population declared independence from Azerbaijan on 10 December 1991 and declared the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). The NKR's sovereign status is not recognized by any country or international organization in the world.


Ancient Heraldic Symbols



Gandzasar, 13th cent.[1]


Ancient heraldic symbols can be found in Karabakh mainly on Gandzasar cathedral of St. John the Baptist built between 1216-’40 under the patronage of Khachen, Hasan-Jalal Dawla. As such the cathedral was build in the union of Georgia (1201-‘36) and the Ilkhanid (1236-1335) eras. Amongst the symbols displayed are suns symbolizing the (Georgian and Ilkhanid) empires and maybe also moons symbolizing the state. Of the christian symbols of authority there are latin- and square crosses of Armenian and Georgian decorative style, sometimes combined with a sun-symbol. As a symbol of armed authority apparently the hexagram was used and not the christogram.


Lion and hexagram or six-pointed star

Gandzasar, 13th century


Of the heraldic symbols there are eagles and lions, belonging to the hellenistic repertory of martial symbols.


Coin from Gulistan


Such kind of a symbol is also the two-headed eagle on a copper coin from Gulistan dated 766H/1364AD. [2] It is within a hexagram indicating that the bearer belonged to the armed forces, probably of the Turkmen rulers (1335-1508).

Last but not least two pheasants are guarding the entrance of the cathedral. They belong to the sino-persian repertory of civic badges of rank and therefore date from the Ilkhanid era.  

From 18th century Gulistan melik there is another testimony that the ancient heraldic symbols were still used in Karabakh. It consists of a stone showing two lions rampant respecting.


Tympan from Gulistan showing two lions rampant respecting [3]



Such lions respecting (often reguardant respecting) are of considerable antiquity. They probably are a badge of rank of a high state-official, for example a master of the cavalry or grand-admiral. The figure also belongs to the turkic set of badges of rank and is known from 13th century central asian silks.


Æ See for example Turkestan and The Sicilian Coronation mantle.


Of the other symbols there are sirens, symbolizing the soul gone to heaven. As one of them is sculpured together with the portrait of a woman, probably the wife of Hasan-Jalal Dawla, it may indicate that she was dead at the moment of the consecretion of the cathedral. After the death of Hasan-Jalal the cathedral became the sepulchre of the Khachen-family.


Siren and kneeling woman, Gandzasar cathedral


It may be clear that still some research needs to be done about these symbols.


Russian Rule


When Karabakh became a part of the Caspian Territory in 1843 a coat of arms for its capital Shusha was granted on 21 May 1843. It is:


Arms of Shusha Community


Arms: Per fess, the chief per pale, the dexter Or a leopard on a grassy ground proper for Kuba; the sinister Or, three gas-flames rising from a grassy ground proper for Baku; the base Vert, a running horse saddled and bridled on a grassy ground all proper.


This became the arms of the Karabakh community on 26 July 1843. [4]


The Republic



A national coat of arms was probably adopted on 2nd of June 1992, along with the national flag.

It consists of a shield displaying the (armenian) national flag of three stripes red, blue and orange and at the fly a white chevron indented-counterindented. In a chief is a picture of a mountain range and on the partition a picture of the national monument “We are our Mountains”.

Supporter: an eagle proper nimbused and crowned with the crown of Tigranes, in its claws ears of wheat, cotton and vine and surrounded by a listel with the name of the country in armenian script.


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay.


“We are Our Mountains” statue.


The statue has become an unofficial “mascot” for Nagorno Karabakh.  The foundations of the statue go down several metres into the ground, symbolising the ancient presence of the Armenian people in Nagorno Karabakh and the fact that they are rooted in the country’s soil. It depicts an old man and woman hewn from rock, representing the mountain people of Karabakh.

It is also known as "Tatik u Papik" (Տատիկ ու Պապիկ) in Eastern Armenian and "Mamig yev Babig" (Մամիկ եւ Պապիկ) in Western Armenian, meaning "Grandma and Grandpa".  

The sculpture was completed in 1967 by Sargis Baghdasaryan, and is made from volcanic tufa.


Drawing J. Pattke

Banner of the Karabakh army



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© Hubert de Vries 2014-04-25


[1] Such sun-emblems are also known from Mtsketha, Georgia.

[2] Köhne, B. von: Vom Doppeladler. In: Berliner Blätter für Münz-, Siegel- und Wappen­kunde. T. VI. Berlin, 1871. P. 20. Taf. LXVII.8

[3] From: Shahen Mkrtchian:  Treasures of Artsakh. Yerevan, 2002.  Исторические миграции армянского населения

[4] Винклеръ, П.П. фонъ: Гербы гродобъ, губерніи.облаастей и посадовъ Россіиской имперіи. С.-Петербургъ, 1899 p. xxiii. p. 170. Also:  Герб Карабахского уезда ПСЗ, т.XVIII, №17061, сенатский от 26.07.1843.


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